An Egyptian evolution

Kancha Ilaiah

(First published in February 2011)

The Egyptian revolution, perhaps, would be to the Islamic world what the French Revolution was to the Christian world. The Western intellectual predilection that the Islamic world is trapped in feudal Islamic dictatorships is likely to be disproved with this revolution.

In fact, Western thinkers forget that the Christian Europe had also suffered brutal monarchies and feudal dictatorships for several centuries. While Christianity evolved definite ideas on political systems and the rights of human beings both in relation to each other as well as to the state, Islamic civil societies had evolved their own method.

They were always conscious of their independent socio-political cultural constructions than, for example, Hindu civil society. The Egyptian revolution has a unique tone and tenor. It is likely to change the political discourse of the world in terms of democracy vs dictatorship and may also lead to the establishment of altogether different mode of democracy harmonious with the Islamic world's experience with politics and human rights.

History teaches us that when European Christianity was divided into Catholic and Protestant churches, it was the Protestant ethic that produced a political revolution in Europe while Catholicism was willing to co-exist with monarchies and dictatorships.

The Western world forgetting its own past is being judgmental about the Islamic world's stagnation and conservatism.

What the West conveniently forgets is that Islamic political culture is 600 years younger and was born in more backward lands. It naturally took its own time to handle its historical evolution.

There is also a view that Shia and Sunni divisions coupled with their tribal moorings in the Islamic world would not allow such political revolutions. Therefore, the West felt it had the right to export its model of democracy to West Asia as it did to some of the colonies. But Egypt is really evolving its own culture of conducting a transformative revolutionary battle with mass prayer of millions of people at Cairo's Liberation Square.

Britain killed its king in the 1649 revolution and France did the same during its revolution in 1789. But the Egyptian revolution, it appears, would achieve its aims with least bloodshed. Quite surprisingly the Egyptian revolutionaries are using very, very secular slogans.

We should note that this democratic revolution is taking place in the backdrop of 9/11 attacks and the "export democracy" to West Asia formula of the former US President, George W. Bush, plus the Iraqi experiment based on that formula.

Within the Islamic world also this is the first revolution of its kind and very different from the Ayatollah Khomeini's revolution of Iran and also the democratic experiments of Pakistan and Bangladesh. Egypt also carries the historical burden of having rulers who enslaved Israelites. It took Moses to save them from bondage. This was also the land that gave safe shelter to Joseph and Mary when baby Jesus was facing the wrath of Herod, the king of Israel.

Its people are now undoing another chapter in the oppressive history of its rulers. Interestingly, they are doing it when Barack Hussein Obama, who has both Christian and Islamic heritage, is ruling the United States, which is seen as an oppressor. They will have to work out a democratic Egypt where all people will have a life of dignity. Though all this might sound like a West Asian utopia, the determination of the Egyptian masses at the Liberation Square and their disciplined revolution would set new record of the world.

It may be a strange coincidence, but Mr Obama gave a call for revolution of this kind in the Islamic world in his famous Cairo speech of June 4, 2009. He said, "As a student of history, I also know civilisation's debt to Islam. It was Islam — at places like Al-Azhar University — that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paying way for Europe's Renaissance and Enlightenment. It was innovations in Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra; our magnetic compass, tools of navigation, our mastery of pens and printing..."

Egyptian scholars preserved even the books of Plato and Aristotle and got them translated and put them on global knowledge systems. That Egypt is now re-locating itself to change the world. Through the Egyptian revolution, the Islamic world has also shown an intellectual resilience to rediscover itself. It is proving that they do not need somebody's armies to export democracy to their countries. They are very likely to prove that the Iraq experiment Americans is an insult to their cultural history.

India, which constantly looks at Pakistan and Afghanistan as uncivilised states must also take heed of the new changes. It is better for India to deal with them as potential friends from whom there is a lot to learn than dismiss them as rogue states and underdeveloped civil societies. The Egyptian revolution is a pointer to that potential.

[Courtesy: Deccan Chronicle, February 18, 2011]