Arab Spring or Islamist Winter?

I am writing this plea because Egypt needs help to complete the revolution it began on January 25, 2011.  The demonstrations last year were started by truly democratic forces that were tired of decades of oppression and corruption; the result was the unexpected downfall of Mubarak at the beginning of the so-called Arab Spring.

Unfortunately the Islamists, who were not involved in the first few days of the revolution, quickly took advantage of the situation when they saw the uprising beginning to succeed. During the confusion they broke open many jails to release their and Hamas’ members. Because of their intimidating use of religion and the manipulative economic tactics they use to buy votes, they “won” the presidency last June by the slimmest of margins (just over 50%). Unfortunately it seems almost certain that Egypt’s top military leaders at that time cut a deal with the Islamists and handed them the presidency in return for not being held accountable for their own corruption.  Subsequent events have confirmed this in the minds of millions of Egyptians: top military leaders were given honorable discharge!

The first few months under the presidency of the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, Mohammed Mursi, have been dismal. Freedom of the press has been under attack. Harassment of women and Christians is rising alarmingly. The economy and infrastructure continue to deteriorate. Precious resources and perhaps weapons have been passed to Hamas in Gaza. The Muslim Brotherhood is aggressively extending its control over all dimensions of public and economic life while radical groups are threatening the stability of the Sinai Peninsula.

Then on November 22nd (Thanksgiving Day!), President Mursi exploded a bombshell by issuing a so-called Constitutional Declaration in which he granted himself unprecedented authority over all branches of government until a constitution is adopted!  One of his main intentions was to protect the constitutional drafting assembly which his party dominates from legal challenge.  In the days prior to his decree, key democratic and Christian leaders had withdrawn from the assembly because their voice was not being heard.

Protests erupted almost immediately after the president’s action.  In response, the constitutional assembly hastily and unexpectedly finished its work a few days later and handed the President a draft constitution!  The president declared a referendum on the constitution on December 15th.   However, key national leaders, judges, lawyers, constitutional experts, church representatives and journalists have objected both to the draft constitution and the unfair process by which Mursi hopes to see it adopted.  Among those objecting is Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohammed El Baradei.   Several assistants to the president have resigned in the last few days in protest at his actions.  Millions of people have poured into the streets all over the country to protest what they see as a return of dictatorship, only this time under Islamist rule.

Unfortunately, peaceful demonstrators were viciously attacked by the Muslim Brotherhood yesterday (December 5th) with six deaths and hundreds of injuries being reported. Field clinics and nearby churches were also assaulted. As a sign of the nation’s outrage, Muslim Brotherhood offices and the president’s own house are being attacked in several cities.  The Brotherhood has lost the opportunity to rule by consensus.

Because of our contact with hundreds of people around the country as well as with local social media and the press, I believe I am speaking for millions of Egyptians.  Our message to the US is simply this:   Will you support the cause of freedom and civilian rule in Egypt?   Do you want an Islamist Mideast or a democratic one? What is happening in Egypt is remarkable.  Millions of Muslims are rejecting those who are using their religion as a tool for political gain. Minority Christians are standing next to these moderate Muslims and together they are making a difference. But why is so much of Western media strangely silent or ambiguous in the message that it is sending? Let’s keep in mind that the way Egypt goes will influence the entire Arab world.

We are not asking the US or any other country to interfere in our internal affairs.  All we want is pressure on the Egyptian government to listen to the demands of a large segment of the population and stop its intimidation.  We do NOT want the U.S. to support the Mursi government in its oppressive policies.

The minimum demands at present are for the president to rescind his unconstitutional declaration of November 22 and gain the consensus of major political parties on the proposed constitution before it is submitted to a referendum. The country is also demanding that the government protect peaceful demonstrators and bring the attackers of the last few hours to justice.

If the world doesn’t stand against religious bigotry and defend freedom now, it will have to answer before history and before the people of the Mideast who are tired of hearing pro-democracy rhetoric from the West and yet see contradictory behavior.

Please help rescue the Arab Spring from turning into a cold and long Islamist winter.

Egyptian Educator

December 6, 2012


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