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previous issue issue #33 posted 7 /28 / 2013 archive of all issues
Violence, Women, and Illiberal Democracy in Egypt
in the news: In the aftermath of the July 3 military led coup that ousted democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi came a disturbing news report from The Guardian about an "epidemic of sexual violence" against women, partly based on a report from Human Rights Watch. And, writing in a Time July 22, 2013 cover story, Fareed Zakaria reported that extreme Islamic groups, long critical of the Brotherhood's renouncing violence decades ago, are now urging the Brotherhood to renounce democracy and embrace violent struggle..
commentary and analysis (by Stephen P. Cook, project Worldview, www.projectworldview.org): Many people throughout the world--including Bible thumping Christians in America and Koran toting Muslims in the Middle East--build their worldviews around themes like Religious Fundamentalism (theme #9a), a Moralistic God (theme #14a), and Valuing Traditions and Traditional Gender Roles (theme #34). Can a society with a substantial majority of individuals founding their worldviews on such themes evolve to embrace democracy? I'd say yes--and cite Turkey over the last century as an example. I'd add however that, unless the importance of those first two themes decreases, I think there is a higher probability that the government of choice will be more of a theocracy (Iran's being one example).
The last edition of this column looked at Turkey's democracy, and noted the importance of Kemal Ataturk's restructuring Turkish society in a way that reflected his own valuing of Education for Democracy (theme #31) and Secular Humanism (theme #10). Lacking such restructuring, not surprisingly Egypt is both less prepared for democracy, less tolerant and more heavily Islamic than its Middle East neighbor. Zakaria cites the now ousted Morsi government as a textbook example of an "illiberal democracy" described as "elected governments systematically abusing individual rights and depriving people of liberty." While Egypt is again under the authoritarian control of the military and faces, in Zakaria's words, a choice between "illiberals generals and illiberal politicians," as I noted last month some fear that individual liberty and rights are slowly eroding in Turkey's democracy.
Throughout the Islamic world the viewpoint that women should stay at home caring for their families, emerge--if they must--only with head covered, and not participate in the political process is present to some degree. It is a minority view in Turkey, where law has guaranteed equal rights for men and women since 1934, women actively participate in national politics and increasingly serve in its parliament. Elsewhere Islamic women enjoy fewer rights than men. In Saudi Arabia they have been legally prohibited from driving; in Pakistan and Taliban-controlled Afghanistan extremists have used violence to prevent girls from going to school. In recent years the trend in Egypt has shifted from first lady Suzanne Mubarak (in her husband's regime which for nearly three decades otherwise was characterized by Authoritarianism (theme #20b)) surprisingly pushing for pro-women rights legislation, to the Morsi government working to reverse these advances, apparently now to increasing use of violence in the form of rape to keep women in their place.
In terms of changes in worldview, I'd say that if, as Zakaria fears, Egypt's relatively moderate Brotherhood renounces democracy and increasingly embraces violence to achieve its goals, this would reflect further devaluing both Education for Democracy (theme #31) and Valuing Human Rights (theme #32), and increasingly turning to The Threatening Person (theme #29b). While it seems taunts and threats against Egyptian women in the form of sexual harassment can hardly increase any more given the reported 99.3% prevalence found in a recent survey, the four days protest in Cairo's Tahrir Square accompanied by nearly 100 rapes frighteningly showed how quickly threat can become violence. Many of Egypt's supposedly moderate Islamic leaders blame the assaulted women for failing to stay home. While in power they had no problem discriminating against half of Egypt's people and working to legally curtail any rights women had won. Out of power, the fear is that some of those moderates will become extremists, and a few terrorists--turning to Jihad and shouting "Death to the Infidels." While a few atheists or individuals embracing Monotheism (theme #8a) but deemed to worship a God other Allah will undoubtedly be attacked, the (largely western) institutions behind Secular Humanism (theme #10) will be the bigger target.
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