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Roger Farinha

Founder, New American Spring

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What is the future of middle-eastern democracy, as implied in contemporary Egypt?

We see how the Muslim Brotherhood is frantically attempting to hijack Egypt's move to democracy, but the diverse people of Egypt will have none of it. I understand Islam as the traditional binding force of Arabs generally, a people who were formerly characterized by tribal diversity. Yet Egypt, perhaps for its long existence as a nation, has the more opportunity to get past tribal difference, hence perhaps for this reason making Islam less necessary for the cohesion of the people. The presence of the Muslim Brotherhood, however, shows the still significant pull of Islam. Do you feel that Egypt will cross the precipice of democracy, managing to develop a constitution truly representative of the diversity of its people; one, moreover, capable of assimilating the growing movement toward Western-like secularism, consumerism, and liberties in the Middle East?

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  • Nov 29 2012: "What is the future of middle-eastern democracy, as implied in contemporary Egypt?"

    Probably a lot like Indonesian and Malaysian democracy (there are many other such countries). There will be elections and independent courts and the police won't swoop you off the streets for looking funny at a picture of the president but there will be pretty severe restrictions on freedom of speech and freedom FROM religion: you'll probably have to identify with one of a number of officially recognized religions (which will be visible on official documents, like passports) and you will have to submit to the civil laws of that religion (so when you divorce the judge will rule differently if you are a Muslim than if you are a Christian, in fact it won't be the same judge). A non-Muslim will be allowed to convert to Islam, but not the other way around. Atheism won't be recognized and being gay will be a criminal offense. So, although there will be no government law saying women must stay at home, the religious authorities of an officially recognized religion can decree that a husband has the right to order his wife to stay at home and she will be bound to that because the only way to fight it would be in a civil court of that particular religious authority.

    This is pretty much the way most people in the Middle East want their countries to be and it's not too different from how many American Evangelical Christians want their country to be, so it's democratic in that sense. These days, and in the future you will read a lot of Western commentaries, shocked by the outdated character of the new Middle Eastern democracy (it's a lot like the Western system 100 years ago), but these are the same fools who were surprised by the uprisings. The rights of minorities were never on the agenda of most of the protestors, they wanted a system like Indonesia has and that's what they'll be getting.
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      Nov 29 2012: I would like to take exception with your view of "the people." I feel that the protesters in Egypt, and even the regular people of your Indonesia example, really are just thinking of themselves in their own individual needs, whether they desire religious oligarchies of any degree, or the most liberal secularism. There is always a disconnect between the raw "people" and the government, which is often composed out of political struggles and often unequally representative of political powers. This is why, for example, I am attempting to champion true populist representation, even in our cherished US of A, in my own personal ideological life project. But underlying all my efforts is a firm belief that a truly populist governmental system is both necessary and desirable in our world going forward...
      • Nov 30 2012: "I would like to take exception with your view of "the people." I feel that the protesters in Egypt, and even the regular people of your Indonesia example, really are just thinking of themselves in their own individual needs"

        There are opposition movements in every country, but I was talking about the majority in a country like Egypt where a large part of the population is illiterate and will believe every last word of their local imam, including his voting "advice". Nevertheless, the protests were also against corruption, police brutality and the accountability (or lack thereof) of the military and police, the protestors do want more freedoms, but a referendum on legalizing apostasy from Islam or being gay would be solidly defeated.

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