The Age of Freedom has begun
We are witnessing the rebirth of the Arab World.
Mubarak resigns and with him ends the age of dictators, repressions and lack of freedom in Egypt. If Egypt becomes democratic, it does not have to become a perfect democracy overnight, it will suffice that it begins transition to democracy in earnest. Egypt is the intellectual and cultural leader of the Arab world and enjoys the affection and respect of all Muslim nations. If Egypt embraces democracy, democracy will become the norm in the Arab World.
For the last ten years, since September 11th, both Muslims and non-Muslims have been agonizing over the conditions in the Muslim world that engender radicalism and intolerance. And more or less there is a consensus, at least in the academia and intellectual circles, that the lack of democracy, freedom and opportunities to prosper in Muslim countries which contribute to the closing of minds, have made the Muslim world a domain of discontent and the breeding ground for intolerance and extremism.
The revolutionaries in Egypt have now inherited a complex challenge. They must sustain their endeavors long enough to ensure that the transition is systematic, methodical and comprehensive. Cosmetic changes will only create opportunities for new tyrants to emerge. It will not be enough that they redraw the organizational chart of Egyptian government and rewrite the constitution, but it is also important that initiatives to strengthen civil society and foster a culture of tolerance and compromise are undertaken simultaneously. The revolutionaries must realize that unless the economic reality of Egypt is altered expeditiously, there is a chance that this revolution could degenerate into chaos and disarray.
The baton has now passed from Tunisia to Egypt. The rest of the Arab and Muslim world will have their eyes glued to what happens in Egypt now. It has once again become the beacon of hope for the Arabs, will it realize their collective dreams. Egyptians will have to lead through example and what they do will not only cement Egypt’s future but will either inspire or discourage peoples in other Arab nations in their quest for dignity and self-governance.
This is also a moment of truth for the West. How we engage with this historical opportunity to transform the region will determine how the new Arab World will relate to the West. If we allow only Israeli interest to guide all western policies in the region with complete disregard for the aspirations of three hundred million people of the region, the anti-Americanism and anti-west sentiments will remain. An enlightened engagement with post Mubarak Egypt could transform Muslim-Western relations.
I am proud that the U.S. demonstrated steadfast support for the will of the Egyptians through this entire crisis, putting the interest of Egyptians above all else, as did the English. The French once again showed, remember Algeria 1992, that they would rather hobnob and vacation with dictators than support democrats in the Arab world.
For a long time the West has been on the wrong side of history when it came to the Arab World. Now is the time for redemption. The West can and should offer help in two areas.
An immediate economic package: If European Union and the U.S., perhaps along with rich gulf Arab nations can put together an economic package that can provide immediate relief to the Egypt’s poor and incentives to young entrepreneurs as a democracy dividend may be helpful as well as act as a gesture of goodwill by the U.S. Perhaps we can declare this summer as a summer to vacation in Egypt. I am already reserving tickets as I write this article. Let the Egyptians know that we like Egypt, but we love a free Egypt. Perhaps Muslims in the West can dedicate their 2011 zakath (obligatory Islamic charity) to Egypt.
The second thing that we in the West can do is to help more than we already are with the transition to democracy through initiatives that will strengthen civil society and democratization beyond the electoral process. One way to do that will be to intensify engagement and partnerships between organizations that are dedicated to human rights and democracy development.
I have been writing since I heard the announcement that Mubarak has stepped down. Now I want to thank God and relish this moment. It is truly epochal!
Dr. Muqtedar Khan is Associate Professor of Islam and Global Affairs at the University of Delaware and a Fellow of the Institute for Social Policy and Understating.