The American neocons and their allies in the Israeli government are screaming “Islamism” in response to the uprising in Egypt. The reporters on the ground in Cairo, Alexandria, and Suez, however, are reporting otherwise.
While there are many parallels between the uprising in Egypt and the events of 1978 in Iran, mainly in the way the Mubarak regime has responded to the protests, here are some crucial differences:
1. Unlike Iran’s uprising that was largely led by the charismatic and ideological Ayatollah Khomeini and his clerical allies, the Egyptian uprising was initiated by the non-ideological April 6th Youth Movement, which was started in 2008 when a few young Egyptians created a page of the same name on Facebook. Within days, over 70,000 people had joined the group that, according to the New York Times, is predominantly made up of young and educated members whose core concerns include free speech, nepotism in government, and Egypt’s stagnant economy. Inspired by the Tunisian uprising that started last December and had quickly forced out the president of 23 years, the group selected January 25, 2011 as a day of peaceful protests in Cairo and Alexandria, asking others to help plan protests in other cities. The rest is history.
2. Unlike Iran in 1978, the slogans of the protesters are almost exclusively directed against corruption and suppression of individual rights by the Mubarak regime, while slogans against the United States and Israel are rare, despite Washington’s decades old support for Mubarak’s crimes, and strong pro-Palestinian sentiments among the Egyptian public. More importantly, in a country that is the cradle of Islamist thought and the birth place of the ninety years old organization the Muslim Brotherhood, the group’s famous slogan of “Islam is the Solution” is surprisingly absent in the protests. In fact, the Brotherhood felt so upstaged by the April 6th movement in initiating the uprising, that it has accepted the leadership of the youth movement and Mohamed ElBaradei, both determined at all cost to avoid antagonizing the Egyptian military, which is highly intolerant of the Brotherhood.
3. Unlike Iran, which opted to become the guinea pig for experimenting with Islamism as a solution to society’s ills in 1979, Egyptian youth have already witnessed the glory of Islamism by observing the miserable Iranian experiment, and have chosen to follow the path of the Iranian youth of 2009, not 1979.
4. Iran’s revolution occurred in a century dominated by the role of ideologies. Egypt’s revolution is unfolding in a new century where liberation movements are no longer forced to strictly adopt an ideology in order to be able to make alliances with their enemy’s enemy.
The Egyptian uprising has so far been largely peaceful and enlightened. The main external factor that has helped it in this regard has been the refusal of the Egyptian military to engage in mass murder. However, the uncompromising posture of Mubarak in his speech last night, followed by the regime unleashing its goons on the protesters in Tahrir Square today with the military looking on, are worrying developments that could well change the dynamic on the Egyptian street. A long, drawn-out, and bloody confrontation between the regime and the protesters can quickly change the nature of this movement, as the more people are brutalized, the more they will be radicalized, and the more prolonged and bloody the battle against Mubarak’s regime, the more radical ideas will likely take hold.
Considering Washington’s rhetoric on the enormity of the threat posed by Islamism, one would think that it should act to expedite Mubarak’s departure in order to prevent the potential Islamisation of Egypt’s uprising. But given that, in reality, Washington politicians consider Islamism as, at best, a useful threat, and at worst, a manageable one, they might well opt to delay Mubarak’s demise. The Empire may not be able to prevent the loss of the most prized Arab jewel in its imperial crown, but it has enough leverage left to delay Mubarak’s departure, with a view to ensure the radicalization, and thus failure, of Egyptians’ quest for liberty. As such, it would be able to point to yet another Middle Eastern revolution that has failed in achieving its aspirations.
After all, from Empire’s perspective, there should be no shining examples for others to follow.