The news coverage of the events in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East is, unfortunately, more alarmist than is necessary. Of course, rioting, looting, street chaos and the loss of life are sad and disturbing, but the political implications of what is happening in Cairo and Amman are more good than bad.
The most important thing to understand about Egypt is that the Muslim population in that country (91% of Egyptians) are non-radical Sunni’s. As an Egyptian friend told me, “Muslims in Egypt don’t care about religion, even their own.” Muslims and Christians in that country get along very well and share none of the animosity seen in areas dominated by radical Islam.
Translation: The riots in Egypt are not about religion. In fact, Egyptians of all religions do not want or like Hamas, Hezbollah or any other religious dominance.
So, why the unrest? Seventy percent of the 80 million-plus population is under the age of 30 (56 million). The median age is 24. College education in Egypt is free, but unemployment is at about 9.5% and has been between 9 and 12 percent for the last decade. Economic growth, like elsewhere in the world, has petrified with a particular impact on the all-important tourism industry.
The government in Egypt is historically corrupt, but it is a corruption that has had outside help. According to Reuters; “In 2010, $1.3 billion went to strengthen Egyptian forces versus $250 million in economic aid. Another $1.9 million went for training meant to bolster long-term U.S.-Egyptian military cooperation. Egypt also receives hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of excess military hardware annually from the Pentagon.” U.S. and other countries have designated so much aid to military purposes more to maintain contracts with defense contractors than to preserve Egyptian security. So, rather than help the floundering Egyptian economy, foreign aid has, instead, propped up (and enriched) a corrupt government.
The Muslim Brotherhood is getting a lot of attention with the disruptions in Cairo, but its influence is overstated. The Brotherhood is a non-violent Islamic organization and, for that reason, has had major disagreements with al-Qaeda. It was also prohibited from participating in Egyptian politics via a law that specifically banned religion-based political parties.
The sentiments that led to that law are not going to be compromised now. The Brotherhood is attaching itself to the current movement as a publicity maneuver and as a means to impose itself into Egyptian political dialogue. Although there may be some minor accommodation in the name of national solidarity, the likelihood of the Muslim Brotherhood having a significant part in a post-Mubarak government is remote.
This doesn’t mean a western-style democracy will emerge, but a radical Islamic regime isn’t what the Egyptian population wants or will tolerate.
This is why I reject the idea that Egypt 2011 is another Tehran 1979. No, it’s more like Eastern Europe 1988.
When Mikhail Gorbachev instituted Glasnost and let it be known that the Soviet Union would not interfere in democratic efforts in Eastern Europe, a political domino effect followed. First Poland, then Hungary and East Germany followed by Czechoslovakia and Romania.
Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, maybe Lebanon (Hezbollah) and even Iran? Democracy is infectious, tyranny is not. Radical Islamic governments have been absolute failures and would only worsen the circumstances that have led to the current unrest.
Unemployment, economic chaos, corrupt politicians … sound familiar?
I asked my Egyptian friend if what is happening in his homeland had the same roots as what happened in the United States last year via the Tea Party? “Yes,” he said, but, of course, without the violence.
Interesting point. How often have we heard both foreign and domestic press talk about America’s “cowboy” mentality and criticize gun ownership in the United States? Yet, how did we go about instituting regime change? Yes, we took to the streets, but civilly and without rocks or tear gas. The only fires we set were analogous and no one died.
Rather than being an apocalyptic sign of the rise of Islamic extremism, the wave of public dissatisfaction in northern Africa and the Middle East could very well be the beginning of its demise.