Monday, February 28, 2011

Egyptian uprising – a practical perspective

By Karoly

" The winter revolution in Egypt points to the imperativeness of modern secular class and technology for making creative political changes."

The recently occurred uprising in Egypt should be food for thought for those advocating secularism in politics as well as the Islamists. Even though the outcome of the revolution is not known for final yet – hopefully it is a positive one – the claims and analyses of the Islamists who toil to "integrate religion and politics" as well as the secularists who oppose fundamentalism in politics in this matter would be interesting.

The West too is zealous in making its own claims. Their claims are of course that the secular democratic model prevailing in the western countries and western technologies like internet, face book and twitter have facilitated the revolution. There is no denying the influence of these factors. On the other hand Islamists tend to belittle these influences and give the whole credit to “Islamic spirit” alone. The truth may be somewhere in between.

The most influential Islamist party in Egypt is Muslim Brotherhood, who advocate implementing “Islamic rule” in politics. Fortunately even they have changed their policies a lot of late. This shows the impracticability and irrelevance of their previous fundamentalist stance. In fact this stance was an innovative one and stood against the general and traditional consensus of the Muslim community who see religion and science, and for that matter religion and politics, as separate – which is vindicated by a tradition of prophet regarding artificial pollination of palm trees. (See the About page of this site)

To give Brotherhood some credit, they had indeed pioneered and led the resistance against the authoritarianism of Hosni Mubarak government in the past. But despite winning sizable support from the general public, even winning 20% of the seats in 2005 election, why couldn’t the Brotherhood make a breakthrough? The answer certainly lies in the impracticability of meddling politics with fundamentalism. 

For one thing Brotherhood couldn’t unify even the Muslims, as they would have failed to get the support of those Muslim factions with spiritual differences to them. On the other side they could not hope to get the support of religious minorities, for fear of implementing “Islamic rule”. Another is they lacked the practical acumen and initiative, so imperative to make any revolution happen, for this is not to be found in any fundamental sources but is a purely practical and contemporary issue. Hosni Mubarak could also strengthen his grip in power by creating fear psychosis about the Brotherhood coming to power. Last but not the least they ruined their own case by resorting to many extremist steps.

The uprising was hardly any “Holy war” instigated by any Mulla but was inspired by secular democratic values, which are also endorsed by Islam, and induced by common man’s problems like unemployment, poverty, economic woes and repression. The movement was noted for active participation by all sections of the community including the minorities. Moreover it was pioneered by such secular figures as Wael Ghonim, the Google executive, and Muhammad El-Baradei, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and the former Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Finally, it was well facilitated by modern communication technologies like facebook and twitter.

As echoed by the scholar Fouad Ajami, :
"No turbaned ayatollah had stepped forth to summon the crowd. This was not Iran in 1979. A young Google executive, Wael Ghonim, had energized this protest when it might have lost heart, when it could have succumbed to the belief that this regime and its leader were a big, immovable object. Mr. Ghonim was a man of the modern world. He was not driven by piety. The condition of his country—the abject poverty, the crony economy of plunder and corruption, the cruelties and slights handed out to Egyptians in all walks of life by a police state that the people had outgrown and despaired of—had given this young man and others like him their historical warrant."
These facts certainly do strengthen the case of the secular approach and weaken advocacy of fundamentalism in politics. The Winter revolution in Egypt points to the imperativeness of modern secular class and technology for making creative political changes. When we despair the lack of democracy in Muslim countries and perpetuation of totalitarian regimes there, despite the Muslim claim that it was Islam which had pioneered democratic principles from the time of the first four Caliphs, we should find reason in the lack of secular forces to provide a credible alternative for the incompetent fundamentalist streams there.

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