More Protests, More Changes

 An Egyptian Summer follows the Arab Spring

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On July 3rd, 2013 Egypt’s only democratically elected leader in the country’s history, Mohammed Morsi, was deposed; now further investigation into his conduct is set to begin. As we have vividly seen in recent press coverage, all this occurred in the context of yet more widespread protest and unrest across the nation. In February at our 2013 Annual Joint Lectures (and now transcribed in our previous Featured Article) His Grace Bishop Anaeglos said with alarming accuracy: “Unfortunately, what we find now is that Egypt is not led by the government but, rather, from the street: protest can and does overturn decisions.”

Although it did not appear likely a year ago, it seems as if the Muslim Brotherhood’s conception of ‘Political Islam’, once embraced warmly by Egypt’s populace is now getting the cold shoulder.

The recent unrest – fueled by resentment of Morsi and the Brotherhood’s growing authoritarianism[1] – demonstrates that Egypt is a long way from operating under anything that can be described as a democratic system. The protests were the result of the actions of a democratically elected leadership which itself did not believe in democratic practices. That being said, the popular protests do not represent democratic practice either. But they do represent a strong popular desire for democracy. However any kind of democracy in Egypt seems far off; especially as the realpolitik of the Army looms ominously over the political landscape.  The Turkish public intellectual Felthullah Gullen argued that, regardless of the frustrations with Morsi the removal of a democratically elected leadership by the Army threatens the chances of an Egyptian democracy. Comparisons can be made with other countries such as Turkey in 1960 and 1971 or Algeria in 1992 where military coups only prolonged authoritarian rule. The Army will also naturally want to protect their own interests which may well conflict with democratic ones and this can already be seen as they manoeuvre to ensure that the new constitution benefits them. Therefore democracy, undoubtedly a complex ideal, faces many obstacles in Egypt.  Converting the sentiment of popular protests into a functioning democracy may prove very difficult indeed.  Although it did not appear likely a year ago, it seems as if the Muslim Brotherhood’s conception of ‘Political Islam’, once embraced warmly by Egypt’s populace is now getting the cold shoulder. So where do we go from here?

But at the Centre we are wondering what role interfaith dialogue initiatives could play in this process.

Well, we have all learnt – again – that free and fair elections by themselves do not, and will not guarantee democracy, let alone stability. There needs to be an end to arbitrary arrests and crackdowns on the media. There needs to be legitimate opposition and a revival of open debate and dialogue in public civic and political life. The undoubted desire for a better, more democratic Egypt needs to be channeled into establishing a new constitution that acknowledges, protects, and includes all major voices at all levels of society. This is of course all easier said than done. But at the Centre we are wondering what role interfaith dialogue initiatives could play in this process. Could Muslims studying Christianity and indeed vice-versa be important steps toward healing deep, mutually held suspicions? We are not talking about lowest common denominator agreements; rather mutual understanding achieved through the serious study of each other’s traditions; and joint aspirations for a religiously and politically diverse, democratic Egypt. Egypt needs leaders willing to build from the bottom up not just to dictate from the top-down. This will be a determining summer; not just in terms of Egypt’s future, but for the whole legacy of the so-called Arab Spring.

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AUTHOR
Alastair Colin-Jones
Impact Development, Centre for Muslim-Christian Studies


[1] After winning power, Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood announced decrees said to be above judicial scrutiny, outlawing political opponents, and rubbishing their promise not to seek a presidential and parliamentary majority. In addition to this, in November 2012 they granted themselves unlimited constitutional powers to “protect” the nation.

Comment (1)

  • Ida Reply

    There is a very interesting interview with a leading Egyptian Christian (Nov 2011) here http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org/blog/michael-j-totten/christians-egypt-part-i. The Christian argues on a number of grounds that we should all be more concerned for Muslims than for Christians in Egypt. It’s a useful reminder that we can constructively study not only one another’s beliefs and histories, but also one another’s concerns. Is that a key to better relationships?

    At CMCS, we say that we want to transform Muslim-Christian relations not only through shared study but also through following the example of Jesus. If part of that example is that we put other peoples’ interests before our own, then we should certainly have other peoples’ concerns as our focus.

    July 16, 2013 at 5:08 pm

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