A New Egypt Likely To Emerge From Revolution That Seeks Not Islam But Freedom

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The revolution ignited by a new generation in Tunisia is moving so fast across the Arab world that it is no longer too soon to speculate on the new Egypt that will emerge after the riots and mayhem taking place there — and what kind of repercussions will be felt in Washington.

“Our assessment is that the Egyptian government is stable,” Secretary of State Clinton said only days ago. But this evening there is a growing sense in Egypt that President Mubarak would have to leave — and that he probably will.

Even if the aging 82-year-old dictator of Egypt survives in office instead of exile, his immunity, and his face as the culture goes, has been gashed. Literally his ever-present portrait plastered in thousands of pictures was — for all the world to see — torn away by the hands of youngsters who will be alive long after he is gone. But more has happened. The dictator’s honor is soiled, forever. In Arab cultures it is impossible to survive such a wound.

Just as important is to know who is this invigorating new Egyptian pouring into the streets by the thousands, commuting from the internet world they populate on Facebook, Google, and Twitter right into blunt confrontation with brutish police forces. Back and forth, back and forth.

They maybe leaderless, but have become an army and a computer-savvy one to boot, facing off with a police force possessed of little knowledge and “orders” to stop them at any cost.  They are literally electrifying the Middle East.

The youngsters wager their dreams of better things to come against a bankrupt regime with no social project to offer except more repression, more corruption, and more stolen money. It is the same corruption, theft, and tyranny that has sufficed to rule Egypt ever since army officers took power in 1952, which is these young people believe is long enough.

An actual movement called “Enough” sprung up a few years ago. It is still there, and a new generation has taken it over. By contrast, the Internet revolutionaries have a future map beyond merely enough. They think things should be better for all and, more important, they cannot get worse.

These guys and girls — some in blue jeans some in veils — are in there twenties, well educated, motivated, and fearless. That they have no leaders in the normal sense is, at this point, a virtue. They have a simple agenda. It is about hope and the right to fairness. So far in this confrontation between bully muscle and imagined expectations, the youngsters will seems hard to break.

A few weeks ago in a speech in Qatar, Mrs. Clinton warned Arab regimes to loosen their grip or risk  “sinking in the sand.” The secretary was repeating what State Department bureaucrats say and what their speechwriters churn out.  But her statement two days ago about Mr. Mubarak’s regime being “stable” will be seen in the Middle East as an embarrassment for America, another signal of the confusion that passes for foreign policy these days at Washington. She will rue those words with each passing day, including tomorrow when thousands of mosques in Egypt will disgorge hundreds of thousands of people after Friday prayers.

The task for Mrs. Clinton and President Obama’s almost lackadaisical administration is to put some meanings into their words instead of words into their mouths. As things stand, the proverbial Arab street now looks at America as an enabler of dictators not champions of freedom. 

And what a mockery is sees in Mr. Obama’s opening demarche in the Middle East, the suggestion — at his Cairo speech — that a great friendship could be struck with Arabs and Muslims premised on his declared infatuation with Islam. What is happening in Egypt and Tunisia is a demonstration that the greater yearning is for freedom. 

The Muslim Brotherhood famed slogan “Islam Is The Solution” has failed to appear, at least so far, in Tunisia and Egypt. Certainly the Brotherhood is waiting to deploy its Islamist muscle, but those demonstrating now are eager for jobs — not dogma. We may even say, when all is done, that the Islamist moment has passed in those two revolutions.

Similarly these revolutions are about money, oil money, the people’s money in Egypt, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan, Tunisia  and elsewhere in the Arab world, where tons of oil export revenues have gone into the system as foreign aid , commerce, exports, and other ways only to disappear into corrupt rulers’ bank accounts.

In Arabs streets teaming with irritation, the cry is neither for Palestine, against Western Colonialism, or about foreign policy in distant land. These young demonstrators are not clamoring for death of the Jews but death of their own Arab rulers. Armed struggle as its stands now is to liberate loaves of bread at home.

In Tunisia the first thing the demonstrators went for have been those villas by the sea built, by the family of President Ben Ali, who is now at exile. In Egypt, too, the talk of coffee shops for years has been about the money Mr. Mubarak, his two sons, and his family have sifted away from billions of American financial aid meant to feed and arm Egypt.

The new Egypt that will emerge could be taken over by the Muslim Brotherhood as the Iranian revolution of 1978-79 was hijacked by the Ayatollahs. But it could go in a more democratic direction. Our task in America has to be to help them get the Mubarak mafia out and to defend and embolden the democratic factions.

Mr. Ibrahim is a contributing editor of the Sun.

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