As an Egyptian Muslim raised during the generation of the 1952 Egyptian revolution, I see history repeating itself.
The pressure in Egypt has been building for a long time and has now finally exploded -- inspired by the events in Tunisia. The fact that the Egyptian government has been taken by surprise is a sign of how disconnected the regime has become from the reality on the ground. Mubarak has wasted many opportunities to transfer power to another administration peacefully. He could have gone down in history as the first Arab leader to conduct a fair election, but instead, he kept ignoring the inevitable and kept re-electing himself for 30 years, followed by grooming his son to take over. Now he will go down in history as just another Arab tyrant in the dysfunctional political history of the Muslim world.
Having been born and raised in the Muslim faith during the generation of the 1952 Egyptian revolution, in which my father held a prominent role in the Nasser revolutionary government of that time, I see things repeating themselves. The Nasser 52 revolution promised freedom, democracy, Arab Nationalism and self-rule. Nasser toppled what he called the tyrant King Farouk, promised a new era of freedom, democracy and prosperity, but ended up giving Egyptians more of the same. The era of Nasser was one of the most oppressive periods in Egyptian history, ushering in a long period of wars, socialism, poverty, illiteracy, and a police state.
Judging from Arab history, revolutions do not necessarily bring about democracy or freedom. Will the current Egyptian uprising bring what it was intending to bring? Or will it end up in a vicious cycle of uprising and tyranny following the footsteps of the earlier 52 revolution? In a recent poll, over 70% of Egyptians stated that they want to live under Sharia Islamic law. And most of these people do not understand that Sharia law will result not in a democracy but in a theocracy like Iran or Saudi Arabia. That unrealistic expectation by the majority of Egyptians will probably end up in a great disappointment -- the same way the Iranian revolution could not deliver the freedom and democracy the Iranian people had hoped for. Many Egyptians chant “Allahu Akbar” and “Islam is the solution.” But the truth is, Islam or more accurately, Sharia, is the problem.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which is entrenched in Egyptian society, has announced that it is currently in talks with Mohammed ElBaradei - the former UN nuclear watchdog chief - to form a national unity government. They have chosen to ally themselves with a well known moderate international figure which might make them more acceptable to the moderates and reformists in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood will use the democratic process to come to power but the true nature of the Brotherhood will come out as soon as they take power. According to their basic beliefs, they must rule according to Sharia, which is the official law of Egypt anyway.
Perhaps the most dangerous law in Sharia that stands in the way of democracy is the one that states that “A Muslim head of State can hold office through seizure of power, meaning through force.” That law is the reason every Muslim leader must turn into a despotic tyrant to survive, literally. When a Muslim leader is removed from office by force, we often see the Islamic media and masses accept it and even cheer for the new leader who has just ousted or killed the former leader, who is often called a traitor to the Islamic cause. Sadat’s assassination followed many fatwas of death against him for having violated his Islamic obligations to make Israel an eternal enemy. He became an apostate in the eyes of the hard-liners and had to be killed or removed from office. This probably sounds incredible to the Western mind, but this is the reality of what Sharia has done and is still doing to the political chaos in the Muslim world.
Westerners often described the Mubarak administration as secular when in reality it is not. It is true that Mubarak comes from a military background and neither he nor his wife wear Islamic clothes. But no Muslim leader can get away with or even survive one day in office if he is secular in the true sense of the word. It was during Mubarak’s rule in 1991 that Egypt signed the Cairo Declaration for Human Rights stating that Sharia supersedes any other law. So even though Sharia is not 100% applied in Egypt, it is officially the law of the land. Mubarak, like all Muslim leaders, must appease the Islamists to avoid their wrath. According to Sharia itself, a Muslim head of state must rule by Islamic law and preserve Islam in its original form or he must be removed from office. That law leaves no choice for any Muslim leader. Because of that law Muslim leaders must play a game of appearing Islamic and anti-West while trying to get along with the rest of the world. It’s a game with life and death consequences.
The choice in Egypt is not between good and bad, it is between bad and worse. Many in the Muslim world lack the understanding of what is hindering them as well as a lack of a moral and legal foundation for forming a stable democratic political system. I fear that my brothers and sisters in Egypt will end up embracing extremism instead of true democracy and thus will continue to rise and fall, stumble from one revolution to another and living under one tyrant to another looking for the ideal Islamic state that never was. The 1400 year-old Islamic history of tyranny will continue unless Sharia is rejected as the basis of the legal or political systems in Muslim countries. Sharia must be rejected if Egyptians want true democracy and freedom.
Nonie Darwish is the author “Cruel and usual Punishment” and the President of FormerMuslimsUnited.org.