Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Coming Full-Circle in Tahrir Square
By Abdul Wahid Shaida
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, August 9, 2011
Friday 29 July 2011 had been billed as a “Friday of Unity”
demonstration in Tahrir Square uniting secular and Islamic opposition
forces to come out to push for further change in Egypt. But the arrival of
approximately 1 million people calling for Islamic change drew fierce
criticism from secular groups within Egypt, as well as secularists outside
Some of the groups within the square criticised those
calling for Islamic change - the so-called ‘Islamists’ - because they did
not uphold terms the agreement beforehand.
But aside from those
specific grievances, the blogosphere was full of pejorative anti-Islamic
rhetoric from the supporters of the secular minority. There was talk of
the ‘hijacking of “our” revolution - and that ‘extremists’ had come
to ‘impose’ their agenda. The renowned left-wing activist Tariq Ali wrote
a poem imposing his prejudices and stereotypes on the Islamic activists -
and their beliefs - that was published on the Guardian website.
Fortunately there were some people present in Tahrir square who were not
from the Islamic groups - some of them non-Muslims - who were tweeting
that the atmosphere on the ground was neither aggressive nor imposing,
merely a passionate expression of people present. This seemed to confirm
the view from a distance - that this was more a case of sour grapes by
advocates of a secular Egypt, whose limited public support was ruthlessly
exposed when they were vastly outnumbered by those who hold a different
vision for a Egypt - arguably one which is more in tune with its people’s
values and history.
Revolutions are not solitary events
The demonstrations that led to the fall of Hosni Mubarak were neither the
start nor the end of change in Egypt. For decades, non-violent Islamic
activists and thinkers paid a heavy price in terms of life and liberty
opposing the oppression of the Mubarak, Sadat and Nasser regimes - when
so-called moderates and secular groups were silent or even complicit in
the actions of the regimes. Their contribution, maintaining pressure [both
real political pressure and moral pressure] through their efforts and
sacrifice cannot simply be discounted from what is happening in Egypt
today because they failed to adequately move the population at the time.
The process of opposition was started by those people, who won the moral
argument against the regime long ago, and has now moved on.
a new generation of protestors in Tahrir square they managed to capture
the public mood earlier this year because ordinary people had had enough
of the regime. All were united against the existing order.
secular commentators had deluded themselves that the population of Egypt
were also united in favour of a Paris or London style ‘freedom’; despite
evidence on the ground - both in terms of polling and actual behaviour of
the population - was firmly not likely to be calling for this; especially
since the whole region was immersed in an Islamic identity until
The people of Egypt - whose history, values
and religion cannot simply be dismissed by a secular elite and their
western proponents - were the flesh and blood that led to Mubarak’s
demise. If the ‘Facebook generation’ helped cause the ‘wave’ that swept
him away, the people of Egypt were - as someone else put it - the ‘sea’!
Coming full circle in the Arab Muslim world
Sixty years ago,
in the immediate post colonial period, a vigorous debate emerged about the
future political direction of the region. At that time the options on the
table were Islam, Communism, Arab Nationalism and Western-style capitalist
secular democracy. The advocates of Islam quickly won the educated youth
and the intellectual debate and their message increasingly message won
greater sections of the masses.
The police-states we know today
began when the post-colonial client regimes started an oppressive
crackdown to deal with this opinion for Islam.
Now people are
rising up against these regimes, with mixed results so far, the emergence
of a space in which to debate the future will see Islam, once again, as an
option on the table.
But two crucial factors suggest Islam is in
a stronger position now than it was even sixty years ago, to emerge as the
victor in this debate - notwithstanding further suppression and exclusion
by its detractors.
Firstly, the evidence from all the protests -
most especially seen in the changes of the past six months in Tunisia,
Egypt and ‘freed’ Libya - is that where the regimes have taken a blow,
people have rapidly started to express their Islamic values and
Secondly, the role model for people to aspire to is
not the western model that competed with communism as a model for
stability, prosperity and a model of governance. The
double-standards in the War on Terror; the economic instability in the
West and the fragility and vulnerability of capitalism that has been
exposed as a result; all of these and more have devalued more than just
currency in the west.
It is against a diminished capitalism,
upheld by today’s ‘sick men’ of the world [the United States and European
Union], that Islam - hitherto brutally suppressed and excluded from the
debate - now competes.
So let us hope that instead of cheap
insults, shallow stereotypes and brutal repression this long overdue
debate can now commence.
Abdul Wahid Shaida writes and speaks on political and
social issues affecting Muslims in the UK, Europe and across the world. He
has been active in the UK Muslim community for over 15 years, though is a
doctor by profession.
He has been published in The Times Higher Educational Supplement and on
the websites of Foreign Affairs, Open Democracy and Prospect magazine; and
is a regular contributor on the website New Civilisation. He has shared
panels in debate and dialogue with Polly Toynbee (Guardian columnist),
Chris Woodhead (Former UK Chief Inspector of Schools), David Goodhart,
Tariq Ramadhan and others.