In a recent column, Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times proclaimed that “today we are all Egyptians!” Well, hyperbole aside, it’s easy to be inspired, even carried away by the images coming from Cairo. And images are all most Americans have to go by.
After all, who isn’t for democracy? What well-meaning person wouldn’t prefer to see an autocrat and his family leave power?
Unfortunately, those aren’t the only considerations. It’s far from certain that what follows the reign of soon-to-be ex-president Mubarak will be democratic in any sense you or I would recognize.
As we have learned the hard way in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, deposing a dictatorship is a lot easier than creating a democracy. Places that have no tradition or experience of democratic rule often wind up replacing one kind of despotism for another. Or, the brutal order of tyranny is replaced with the tyranny of chaos and disorder.
While Egypt, thanks to its military, may not descend into Iraq-like chaos and mass killings, it has no history of the kind of traditions we associate with democracy--traditions that themselves spring from Western Christendom and the Christian worldview.
Democracy is about more than elections: as Yale law professor Amy Chua described in her book World on Fire, elections in many countries are a preface for oppression. The majority, finally getting a chance at running things, decides that the first order of business is to persecute and deprive a despised minority.
In Egypt, that despised minority are Coptic Christians. For the Copts, whose ancestors debated the Trinity long before ours even heard of Christ, discrimination and harassment are the best they can reasonably expect from the Muslim majority.
The sad truth is that while Mubarak can’t be called a “friend” of the Copts, he at least tried to reign in his and their common enemy: the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood is the original and still most influential Islamist group in the world. Its progeny include al-Qaeda and Hamas.
While the Brotherhood has participated in the electoral process, it’s with an eye to creating an Islamic republic at the center of the Arab world. To call the Brotherhood a force for democracy is insane-and dangerous.
In its vision of a society where the Qur’an is the “sole reference point” for the ordering of family and social life, there is no room for the Copts. The Brotherhood has been implicated in the burning of churches, seminaries and Copt-owned businesses, as well as the murder of Coptic Christians.
All of this makes talk about “democracy” in Egypt and “everyone being an Egyptian” a bit premature. It’s not at all clear whether Copts, whose ancestors have lived there since time immemorial, would be recognized as “Egyptians” in a new government.
This isn’t to say Mubarak ought to be propped up. As Johns Hopkins’ Fouad Ajami put it, Mubarak is a pharaoh whose time is over.
The real question is, who and what will replace him? As Christians, we ought to pray for peace in Egypt and for a transition to true democracy-as difficult as that is, it’s a transition that indeed, requires divine intervention.