[private] Daniel Brumberg, a co-director of the democracy and governance program at Georgetown University, best summarized the strength and weakness of the Arab Spring movement when he said, “The Arab Awakenings happened because the Arab peoples stopped fearing their leaders – but they stalled because the Arab peoples have not stopped fearing each other.” Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood confronts that dichotomy as he becomes not only Egypt’s first democratically elected civilian president but also the first Islamist elected to lead an Arab state.
On the website of Foreign Policy magazine, Brumberg wrote that Morsi “will have to decide who he really is: a political unifier who wants one Egypt for all Egyptians, as he said shortly after he was declared president, or an Islamist partisan devoted to the very proposition that he repeated during the first round of the elections campaign, namely that the Quran is our Constitution.”
Thomas Friedman of the New York Times thinks Egypt will need a Nelson Mandela. Can Morsi play that role? Friedman says “early indications are mixed at best.” I concur. The culture of fear Brumberg talks about is going to be very difficult to overcome.
Arab dictators nurtured and used that culture of fear to keep themselves in power. Most of them ran their countries like Mafia dons operating protection rackets. They wanted people to fear each other more than them, so they could sit atop the society doling out patronage and protection while ruling with an iron fist.
To overcome this legacy, Friedman argues, “will take a culture of pluralism and citizenship.” Until then, tribes will still fear tribes, sects will still fear sects, the secularists and Christians will still fear the Islamists, and the culture of “rule or die” will remain a potent competitor to “one man one vote.”
Nearly two centuries ago, American clergyman William Ellery Channing wrote, “We look forward to the time when the power of love will replace the love of power.” Perhaps we’ll have to continue looking forward to that day. One would have to be naïve to think that transitioning from primordial identities to “citizens” would be easy, or even likely. Friedman reminds us it took the United States “two centuries of struggle and compromise to get to a point where it could elect a black man with the middle name Hussein as president and then consider replacing him with a Mormon. And that is in a country of immigrants.”
Will Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood authentically reach out to the other 50 percent of Egypt – the secular, liberal, Salafist and Christian elements – and assure them that not only will they not be harmed but their views and aspirations will be balanced alongside the Brotherhood’s? That is certainly going to require a genuine revolution in thinking by the Muslim Brotherhood leadership and rank-and-file to embrace religious and political pluralism. This, however, becomes essential as they move from being the opposition, to actually governing.
This will not happen overnight. But if it doesn’t happen at all, the Egyptian democracy experiment will most certainly fail, and a terrible precedent will be set for the whole region. Perhaps more immediately, Morsi will have to wrest power from the generals who have ruled Egypt since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. Whatever happens in Egypt will have a huge impact on all the other Arab awakenings. If the Egyptians can forge a workable social contract to govern themselves, it will set the proper example for the whole region. Good luck, Mr. Morsi. May Allah be with you – remember the world is watching, including the Bay Islands! [/private]