Recent events in the Middle East and North Africa have given many countries, formerly nominal or actual dictatorships, the opportunity to move towards freedom. The United States’ reaction is that democracy will equal individual liberty. I’m not blaming Obama necessarily; this has been the naive attitude of the U.S. for decades.
A democratically elected government can be just as oppressive to some individuals as a dictatorship. This is why the United States adopted the Fourteenth Amendment. It requires equal protection under the law to all people. Lacking such protection, we can guess who the first groups to be oppressed under a Muslim democracy will be: Christians (also Jews and women). The United States, as part of its support for the budding regimes in the Middle East, must emphasize a strong provision to guarantee the rights of freedom of religion and equal protection for all people within these countries’ borders. Without a specific constitutional clause, Christianity will continue to suffer oppression. Even where official state policy is such freedom, countries can wink at mobs harassing Christians and Jews, and the imposition of extreme oppression to women.
Egypt, which is the farthest along in creating a new government, has adopted “Sharia”. Sharia requires the national governement to follow Islamic law, both civil and criminal. It regulates both the actions of individuals, the use of Islamic (rather than impartial) courts, etc.
Let’s be realistic. Retaining Sharia as official government policy guarantees harsh treatment of Christians, Jews, and women. The hazy term “democracy”, so touted by the United States, ignores this reality. For example, while the U.S. expects a “fierce contest for power” in the Middle East, it ignores the likelihood that the winners of the contest will want to hold onto their power, including the oppression of Christianity that many individuals in Muslim states believe to be the will of Allah. Already, the strongest unified political party in Egypt is the “Muslim Brotherhood”, a fairly fundamentalist Islamic organization.
Have the recent governments of the U.S. completely forgotten what happened in Iran, after the revolution in 1979? Moderate forces, after helping to depose the Shah, were cast aside in favor of an Ayatollah who rid Iran of all dissent against fundamentalist principles. Egypt is not Iran; however, we must always be mindful of the possibilities of militarism, religious oppression, and destruction of personal freedom that is possible in these circumstances.
The United States has a history of naivete when it comes to foreign affairs, and the blind optimism we have shown to Arab politics reflects this Pollyanna state of mind. The current government seems to think that the death of Bin-Laden, which did hurt Al-Qaeda, means the necessary death of Islamic extremism. But even Bin Laden’s death may work against us, providing a martyr for extremists to hold up and drive a wedge between the concept of individual freedom — a Western concept — against their local values of Christian repression.
This is not to condemn all Muslims. There are many, in Egypt and elsewhere, who value individual freedom and are willing to let Christians (and Jews) worship in peace. But what we have seen is the burning of Coptic Christian churches, the beating, arrest and even of their adherents, and attacks on women not wearing the stifling clothing demanded by the more fundamentalist citizens. Although much has been made of the public sexual attack on Lara Logan, similar treatment of Egyptian women has gone almost completely unreported.
We must not make the mistake of thinking the Mideastern revolutions are headed by Mahatma Gandhi. Where we are headed, currently, is towards support of “democracies” that are hardly better than the dictatorships they replace.