John Bolton phrased the critical question; “what will the Egyptian protestors grasp as the next level of commitment?” To unify against tyranny is difficult but more so the effort to define unifying principals that attract a vast majority. The Brotherhood is to be feared, but they are not the only organized voice. There is the potential for a coalition in favor of democratic institutions.
Robin Wright, in her brilliant book, ‘Dreams and Shadows’ introduces us to democratic thinkers and activists in the Middle Eastern generally and Egypt specifically. Groups in Egypt, some led by women, see elections as the point of criticality in circumstances where a mass movement occurs, as it has. They have monitored past elections, developed ideas related to what the election infrastructure needs to look like when the time came.
There are well constructed views of what democracy could look like in Egypt. It’s not our vision, it can’t be. There are thinkers in Egypt and the Middle East generally that have engaged the question of Islamic democracy. What does it look like? How to marry democracy, Islam and culture? Which Islam; the Islam that rejects “laws made by men” outside the construct of the Koran, or finds breathing space for individual freedoms?
The optimism, ideas and commitments of these activists and thinkers foreshadowed events in Egypt. The ideas were there if, as Ms. Wright did, you sought them out and engaged them.
These thinkers may no longer face the potential of repression from a central government or the tightrope of “acceptability”; they will, however, face an ideological battle. The war of ideas must be engaged, this revolution demands that engagement. Arrayed against them are two potentially dominant organizations: the Brotherhood and al Azhar University; those institutions will represent the Islamist point of view that shari’a is the only acceptable Islamic path.
A single election will not establish the basis for the evolution of democratic values and institutions with any sense of permanence. However, a single election could put Egypt back on the path toward new forms of repression. Egypt may have to go to the streets again, if so that event will, unfortunately, see violence. In the wide sweep of possible considerations, Egypt may have to reject two forms of repression in advance of finding its balance.