A lot of people have been optimistically speculating that the Egyptian uprising will lead to a free, democratic, system that somehow espouses democratic ideas and freedoms similar to those of the west.
Those who predict the emergence of an Iranian-style Islamist revolutionary governemt are generally dismissed as pessimists.
Perhaps it is time to take off the rose-coloured glasses and look at the facts. For one thing, a country can be “democratic” in the sense of majority rule without respecting what we in the west regard as basic human rights.
Unless the vast majority of the country have experienced a sudden conversion to the ideas of the Enlightenment in the last 9 months, here are facts collected by Pew Research Centre among 1,000 Egyptians in face-to-face interviews in April and May 2010 that give a pretty good idea of Egyptian public opinion before the current protests. Do these opinions sound like they would allow what we would call a “free” country?
First, the good news:
[li]59% say democracy is preferable to any other form of government. * [/li][li]*61% are concerned or very concerned about Islamist extremism in Egypt. *This may sound encouraging if you ignore the 39% who apparently don’t have a problem with extremism. But read on, because their concept of “extremism” seems to a be a little different from the western idea.[/li][/ul]
Now the bad news:
[li]54% believe men and woman should be segregated in the workplace.[/li]
[li]82% believe adulterers should be stoned[/li]
[li]84% believe apostates from Islam should face the death penalty[/li]
[li]77% believe thieves should be flogged or have their hands cut off.[/li][/ul] *95% say it’s good that Islam plays a large role in politics. So much for separatiion of Mosque and State, a concept that has little or no traction in the Muslim world.[/LIST]
Perhaps western democracies are making the unjustified assumption that democracy and human rights go hand-in-hand and that one automatically includes the other.
Is a democratic country necessarily a free country in the western sense of the term?
For example, there is the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam (CDHRI) which is a declaration of the member states of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference adopted in Cairo in 1990, which provides an overview on the Islamic perspective on human rights, and affirms Islamic Shari’ah as its sole source.
Could a non-Muslim (e.g. an Egyptian Coptic Christian) run for public office in the Egyptian “democracy”? Perhaps, but Sharia law says that the right to hold public office can only be exercised in accordance with the Sharia which forbids Muslims to submit to the rule of non-Muslims. Do we consider a genuine democracy one that limits the right to run in elections based on religion?
Could a non-Muslim preach his point of view in the “new democracy” of Egypt? Article 10 of the CDHRI states: “Islam is the religion of unspoiled nature. It is prohibited to exercise any form of compulsion on man or to exploit his poverty or ignorance in order to convert him to another religion or to atheism.”
Egypt may become a democracy in the sense of the majoritively Muslim population voting in elections. But whether it will be in any way what would normally pass for a free country is open to debate.
If I were the US, I would keep a lot of helicopters gassed up and ready to fly at the US Embassy!