Take a gander of the very brave woman to the right. That is the Egypt we wish we had - one of the likes of Hala Mustafa & Tarek Heggy. Unfortunately - that isn't the one we will get.
No - look at the series of pictures I posted in March - there is the trendline. In the Muslim world - women are the canary in the cultural coal mine.
Egypt’s revolution against Hosni Mubarak captivated the world. It helped inspire an armed rebellion against Moammar Qaddafi’s hellish dungeon in Libya and peaceful protests against Bashar al-Assad’s Baath Party regime in Syria despite his government’s ruthless repression. The only problem with the Egyptian revolution is that it was not a revolution. It was a coup d’etat against the president by the army.That was then - a world lost.
The coup d’etat had the support of the people, of course. It might not have happened had mass demonstrations not broken out, and it certainly wouldn’t have otherwise happened on the day that it did. Still, no one from Mubarak’s political opposition is in charge. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces rules the country as a military junta.
Hala Mustafa is distraught by all this. She’s one of Egypt’s most prominent liberal intellectuals and the founder and editor-in-chief of Democracy magazine.
Cairo’s regime is an Arab Nationalist military dictatorship, but it’s built on the a standard issue authoritarian model rather than a totalitarian one to keep order. The odds that anyone in her office would be arrested were small, and the odds that any of us would be kidnapped or assassinated by the state were infinitesimal. Even so, Egypt is not the free country some mistake it to be.
“The moment of liberal change hasn’t come yet,” she said. “The regime today is the same one that was founded in 1952. This is still the Nasserist regime. I was hoping this revolution would bring something different, that we could return to the liberal tradition that existed before Nasser destroyed it. Egypt had a historic opportunity to revive its liberal past, but the moment has passed. The military didn’t encourage that path, the Muslim Brotherhood jumped over everybody to manipulate the process, and the liberal secular forces retreated.”
Egypt really did have a liberal tradition, at least relative to what it has now, before the so-called Free Officers led by Gamal Abdel Nasser launched their military coup against King Farouk in 1952. Egypt was hardly a democracy at the time, but it was much more open and tolerant and oriented toward the West than it is now. Nasser changed everything when he imposed socialism (in the Russian rather than Scandinavian style), pan-Arab Nationalism, and a particularly virulent strain of violent anti-Zionism.
The key to today remains - as I stated in April - how the military and the Muslim Brotherhood act and react with each other. Well, we have more information on that. We will have to learn to deal with the retrograde, violent, misogynistic cult of the bruised forehead.
The Muslim Brotherhood has lost some of its popularity, too, for a number of reasons. It denounced and intimidated Egypt’s liberal and leftist activists, it is colluding with the military dictatorship, and Egypt’s political space in the post-Mubarak era has opened up space for more parties. Last year the Muslim Brotherhood was the only real opposition in town. It could count on the anti-Mubarak “protest vote.” That is no longer true. Both the Islamists and the army have less legitimacy than they recently did.
But what if they save each other by banding together? That’s what Hala Mustafa is afraid of. She’s frustrated that Western analysts don’t seem to get this, but Paul Berman said as much himself not long ago in The New Republic.
“The Egyptian army,” he wrote, “which must be dreaming of action, is also maneuvering to survive, and if the generals have not already cut a deal, surely they are working on one, which can only mean that, in the Arab world’s leading country, the army and the Brotherhood are arranging a do-over of their unfortunate falling-out in 1952, and this time the results will make room for both of them.”
No doubt Washington and Jerusalem prefer to do business with the military instead of the Brotherhood even if the regime was founded in a spirit of Arab Nationalism and Egyptian supremacy. But what if the U.S. and Israel will soon have to contend with both?