Since the start of the unrest in Egypt on January 25, one of the main questions ringing in heads in the West could be summed up thus: “Yes, I understand they’re rising up against the Mubarak regime but what if it’s the Muslim Brotherhood that takes control?”
One of the things that Mubarak has managed to achieve during his 30 years in power is killing off all competitive political life in his country and the only group that appears to have any real popular support is the tolerated-but-not-banned Muslim Brotherhood. Indeed the political scene was so well contained that at the last legislative elections, the opposition all but disappeared from parliament.
In the first days of the uprising, Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority chose not to take part in the protests with many fearing that events were being orchestrated by the Muslim Brotherhood.
And what was the Western press’ take on this?
The Economist published an article subtitled The West should celebrate, not fear, the upheaval in Egypt. The article argues that “The popular rejection of Mr Mubarak offers the Middle East’s best chance for reform in decades. If the West cannot back Egypt’s people in their quest to determine their own destiny, then its arguments for democracy and human rights elsewhere in the world stand for nothing. Change brings risks—how could it not after so long?—but fewer than the grim stagnation that is the alternative.”
The Economist describes the revolt as “peaceful (until the government’s thugs turned up), popular (no Robespierre or Trotsky running things behind the scenes), and secular (Islam has hardly reared its head).” It goes so far as to say that “Driven by the power of its citizens, Egypt’s upheaval could lead to a transformation as benign as those in eastern Europe.” Its message to pessimists and nay-sayers is that “No perfectly formed democracy is about to emerge from the detritus of Mr Mubarak’s regime. Disorder seems likely to reign for some time. But Egypt, though poor, has a sophisticated elite, a well-educated middle class and strong sense of national pride. These are good grounds for believing that Egyptians can pull order out of this chaos.”
As for the Muslim Brotherhood, it notes that while “estimates of their popularity hover around 20% and have been falling…If democracy is to flourish in Egypt, the Brothers must be allowed to compete for power.” The Economist reminds its readers that Islamists take part in active democracy in Turkey, Malaysia and Indonesia and concludes that “There is no guarantee that Egypt’s revolution will turn out for the best. The only certainty is that autocracy leads to upheaval, and the best guarantor of stability is democracy.”
And there are other optimistic editorials. Thomas L. Friedman states confidently in the New York Times that he is “not the least bit worried about the Muslim Brotherhoods in Jordan or Egypt hijacking the future.” he goes on to say that the Muslim Brotherhood will actually have to up its game and offer something more than simple criticism of Mubarak as they now “for the first time, have real competition from the moderate center” in Egypt and also Jordan.
This, Friedman argues, means it is the Muslim Brotherhood itself which should be worried as its leaders “have had it easy in a way. They had no legitimate secular political opponents. The regimes prevented that so they could tell the world it is either “us or the Islamists.””
Nick Kristof is another columnist in the New York Times who sees the cup half full. “No one can predict with certainty. But let me try to offer a dose of reassurance,” he says. Democracy, he says, is not to be feared, curious as that phrase may sound coming from the keyboard of an American commentator. He writes that “If democracy gains in the Middle East, there will be some demagogues, nationalists and jingoists, just as there are in America and Israel, and they may make diplomacy more complicated. But remember that it’s Mr. Mubarak’s repression, imprisonment and torture that nurtured angry extremists like Ayman al-Zawahri of Al Qaeda, the right-hand man of Osama bin Laden. It would be tragic if we let our anxieties impede our embrace of freedom and democracy in the world’s most populous Arab nation.”
A Washington Post editorial also contends that the US can in fact believe its own rhetoric supporting Egyptian democracy, saying:
“Egypt’s Islamic threat cannot be discounted. But the administration has focused on the wrong problem – and, as a result, has taken the wrong side. The biggest threat to the stated U.S. objective of a “real democracy” in Egypt is not an extreme opposition but the very regime the administration is backing.”