Tag Archives: Egypt

Egypt Is Not Iran, Amer Points Out

Dr. Ayman Amer

Dr. Ayman Amer answers a question Feb. 23 during a meeting of Iowa Workers for Peace in the Busse Library, Mount Mercy University.

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.


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Hooray for Egypt, But What Now?


1989--Tiananmen Square

Famous image of Chinese democracy hero facing down tank. Sadly, the story did not end well, as the "People's" Army crushed the people in 1989 in China. Reuters photo by Arthur Tsang, downloaded 2-11-11 from Minnpost.com.

At least it didn’t end like Tiananmen Square. Not tanks or troops shooting protesters en masse, even if there has been some violence.

It’s exhilarating to see change in Egypt, but it’s sobering to think that both that country and that region have a very poor record. Even Israel is an imperfect democracy that has a huge Palestinian problem in the sense that the U.S. had a Native American problem, only much more urgent and larger—after all, Canada and Mexico aren’t Native American countries ready to wipe the U.S. out in order to restore it’s Native American roots. But, Israel faces hostile neighbors and is not entirely innocent in why it’s neighbors are consistently hostile.

I’m not going to untie the twisted knot of Israeli politics, and it is a functioning democracy, which is a reason we’ve always been a friend of Israel even when our relationship has been rather complex and our countries sometimes working at cross purposes.

No doubt about it, the Middle East is a volatile place. And Mubarak has, for 30 years, helped to keep it less volatile.

Am I glad to see him go? Well, yes, sort of. The Egyptian people are asserting people power.

But the Egyptian people don’t have a history of democratic self government. Sudden and cataclysmic governmental change, even when caused by people power that draws our immediate sympathy, doesn’t always end well.

A bit over 30 years ago, it was the Shah of Iran, a despot, who was overthrown by people power. What came next?

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