By Tawfik Hamid
The revolution in Egypt can take one of two more likely directions. On one hand, the values of liberty and freedom may prevail and on the other hand, Islamic radicals may hijack the revolution and create a theocratic state. The future of the country and the Middle East largely depend on which of these case scenarios will succeed.
It is important to mention that unlike the Iranian revolution – which was clearly an Islamic one – this revolution is not religious in its roots. However, the more the delay in ending the power of Mubarak, the more likely the country will collapse economically which can allow Islamists to direct the revolution to serve their Islamic agenda.
On the positive side, Islamists have suffered several blows in this revolution. These include:
- Unprecedented unity between Muslims and Christians. Both Friday Muslim and Sunday Christian prayers were held in the Tahreer Square with support and blessings from the protestors.
- Clear rejection to giving the revolution any religious title. In fact, many protestors prevented the members of the Muslim Brotherhood from using the flag of their organization.
- The founders of the revolution have been inspired by the values of freedom. The very same people who started the revolution are unlikely to accept an Islamic agenda that will inevitably suppress their freedoms.
- The logic that was regularly used by many Islamists that the US and Israel are behind all the problems in Egypt has been discredited as the Mubarak government tried to accuse the demonstrators that they are paid by the US and Israel. This despicable lie is likely to diminish the ability of Islamists to use such reasoning to further ruin the already negative image of the US and Israel.
- The refusal of the Muslim Brotherhood initially to share in the demonstrations will make them loose some of their already declining credibility in the Egyptian street.
Despite the above mentioned potentially positive points against the Islamists, the following factors can significantly nullify such points and on the contrary allow Islamists to hijack the revolution. These factors include:
- The expected economic crisis that is likely to happen in the country as a result of a sudden collapse of the tourism industry.
- The contradictory statements of some US officials regarding the exact position of the US regarding to the revolution. On one hand Frank Wisner, a US envoy to Egypt, suggest that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak should remain in office and on the other hand the Obama administration was clear in that there is a need for power transition in the country. This ambiguity has been used by Al-Jazeera (Arabic) to convince many Egyptians that the US is supportive of Mubarak against them. The US disowned his comments, however; the exact US position is still unclear in the eyes of many Egyptians. Such lack of clarity – at least as perceived by many – about the real US position can create a wound between the US and the Egyptian people that may take long time to heal.
- The delay of the Egyptian military in taking a clear stand with the people against Mubarak will make them perceived by many as traitors who supported one person against the will of a whole nation. This delay of the military in taking a clear side against Mubarak has put the country into a state of chaos and economic crisis that can ONLY work for the benefit of Islamists and can make many Egyptians unwilling to cooperate with the military in the future.
- A sudden termination of the Emergency Law in Egypt as the US demanded from the Mubarak regime may allow many Jihadists to utilize the chaos and conduct acts of terror that can further aggravate the already existent economic crisis and increase radicalism.
The following can help to avoid more Islamisation and radicalization of the country after the inevitable collapse of Mubarak:
- Immediate economic support to prevent the economic crisis to block the positive feedback potential of the vicious Poverty-Terrorism cycle where poverty (in the presence of radical Islamic ideology) facilitates recruitment for terrorist groups who commit terror acts that further aggravate the poverty situation.
- Immediate support for the efforts of the Egyptians to get Mubarak’s family and -if possible-money back to the country if the allegations are true that they stole $40-70 Billion dollars from public money.
- Clarifying that the US position is for freedom of the Egyptian people and against Mubarak. Currently, the US can choose either to loose Mubarak and the Egyptian people or loose the former and win the hearts of the Egyptians (and many in the Muslim world as well). An unambiguous US position in this critical time is vital if the US is interested to win many Egyptians to its side.
- Immediate intervention of the Egyptian military to remove Mubarak.
- Modifying (NOT suspending) the Emergency Law to avoid using it against innocents or against political opponents of Mubarak and limit its use to the terrorists. A strong punishment MUST be given to those who use this law against innocents or to suppress political opposition of the government. Unfortunately, this law is needed, at least in some situations, to prevent some devastating terrorist acts.
- Building on the positive momentum that has been described earlier against the Islamists via proper use of media campaigns. For example, well organized media campaigns to discuss, for example, how the Muslims and Christians united during the protests, how the Muslim brotherhood initially refused to share in the demonstrations, and how the conspiracy theories can be incorrect- can assist in preventing more Islamisation of the country after Mubarak.
Failure to IMMEDIATELLY give attention to the factors that can drag the country toward more Islamism can jeopardize all future relations between US and Egypt.