Egypt between the End of History and clash of civilisations

Mohamed Elmenshawy , Sunday 29 Dec 2013

Liberals in Egypt following the January 25 Revolution share less with Fukuyama's end of History through the embrace of universals than they do with Huntington's tirade against Islam

In 1989, Japanese-American academic Francis Fukuyama wrote an article entitled "The End of History" in which he argued that the age of oppression and totalitarianism irrevocably ended after the end of the Cold War and the dismantling of the Berlin Wall. Fukuyama continued that it was replaced by liberalism, democratic values and market economics.

Fukuyama essentially wanted to counter the concept of the end of History in Karl Marx’s famous theory of Historical Materialism, which purports that human emancipation will be achieved once the class system is eliminated.

Fukuyama believes that human societies put an end to the evolution of ideological ideas with the spread of the values of liberal democracy. This theory is based on several factors, most importantly that only liberal democracy would put an end to the historic and recurring struggle between the ruling masters and the governed slaves.

Over the past three years, the Egyptian model has largely debunked both Fukuyama and Marx’s theories. Until today, a society that is able to end the coupling of masters and slaves has not been achieved because the Cairo elite  which claim to be liberals  continue to control the destiny of millions of Egyptians in the Delta and Upper Egypt. The chances of succeeding in building a society that equates between the rights of the rulers and the ruled, the poor and the rich, and creates a democratic political system that respects liberal values, social pluralism and real policies are close to naught.

As soon as the January 25 Revolution succeeded in deposing former president Hosni Mubarak, some believed this was the end of tyranny. However, there are signs in recent months that the state of tyranny is making a big comeback and figures in the liberal current have not stood up against this.

In fact, liberal ideologues are now justifying what the Egyptian masses revolted against over the past three years, namely violations of basic human rights, such as bread, freedom and social justice, at the hands of the state’s security apparatus.

Egyptian liberal ideologues today defend efforts to create a new tyranny in a contemporary format by misusing axioms such as upholding the state’s prestige and the war on terror. Accordingly, the unelected interim government passed an egregious law on the right to demonstrate. Had parts of it been applied prior to the past three years, the name of today’s president would be Gamal Mubarak.

But the question is: Why are these liberals taking such positions? The answer lies with the voters, since liberals failed to present anything compatible with the preferences of the majority of voters, and also because one third of votes in all free elections went to Islamists. Thus, most leading liberal figures in Egypt today support a constitution that legalises a special status for the military, giving it the right to put civilians before military tribunals. They are also silent about decisions that strengthen tyranny, which not only target the Muslim Brotherhood, but also other segments in society, most notably, revolutionary activists whose leaders were recently arrested, such as Ahmed Douma, Alaa Abdel-Fattah and Ahmed Maher.

Since Islamist president Mohamed Morsi was deposed 3 July, those who still uphold the principles of true liberalism found themselves marginalised as the aspirations of the 2011 revolution evaporated, such as Mohamed ElBaradei and Amr Hamzawy.

In 1993, Samuel Huntington wrote an article in Foreign Affairs magazine entitled "The Clash of Civilisations" which triggered global controversy because he touched a sensitive nerve for people from different cultures around the world. He looked at various concepts of cultural differences and the changing balance between cultures, and noted a sweeping trend of returning to origins and roots in non-Western societies.

Huntington divided world civilisations into Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Islamic, Western, Orthodox, African and Latin American. According to him, the clash is the essence that rules relations between these civilisations, and they essentially clash over culture or identity.

The politics of identity is a real issue in the world around us, and no one can deny there are societies whose heritage and components are Christian, such as Europe and North and South America, and no one can deny religion greatly influences American and European politics. The same thing applies to Israel and its Jewish identity.

Huntington was especially interested in the Muslim world as a civilisation that holds a strategic location in global relations. Some criticised the clash of civilisations theory because it promoted a negative and bleak image of the Arab and Muslim worlds in the West. It made Islam the main source of violence and terrorism in the world, and portrayed it at the forefront of confrontation and animosity with the West.

This theory was the reference of many right-wing fanatics in the neo-conservative camp who mobilised their power to portray Muslims as a real threat, not only to the US but also to all of humanity.

What is truly shocking in Egypt today is the reckless stereotyping and demonisation of anything and everything Islamic by government and non-government media and culture machines, as if they were applying Huntington’s theory. These actions not only harm the current of political Islam, but also question Egypt’s Islamic identity and culture. The machine of terror has even caused several who describe themselves as intellectuals and decision makers to demand that Islamists should not be allowed to participate in any way, shape or form in political life, now and in the future. Some even question their patriotism and loyalties.

A return to roots and reviving the religious value system is a world phenomenon, therefore turning to Islam as a source of identity is not a sin. The sin is to discriminate in the name of Islam or against non-Muslims, or when not everyone has equal rights and duties, irrespective of their faith.

Political Islam is one component of a broad revival of ideas and beliefs in Egypt and other countries with a Muslim majority.

In the name of Islam, a fair, plural and democratic modern society can be created. But also in the name of Islam, an unjust, misguided and tyrannical society can be created. What is certain is that excluding the foremost representatives of contemporary political Islam from the political process in Egypt will lead to anything but genuine democracy.


The writer can be followed on Twitter: @ElmenshawyM

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