All kinds of interesting factors helps bring about the recent outbreak of potential democracy in Egypt, as Dr. Ayman Amer, Associate Professor of Economics at Mount Mercy University, pointed out Feb. 22.
He also said many of the analogies made between Egypt and Iran—such as I had made in an earlier blog post—are faulty due to deep differences between the countries and cultures.
Amer spoke to a meeting of Iowa Women for Peace, which Dr. Charlotte Martin, president of the group and another MMU Professor, she of Religious Studies, pointed out is being renamed Iowa Workers for Peace “because we have more men than women and it was getting awkward.”
Anyway, Amer said that there were four factors that led to Egypt’s revolution:
1) A rigged fall election in Egypt, which emphasized to the people how fake the Mubarak government was.
2) A speech two years ago by President Obama in Cairo—and Obama’s election in the United States, both of which energized and excited the Egyptian people.
3) The recent revolution in Tunisia, where the president quickly resigned in the fact of popular protests.
4) The advent of social media and direct communication through Facebook, Twitter and phone texting.
As for the contrast between Iran and Egypt, Amer noted that Sunni Islam and Shia Islam, which both sharing a lack of church-state separation, have a different relationship to the formal church. In Shia-dominated Iran, Islam is economically independent of the government and, indeed, oversees the government.
Sunni Egypt does not have that tradition. While church and state are not separated in Egypt the way they are in the U.S.—indeed, they are not separated in a U.S.-like system anywhere in the Islamic world—neither does the church have the authority to dominate the government.
Amer said Americans need to have a more complete understanding of the Middle East in order to understand events in Egypt. Among other things, he noted that we tend to lump all Muslims and all Muslim groups together—thinking of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt as if it were like the Taliban or al Qaeda. In fact, not only is the Egyptian group different, but the Taliban and al Qaeda are also very different from each other—one a tribal force in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the other an amorphous international group.
Another point he made is that American policy has historically tended to favor “order” at all costs—which has led to support for dictatorships that are unpopular with the people
Not only is this morally dubious, but, as Amer said, governments come and go, even if it takes 30 years. The people remain. He said that it would strategically benefit the U.S. in the long term to be seen as being on the people’s side.
Amer also said that we can’t play down the importance of American politics. When the 2008 campaign was going on, Amer would hear from his mother about quotes Sarah Palin or Mike Huckabee or others stated during the campaign. His young nephews and nieces also comment on American politics.
America is not just a military power—perhaps more importantly, American media are a worldwide force. CNN is everywhere, and Egyptians follow American political news very closely.
The theme of the successful 2008 Obama campaign? “Change,” and change is a message that Egyptians have taken to heart.
Well, I’m not completely prepared to let go of the Iran analogy in the sense that people power revolutions don’t always turn out well in the end.
In Egypt, a huge question mark is what role the military will take. Just as the Islamic world does not separate church and state as the U.S. does, Egyptian government does not have the tradition of the military being controlled by civilians. Indeed, when he was named Vice President in the 1970s, before an assassination made him president, Hosni Mubarak had been an Air Force general.
The interim government is a senior military council. I’m glad that the Egyptian military didn’t attack the people—and wish the Libyan military would follow suit—but, it’s still an open question:
Can democracy come to Egypt? Will the generals allow it? Another Obama theme comes to mind–hope. At least there is hope.