Fourteen days into the massive public protests against Egypt’s regime, it is still too early to deeply analyze the situation. Let us instead touch on some of the questions and problems that the revolution–as they call it in Egypt–is creating and trying to overcome.
First, for many of us, these developments shouldn’t be a surprise. Indeed, the surprise may be that it is happening after so many years. While the economy and alarming rates of unemployment and poverty are named as the main cause, one cannot leave out of the mix the deteriorating position of Egypt and the absence of dignity that Egyptians find themselves in collectively and individually. In addition, an unprecedented level of corruption has been raised by the protesters as reason for their demands.
These developments in Egypt, which followed similar ones in Tunisia, have attracted attention all over the world. Many western countries have been reacting to these developments in a hesitant, vague and confused way.
On one hand, Egypt has been a long-standing ally of the United States and western countries, especially in the two high-priority areas of relations with Israel and combating terrorism. But on the other hand, these western states are supposed to be supportive of the public’s demand for democracy, reforms and combating corruption in Egypt and the rest of the Arab world.
Israel came out with the clearest reaction to these events, expressing worries about possible changes in Egypt’s posture towards Israel and the Arab-Israel conflict. But otherwise, the Egyptian movement has received broad public support and enthusiasm world-wide (although expressing that in other Arab countries is not always easy, for obvious reasons).
One of the critical issues raised in discussing the possible consequences of these developments is the position and role of the political Islamic movement in Egypt and the rest of the Arab world. So far, it appears that a new era might be established where Islamists would be included in the political system. This could be a golden opportunity for all concerned.
Traditionally, the government has used the threat of Islamist control as an excuse to justify its positions and behavior. But it is useful to remember that there are two schools of thought among the Islamic movements in the area: one is completely committed to the democratic process, and the other is less explicit but leaves the door open to transforming the regime into an Islamic one. It is time for the Islamic movement in the region to make its commitment to the democratic process very clear.
As far as the Palestinian cause is concerned, not a great deal of change is expected. The Egyptian people, representing their complete political spectrum, are expected to continue their commitment to supporting the Palestinian struggle for independence and ending the occupation.
What is more significant and worth the support of all involved is that this could be a first attempt at peaceful social and political change in the Arab world. Since the end of the Arab world’s colonization in the middle of the last century, political change occurred here by military coup d’etat, with a complete absence of the role of the people, and often through violence. The possibility of dramatic change through peaceful means and by popular movements is a new, positive phenomenon that should be encouraged by everybody, particularly that it might lead to a new political system based on real participation, which is a prerequisite for good governance and the kind of social and economic development that the people of the region have been aspiring to over such a very long time.