Wednesday 2 January, 2013
Right of Reply
Responding to Tom Friedman of NYT: Egypt: The Next India Responding or the Next Pakistan’
Let Egypt be Egypt
Hameed Abdul Karim
Edward Said had said that any Westerner in politics or media can never discuss the Middle East without the usual prejudice against Islam or Muslims. It seems that Thomas Friedman of the New York Times too falls into this category when he compares Egypt with India and Pakistan in his article titled ‘Egypt: The Next India or the Next Pakistan’ (Ceylon Today 25 December, 20102). Why on earth couldn’t he draw a parallel with Turkey instead of Pakistan is confusing.
It’s true that Pakistan is a bad advertisement for both Islam and democracy. But India is no better. With over 25% of ‘honourable’ members of parliament having criminal records, India certainly is not a good sort of thing that Friedman can quote to help lift the flag of democracy for the world to see. Moreover, we have the frightening prospect of Narendra Modi becoming Prime Minister in the not too distant future. It was under his watch that over 2000 Muslims were slaughtered and their economies devastated in an orgy of communal violence in his home state of Gujarat in 2002. Modi and his cronies picked up prime properties owned by Muslims and to this day Muslims languish in refugee camps in their home state as Internally Displaced Persons (IDP’s). They are not allowed to return to their areas of residence where once their homes stood and no prospect of any hope, much less compensation. Their fate is similar to that of the Palestinians. And ironically Ariel Sharon became Israeli premier after he personally supervised the slaughter of Palestinian refugees in Shabra and Shatilla. The number of dead in these two atrocities is not too dissimilar.
Bear in mind the case of Ahsan Jafri a loyal Muslim member of the Congress party. He had worked tirelessly to reinforce and showcase India’s secular features. But because he was a Muslim it was enough for a ten thousand Hindu mob to break into his house in broad daylight, beat him till he was unconscious and set fire to his house. They then took him to the streets, chopped his body into pieces and set him ablaze. They then returned to the house grabbed the rest of his family, including two small boys, and burned them to death, as narrated by Akbar S. Ahmed in his book ‘Islam Under Siege’. The Congress party only put in a whimper and chose not to go too far fearing a Hindu vote loss in the. Democracy, huh?
So I guess you can have a Muslim Foreign Minister or a Muslim spy chief and even another Khan in Bollywood for that matter, but does this change the ground realities? The Shah report stated that Muslims were discriminated against in the most pernicious of ways. Whilst giving the Indian government credit where it’s due, it must be reinforced that democracy is in the implementation of the recommendations and not in appointments of Muslims to top slots.
There is a need, however, for Friedman to prop up India. India has just opened its humongous markets to American exploitation. Wall Mart will soon open its not too small doors in India. So India deserves good publicity in the American press. That’s understandable. Business, after all, is business.
This brings us to Egypt, Friedman’s main worry. Would Egypt go the same route as Pakistan or should it take the road that India has taken. Ask an Egyptian and he’ll probably tell you neither. Egypt should take its own path a path that suits the needs, hopes and aspirations of its own people.
During the recent referendum on the draft constitution the media went into negative mode and talked about minorities’ and women rights being ignored in the constitution among many other issues. The opposition was given pride of place and the Mursi administration was virtually put in the dock. Nobody except a punctilious commentator or two thought it proper to mention that the Copts had refused to be classified as a minority, and quite rightly so. The creation of minorities has no place in a genuine democracy. Women too insisted that they do not need to be singled out as special cases of attention and eventually all agreed that they will come under the banner of ‘Egyptians’. Doesn't that smell like democracy?
In the end the constitution won a resounding victory, though here again the media claimed that it was a narrow victory and that Egypt was divided. In the first round the victory margin was 57% and in the second well over 60% voted in favour of adopting the draft constitution. By any standard these were not ‘narrow margins’. Ask George Bush jnr. And he might tell you these were thumping victories after having been ‘selected’ US president in his first shot at the White House. Strange how issues are reported. In the recent US election the differences were called democracy. Whilst the same reflection in Egypt prompted media pundits to say Egypt ‘stands divided’ or ‘split at the middle’.
Preach to democracy to Egyptians
Egypt has been under colonialism for decades on end and after ‘independence’ it has virtually become an extension of US imperialism. All the while neither Thomas Friedman nor any politician or pundit thought of democracy in Egypt. It is now after the overthrow of Mubarak that pundits are falling over each other to preach democracy to Egyptians and that’s because it has chosen to follow a path that fits their culture and environment and not the dictates of ‘enlightened democracies’ of the West. Therein lies the rub.
If Egypt takes the Islamic path, what problem would it cause to the world? Here is what Akbar S. Ahmed has to say on the implementation of the Sharia in Muslim countries in his book ‘Islam Under Siege’. ‘Our thesis is that if the political leadership in its behavior, ideas, and politics is close to the Islamic ideal – as laid out in the Qur’an and in the life of the Prophet – friction in society is minimal; the further from the Islamic ideal the greater the tension in society. The primary and greatest model for Muslims is that of the holy Prophet. His life provides the balance between action and spirit, between this world and the next: He is the perfect person, insan-e-kamil. Imitating him were those disciples who were closest to him like Umar and Ali, great religious figures. But others too – not seen as religious figures – have attempted to live up to this ideal. Saladin, who retook Jerusalem from the Crusaders in the 12th century, is one such name. The majority of Muslims see these leaders as exemplary figures. They represent a time when honor was valued’.
Gone are the days when Lord Cromer said, rather superciliously, ‘we do not govern Egypt, we govern the governors of Egypt’. Egypt has a civilisation that is 7000 years old and has monuments to boost that boast. So it’s time to let Egypt be Egypt.