The West and the Current Dynamics in Egypt
CAIRO - Even after Arab revolutions and massive protests rocked the world and proved numerous Western pundits and politicians wrong, many in the US and Europe continue to view the region only through Western eyes, underrating the perspectives of the Arab people, their will and interests.
Consider some Western ‘experts’ take on Egypt. International media outlets demonstrate how the West's politicians and opinion leaders not only aim at empowering a liberal, secularist, and Western-friendly polity in Egypt, but are also excitedly speaking of the rise of such a trend, seeing dynamics in the country the way they want to see them – not as they really are.
For example, Thomas Friedman wrote, in reference to concerns he laid out that the Muslim Brotherhood might take over the revolution: "[t]hat is exactly what the urban, secular moderates, who actually did spearhead the Tahrir revolt, fear ."
Friedman did not attribute the generalization he volunteered about "secular moderates" as the ones who spearheaded the revolution to any Egyptian, or even American, source.
I know of many Egyptians, myself being one, who would feel insulted if any particular faction, group or trend claimed credit for our revolution.
Egyptians from all political and socioeconomic backgrounds acted together, spontaneously, to topple Mubarak and his regime. The April 6 Movement and the We Are All Khaled Said facebook page made online calls and distributed leaflets on the streets urging the people to protest on January 25.
Key roles were also played by leftist activists, whose participation was a continuation on the path they had sacrificed for, over the years, against the regime's injustices. The Muslim Brotherhood's youth were also involved, independently rather than with the group, playing their remarkable (and some say decisive) part in countering the regime's violent attacks.
Liberal activists, including the pro-ElBaradei campaign and the Democratic Front Party, also played their significant role, besides leading roles by other entities. And above all, the revolution wouldn't have succeeded if it hadn't been for the millions of Egyptians – from within and without the ideological spectrum – who took to the streets and bravely faced the regime's crackdown.
January 25's unforgettable slogan was, "Bread, Freedom, Social Justice, Human Dignity" – no "liberalism", "secularism", or even "Islamism". The enormity of corruption and injustice infringed upon us by the toppled regime and its beneficiaries transcended ideology, religion, and orientation.
Yet, even Robert Fisk, the prominent dissident who has defended Arab causes for decades, implied lately that those who ousted Mubarak were essentially liberal: "The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces … is toadying up to middle-aged Muslim Brothers and Salafists … while the young, the liberal, poor and wealthy who brought down Hosni Mubarak are being ignored."
His account of Tahrir Square was challenged by Egyptian writer Mona Anis. Being no Islamist herself, she spoke of Islamists currently in Tahrir — be them independent "with no organizational affiliation" or "disenchanted" Brotherhood members who defied the group's decision to pull out from the Square.
Whether the role of the Muslim Brotherhood and its popular support rises or declines, is no indicator of the role of religion in Egyptians' lives and Egypt's politics.
It eluded Friedman, Fisk and others that the majority of Egyptians are far from secularist, a Gallup Study released in April 2011 found that for most Egyptians, "religion remains important" (96%) and "religious leaders" should have "an advisory role" with legislation writing, even if only 15% are likely to vote for the Brotherhood.
Trying to depict Egypt's dynamics as a victory for secularists/liberals over Islamists will neither help Egypt nor the West.
And no matter what differences we Egyptians have among each other, regardless of which ideology or lack thereof every Egyptian adopts, we all belong to this country – so each political entity, even each individual, may have their distinct perspective on what's better for Egypt.
Western pundits are wrong to seek to impose certain ideological trends on us out of moral motivations, because not all that is "right" in one society's standards is necessarily right everywhere else – proof is that secularism in France is different from the relationship between religion and the state in the UK, and is greatly different when compared to the case of the US. And Egypt has the right to develop its own model too.
Also Western governments are wrong to favor one political force with diplomatic support or material aid out of an assumption that a rise for liberals or secularists would guarantee Israel-friendly policies and make a new Egypt likely to support Western interests in the region.
Despite their differences, Egyptians agree on a deep-rooted adverseness to Israel, and they see the Zionist state as an unjust entity. Such animosity, confirmed by opinion polls, was demonstrated in incidents such as the frenzy over one Egyptian political scientist's meeting with the Israeli ambassador – Dr. Hala Mustafa received a wave of criticism and accusations, because the "normalization activities" she took part in are taboo in this part of the world.
Westerners had better abandon viewing Egypt only through the lens of their interests and standards. In defiance to Egyptians' will, the West supported Mubarak for too long, ignoring warnings that the stability their Egyptian ally was promising to keep, could not be guaranteed forever; the West stuck to selfishness. As much as it is legitimate for the US and Europe to seek their national interests, continuing to disregard the Arab people's interests and worldview will only reinforce a vicious circle of clashes and conflict. Sara Khorshid is an Egyptian writer who has covered Egypt and the region for the past nine years. Her articles are published in The Daily News, The Guardian, Al Shorouk, Alarabiya.net, Common Ground News, and other outlets. She previously held the position of Managing Editor at IslamOnline.net (now OnIslam.net), where she worked for many years. She holds a bachelor's degree in political science from Cairo University. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org