No Democracy Please, We Are Egyptian!

As the Cairo Times, an English language weekly, aimed at progressive elements in Egyptian society, said, "No one imagined that at the moment of the Egyptian President’s visit to Washington , his Minister of Education, Hussein Kamal Bahaeddin, would seize the occasion to muzzle civil society."

The minister in question published a directive punishing 36 teachers and one principal for having taken part in a seminar on "Initiation to Democracy in the Education System."  It is undoubtedly true that one reason for the success of Muslim fundamentalists is that not one Islamic country has developed civil society, with democratic institutions that answer to the needs of the citizen.

As Edward Said put it, 

"The history of the modern Arab world – with all its political failures, its human rights abuses, its stunning military incompetence, its decreasing production, the fact that alone of all modern peoples we [the Arabs] have receded in democratic and technological and scientific development – is disfigured by a whole series of outmoded and discredited ideas …"

There has been a demographic explosion in the Islamic world, and the leaders have simply not coped, unable to provide jobs, housing, health facilities, transport, and with inflation running high, all compounded by human rights abuses (torture, summary justice, executions, etc.) This failure has been very ably exploited by the Islamists to increase their prestige, and power, which, in turn, has led to mounting demands for increasing Islamization of society.

Only secularism and democracy can counter the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, only under democracy will a healthy and necessary criticism of society be possible.  For as the Devil says to Ivan Karamozov, "without criticism there would be nothing but hosanna [an exclamation of praise to God].  But hosanna alone is not enough for life. It is necessary that this hosanna should be tried in the crucible of doubt."

[source : Courrier International, No 497, 11 – 17 Mai, 2000 ; Ibn Warraq]