The election of Egypt’s first freely elected President has not brought the relief or sense of closure many hoped for after nearly a year and half of uncertainty. Many questions are left unanswered and Egypt’s future is still quite fragile and tentative. The citizens of Egypt fought to overthrow an autocracy but are now on the precipice between a democracy and a theocracy. Morsi, Egypt’s President-elect was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, an organisation which resists western influence and seeks to enforce Sharia law. So how can the citizens of Egypt overthrow an autocracy in an effort to attain liberty only to have the freedom limiting laws of Sharia imposed upon them?
Well Egyptian citizens were not seeking freedom when they revolted. Western media simply romanticized the Egyptians’ motives and portrayed our idealised notion of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ as their motivation. Those revolting were more concerned with economic and social issues, such as high unemployment, corruption, and inflation. Of course free elections and democracy were a part of the revolt but it was the former that occupied the thoughts of the voters and it was for these reasons that Morsi was elected. His Muslim Brotherhood background is not important to most voters providing the economy gets fixed. Another reason he was elected is due to the fact that he is the lesser of two evils. His election rival, Shafik, was Prime Minister under Mubarak so his campaign was tainted by this association. The fear of Sharia was also allayed by the military. During the transitional period the military, The Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), commandeered many Presidential powers. The state budget, the legislature, and the promulgation of the constitution are now all under the control of SCAF. Many still fear Sharia may grip the nation, especially given Morsi’s comments, ‘the Qu’ran is our constitution, the Prophet is our leader, jihad is our path and death in the name of Allah is our goal’, which is almost identical to the Brotherhood’s creed. This statement, however, was blown out of proportion by the media due its Brotherhood implications and our interpretation of ‘jihad’. Firstly, jihad is merely a struggle for a cause which the Egypt revolt was and secondly the mention of the Qu’ran and Mohammad could just be a nationalistic affirmation; a statement that Egypt will no longer be under the control of the West, which Mubarak was.
I find it difficult to believe that Morsi will continue with strong links to the Brotherhood. Egypt is still quite volatile and has a high Christian population (10%) and a developed middle class which will not accept Sharia. The most important factor, however, is the military. They are notoriously against the Brotherhood and hold all the power. Morsi is only the President-elect and there is every chance that there will be another election in nine months. So it is my prediction that Morsi will distance himself from the Brotherhood over the next nine months and cosy up with the military in an attempt to remain President or the military will call another election in nine months and a stronger candidate with no links to Mubarak will oppose Morsi. Either way, although some Islamic laws may be enacted, I do not think Sharia will be implemented because to stay in power the Brotherhood has to contend with the Christians, the middle class, and most importantly the military. A bigger issue will be if the Military fail to surrender their powers back to the President and Parliament, which will plant Egypt back into the realm of revolution.
Peter Ferguson is a classicist at the National University of Ireland, Galway. He is a member of Atheist Ireland and the Humanist Association of Ireland. Read more of Peter’s work at his website: www.humanisticus.com
For a celebrated secular society such as the UK, why do religious leaders automatically get media air time when they have an opinion they wish to express? What is it about ‘men of the cloth’ such as Rowan Williams that the media find so worthy of attention when they wish to wade into an issue in the public domain? Williams’ most recent foray into the public sphere is his concern over any potential “downgrading” of religious education in schools. One can argue that it makes sense that his view be reported on since this is a public issue that directly relates to the perpetuation of religion. I, for one, have no problem with religion being taught in schools, but it must be taught honestly. If the likes of Williams want religion to remain in schools it is only reasonable that any such class should teach every belief held within that religion and every ‘word of God’ should be mulled over. There is no room for cherry picking information in an educational situation. So, not only should children be taught about how Jesus was a super guy (with super powers) but children should be told about how Jesus’ father (who was also himself) thought it was perfectly reasonable to burn two children to death for the lighting of incense against his wishes (Leviticus 10:1-2). If it is to be taught, then teach it all, no holds barred, with the obvious caveat that it should not be sold as fact but rather ‘This is what this religion believes’ and of course there is never any room for creationism being touted as an alternative to evolution.
Getting back onto topic, Williams has a track record of getting airtime for his political opinions, despite not being an elected political figure but rather an appointed theological one, which, might I point out, doesn’t make him an expert in any realm other than the word of his ‘God’. His opinions are often as progressive as is likely to be found in any leader within a religion, for example he defends equality for women and homosexuals (both the favourite piñata of the religious zealot) in the sense that they should be allowed to hold positions of influence within the church. Naturally this does not extend to a potentially gay bishop having a partner. Even Williams’ liberal sensibilities have their limits. Beneath these almost reasonable positions lies less acceptable opinions in a secular society such as the UK. Williams advocates the introduction of sharia law in affairs of marriage, in effect having separate laws for one segment of society, while he simultaneously holds the view that the UK is fixated on ‘identity politics’ – things such as gay rights and feminism – and now is the time to focus on what is “good for all of us” . To me it looks like he wants two things at once. Separation and unity. Perhaps this is merely being consistent with the contradictory nature of the bible.
So here we have a man getting airtime for his opinions on subjects as diverse as sharia law (despite not being a representative of the people who wish to see it come into effect) gay rights (where he has also been reported as saying the government have no right to change the law to allow gay marriage; see here for a rebuttal to anyone who agrees with him), feminism and what gets taught in the classroom. Again the question has to be asked. Why? Is he an expert in political theory regarding the rights of minorities such as Muslims in the West or the gay community? Is he an expert in the struggle of women seeking equal and fair treatment in a patriarchal society? He gets air time for none of these reasons. It seems he gets airtime because of tradition. The tradition of the religious advisor. This hails back to the time of total rule by the monarch where a ‘man of the cloth’ was always on hand to advise the ruler. This was a time when it was believed that Kings and Queens were chosen by the God of the land and appointed to rule and therefore it was quite natural to have a representative of God on hand when making decisions. Somehow this tradition of valuing the opinion of the church has carried over into current society, but perhaps for more than traditions sake. It is likely that as the UK has become more secular there is a vocal religious minority that kicks up a fuss when there is any indication that their biased, religiously fuelled views are not being taken seriously. In essence the media is almost afraid of being accused of being discriminatory or unbalanced in their coverage by not including the likes of Williams in reporting of an issue. It all seems so utterly insane and arbitrary.
Now that Williams has stepped down from his role as Archbishop he will likely slowly fade into the background scenery and his replacement will begin to pop up in any realm to rant about his position on any issue that piques his interest and so the circus of taking seriously the opinion of a man who is informed by a Bronze Age book as the source of moral guidance in 2012 continues.