As the political landscape convulses throughout the Middle East and North
Africa, it is imperative that the West embrace the changes. For decades, Western
leaders allied themselves with authoritarian regimes for the sake of stability,
but the people that suffered under these regimes are demanding fundamental
reforms. The West (referring to the European Union and North America) cannot
afford to isolate Egypt, and risk another hostile country next to Israel, as
this would clearly end any prospects of a peace process.
revolts will lead to democracy is still to be determined. However, the
West can be crucial in making sure that democratic ideals are instilled in
countries like Egypt.
Many fear that the revolution in Egypt will imitate
Iran in 1979. While there are undeniable parallels, one cannot ignore the
differences. Mainly, Hosni Mubarak was not placed in power by the West, as was
the shah. Thus an inherent hatred and distrust of the West does not permeate
Egypt as it did Iran.
Also, the example of Iran exists now to show how a
democratic movement can collapse into an authoritarian regime. The youth in
Egypt, instrumental in these protests, do not want to trade one dictatorial
regime for another. However, a scenario similar to Iran might occur if the West
were to alienate certain actors like the Muslim Brotherhood.
the Brotherhood is incredibly important in Egyptian politics and society.
Originally founded to combat colonialism, it has become a grassroots movement
that views Islam as the “solution.”
While the implementation of Shari’a
law in Egypt may alarm Western leaders, this doesn’t necessarily mean the regime
will be anti-Western. Saudi Arabia is an example of how even a religiously
extreme regime can have important Western alliances.
officially banned party, the Muslim Brotherhood still managed to include its
members in parliament. In the 2005 parliamentary elections, it gained 88 out of
444 seats because members ran as independents.
It has extensive influence
and support due to the social services it provides. We cannot simply cast it as
another radical group that wants global jihad. Simplistic labeling will
influence our perceptions and produce the undesired effect of pushing such
organizations to embrace alliances with other actors.
We must recognize
the Brotherhood’s significance, and begin to talk with its leaders to gain
mutual understanding. It would be a serious mistake to treat the Muslim
Brotherhood as the West treated Hamas when it refused to recognize its victory
in the 2006 Gaza elections.
While Western leaders may prefer a moderate
and secular party in Egypt, they must recognize the legitimacy of the
Brotherhood, which holds the firm belief that Islam and modernity are perfectly
EGYPT IS a country exposed to Western culture and ideas,
particularly due to its tourism industry. The Egyptian people have demanded
democracy, and will not accept another autocratic regime.
Brotherhood understands this, and supports the moderate former IAEA
director-general Mohamed ElBaradei.
Arab League Secretary-General Amr
Moussa, ElBaradei and former presidential candidate Ayman Nour will be central
figures in this transition. However, Western leaders must recognize the
long-term importance of this revolution, and speak to all relevant
This will help ensure that Egypt won’t become a state like
Iran, detached from the West.
European and American leaders didn’t commit
any grave diplomatic mistakes during the past few weeks. No major political
leader, with the exceptions of Binyamin Netanyahu and Silvio Berlusconi,
insisted on the continuance of the Mubarak regime. After his fall, Western
leaders praised the revolution.
This is a step in the right
The West needs to encourage true democratic reform through all
political, diplomatic and economic means. If Barack Obama, Angela Merkel, David
Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy insist on a dialogue between all parties, then the
regime that emerges will likely not be anti-Western.
Concrete steps must
also be taken to ensure strong political and economic relations. Significant
investment packages (with preconditions of constitutional reform) would be an
important step forward.
Elections alone will not deliver democracy.
However, fair and free elections, with international monitors, are of course
More importantly, if the Muslim Brotherhood were to gain
significant power through elections, it would be dangerous to ignore it, or view
it as perilous and illegitimate. A wiser approach would be to accept the
election results and begin to treat the Brotherhood as a group with solemn
responsibilities, and with a role in the international community. This would
perhaps have the desired effect of moderating its views.
is a danger that elections will produce a radical Islamist government, it is
necessary to respect the will of the Egyptian people.
If European and
North American leaders ignore such actors, we risk having to deal with an
unfriendly regime. We must focus on including the new Egypt in the international
community. If it is the wish of people to have their religion represented in
their government, then perhaps we should encourage reforms based on the Turkish
model. Here is an example of a democratic government within an Islamic
framework, which is fully involved with the West. It is a prime example of how
Islam, the West and democracy can exist in harmony.
recognition and dialogue, along with tangible economic assistance, must occur if
sustainable democratic change is to take place. We must take the risk of
choosing democracy over stability.
The writer is a research assistant in
the Middle East Faculty of the NATO Defense College in Rome, and studies
international affairs at Northeastern University. The views expressed in this
article are his own. This article was first published by the
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