“I’m fed up,” complained President Hosni Mubarak about ruling Egypt, “But if I resign now, there will be chaos. And I’m afraid the Muslim Brotherhood will take over.”
His fear is echoed by several prominent American politicians, including Republican presidential hopefuls Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. They suggested that the deposition of Mubarak would most likely lead to an Islamic government in Egypt, a change many perceived as worse off than the status quo. But why should we prefer a 30-year-old authoritarian regime to a potential democratic government involving the Brotherhood? And why are we fearful of Islam as an obstacle to democracy?
The word Islam is almost synonymous with terrorism to many Americans. We often perceive any Islamic political organization as inevitably violent and even necessarily evil. However, while there is a presence of extremism in Islam, the public often neglects the much more dominant and moderate factions such as Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood’s recent record of violence was but one highly disputed assassination attempt at the ex-President Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1954. Since then the Brotherhood has adopted a nonviolent reformist strategy which Bin Laden criticized as “betraying jihad.” Among all Islamist political organizations, the Brotherhood is probably one of the last to ever be suspected of extremist influences.
Not only is the Brotherhood non-violent, but it has also consistently outperformed the Mubarak regime in enabling progress in Egypt. Since Mubarak’s presidency, the Brotherhood has drawn many students and professionals alike. Moreover, the Brotherhood has continued to advocate for Islamic reforms, a democratic system and a vast network of Islamic charities helping the Egyptian poor.
All evidences show that the Brotherhood is a much needed impetus for peaceful democratic reform in Egypt. In contrast, the Egyptian government’s relentless oppression of the Brotherhood as well as Mubarak’s stubborn hold to power make the regime an antithesis to democracy. It is no wonder that the Egyptian people felt the urgency to rise up for democracy and regime change.
If Mubarak and his friends in the U.S. Congress are concerned about the Egyptian people’s well-being, why would they continue to misrepresent the will of the Egyptian people by demonizing Islam and denying democracy to a Muslim nation?
Again, self-interest is at work. Mubarak has been striving to present himself as the “better” option for the Egyptian people, as if the country must choose between an authoritarian and an extremist rule. Similarly, out of self-interest, politicians such as Pawlenty and Gingrich would maintain a U.S.-friendly regime in the Middle East at the expense of true democratization in the region. The opinions of these politicians mirror those of their constituency. A recent Rasmussen poll showed that 60 percent of Americans think it is more important for the United States to be allies with any country that protects our national security than it is to be allied only with countries that have freely elected government.
The contradiction between the United States’ official stance and its actual goals only lead to two conclusions: first, the United States is not actually concerned with spreading democracy, using it as a public relations tool. Second, the American public believes that Muslims are incapable of building their own democracy.
The reactions of both Mubarak and his American supporters to the Egyptian uprising reveal their prejudice against Islam. Unless we challenge the existing distortion of Islam in the American society, the true process of democratization in the Middle East as well as the image of the United States in the region will remain hindered for years to come.