Few people, if any, will deny that last month's departure of Hosni Mubarak as the thirty-year dictator -- ahem, president -- of Egypt was a good thing for the Egyptian people. Like a number of other thugs and dictators who have ruled -- or who continue to rule -- over African and Middle Eastern nations, it was clearly time for Hosni Mubarak to go. Let's hope that Moammar al-Gaddafi of Libya, and Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen will soon follow suit, along with the Saud family, and a number of other entrenched national leaders in the Middle East.
While the media spotlight has since been repositioned, and much attention has been given as of late to events in Japan -- and now Libya -- developments in Egypt should continue to be of interest, because while Hosni Mubarak is now assumed to be history, there is still much work to be done in Egypt, in order to transform it into a true democracy where the Egyptian population has a say in their country's future.
After Hosni Mubarak was finally forced to step down by the Egyptian military following eighteen days of protests at Cairo's Tahrir Square and elsewhere -- now referred to as the January 25th Revolution -- the people clamored for quick, immediate, visible change in Egypt. They wanted to experience change here and now, even though the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces repeatedly advised them that the changes which they demanded during the protests would take time to implement; in fact, months at the very least. At the same time, the Egyptian military offered hints that it was not interested in remaining in control of the country any longer than was absolutely necessary. It wanted to see a civilian-led government installed.
Thus it was that this past Sunday, March 20, 2011, and only five weeks since Hosni Mubarak's fall, a national referendum was held in which the Egyptian public had an opportunity to approve, or disapprove, of a package of eight constitutional amendments. One of these amendments limits the president's time in office to a period of two four-year terms. As was to be expected, the package was approved by 77.2 percent of the voting public according to various news sources.
While all may seem to be well on the surface as Egypt moves closer to becoming a full-fledged democracy, there may be serious trouble brewing underneath. Allow me to explain.
The people of Egypt demanded expediency from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, but it now seems that in their haste, they may have let the tiger out of its cage. You may recall that during the eighteen days that protesters gathered by the many thousands at Tahrir Square, they were spearheaded by and organized by a small group of well-educated, technologically-savvy, young Egyptians. In a loose sort of way, perhaps we can refer to these leaders as Egypt's "yuppy" class. According to news reports, these Egyptian "yuppies" were for the most part of a secular persuasion. They were not Muslim extremists who were seeking to turn Egypt into an Islamic state similar to Iran.
At the same time, while the January 25th Revolution protests were in progress, the Muslim Brotherhood -- which has been outlawed in Egypt since 1954 -- maintained a very low profile, because they didn't want to be viewed as being the fomenters of the revolution. At that time -- and I may have mentioned this point in an earlier post -- I suspected that the Muslim Brotherhood had shrewdly decided that it would be in their best interest to simply let the Egyptian people carry the weight of the revolution, and then once Mubarak was removed from power, the Muslim Brotherhood would begin to make its power grab. Sadly, that now seems to be exactly what is happening.
While one would think that all Egyptians would be very pleased with the results of Sunday's referendum, that is not the case whatsoever. Almost twenty-three percent of voters were against the referendum. In fact, it may surprise you to know that according to media reports, some of the very leaders of the January 25th Revolution were opposed to the referendum, as were public figures such as Nobel laureate and former head of the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, and former secretary general of the Arab League, Amr Moussa. Both of these men are potential presidential candidates in the upcoming Egyptian election, so why would they, as well as some of the very leaders of the revolution, be opposed to the constitutional amendments?
In a word, the answer is time, and the fact that time does not favor the core group of people who overthrew Mubarak. In other words, due to their impatience and desire to see immediate change in Egypt, the public has placed fledgling political parties in Egypt -- who want to promote their own candidates in upcoming elections -- at a disadvantage. These new parties lack the organizational skills, finances and manpower that is possessed by the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as by Mubarak's corrupt party, the National Democratic Party. According to media reports, it was in fact the Muslim Brotherhood and the National Democratic Party who were the primary supporters of Sunday's referendum, for obvious reasons.
In contrast, some of the leaders of the January 25th Revolution, as well as the Coptic Christians, were opposed to the referendum. Please understand that I am not saying that they are opposed to the proposed package of amendments itself, rather, they were opposed to the timing of the referendum. They realized that the process is moving along too quickly, and that to continue at such a rapid pace will give the Muslim Brotherhood the upper hand. In other words, they were hoping for a longer transitional period before the referendum was placed before Egyptian voters, which obviously would also allow them more time to prepare themselves politically for the upcoming elections. That is why I stated that time is not on their side. There simply is not enough time left for them to do what needs to be done, in order for them to effectively promote their candidates. The Muslim Brotherhood has the edge.
Even though these groups attempted to persuade Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to move slower, their pleas were ignored. As a result, the tiger --- the Muslim Brotherhood -- has been let out of its cage. It is also interesting to note that much of the opposition to the referendum originated in Cairo and Alexandria, which just happen to be two population centers for Egypt's Coptic Christians. We have but to look at other Muslim nations where Islamic parties are in control, to realize what bitter fate may be in store for Egypt's Coptic Christians, if the Muslim Brotherhood acquires the political power that it seeks.
As one political observer noted, "I want our country to advance, and we will not advance if they [the Muslim Brotherhood] win . . . The interference of religion in politics can destroy Egypt." His statements highlight one of the major factors which divides the nations and peoples of the Middle East, and which has resulted in internal strife, violence, bloodshed and war. In other words, the people of the Middle East are so divided by sectarian loyalties -- meaning Sunni, Shi'ite, Kurd, Christian, etc. -- that it has become nearly impossible for them to work together in any meaningful fashion. Just look at the ongoing political turmoil in Iraq following its so-called "liberation". Whenever one faction rules a country, anger and resentment build up in the other sects, until that government falls from power, and then a wave of violence, revenge and retribution ensues. This is the sad history of the Muslim nations of the Middle East. It is the sad story of people who follow the violent teachings of the Qur'an, instead of the peaceful doctrine of Jesus Christ.
Please pray for the Coptic Christians of Egypt.