Only a free Egypt can spur an Arab resurrection

ALI ABO REZEG
Published 27.07.2019 01:14

Six lean years have passed since the military coup staged against the first democratically elected president in Egypt, the late Mohammed Morsi.

Morsi, who died in a court appearance last month, was seen as a source of hope for millions of Arab youth whose fathers and grandfathers were languishing for decades under tyranny and despotism.

It is a big mistake to say that Morsi's background or ideology was behind the unexpected wave of grief over the death of iconic leader of the Egyptian uprising. The outpouring sympathy for Morsi came because of the democratic path that brought the man to power. Democracy, the goal Arab masses have been thirsting and eager for.

It was meant to kill the first democratic experience in Egypt as the counter-revolution coalition knew very well that any setback in Egypt would gravely affect the entire Arab world, even the whole Middle East.

Since, it is true that the flame of the Arab Spring was rekindled in Tunisia, and later expanded and enlarged during the Egyptian uprising before being extended to another five Arab countries thanks to the great influenc​e Egypt had.

Likewise, the 2013 military coup, which undermined the newly born democratic experience, had very bad effects on the recent democratic experiences in Tunisia and Libya, and badly contributed to failures of the Yemeni and Syrian uprisings.

The dynamics in Egypt have inspired a domino effect in Arab countries over the last six or seven decades, if perhaps not the last two centuries.

The huge political influence Egypt possesses in the Arab world dates back centuries and was noticed more in the 20th century, mostly during President Gamal Abdel Nasser's era, who played a big role in backing the anti-colonial movements in the Arab world and Africa. Following the coup or self-proclaimed revolution Nasser led in Egypt, at least four or five coup attempts took place in the Arab world. The ones in Libya, Sudan, Syria and Yemen succeeded, and the bid in Jordan was foiled at the last moment.

Nasser's policies, as well, caused to divide the Arab world into two camps: Pan-Arabism and pan-Islamism. Since then, the "Islamist" figures who were suppressed during this tenure have gained widespread sympathy from different parts of the Gulf, Saudi Arabia in particular. Those who were gathering in the Gulf escaping from Nasser were behind the formation of plenty of "political Islam" movements we see nowadays in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Algeria, Morocco, Libya and Palestine.

The second dynamic has much to do with the massive religious influence Egypt enjoyed via the Al-Azhar Mosque and university. Al-Azhar was for centuries a beacon for the religious education of the whole Islamic nation. The role of Al-Azhar since the Mamluk and Ottoman eras has been not only the source of religious learning but a base for political action against the colonial campaigns against the Islamic world. Many of the Azhar scholars (Ulama) led revolutions against the French and British colonizers in Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia and Syria.

The role of Al-Azhar in the nation's religious and political affairs remained vibrant until the coup brought Nasser and the Free Officers to power in 1952. With a view to keep power within their hands, consecutive Egyptian military rulers spared no effort to curb the role of this substantial institution. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the current president who came into power via a military coup, followed in the footsteps of his army successors by issuing many decrees aimed at downsizing the authorities of Al-Azhar's Grand Mufti, the last of which was el-Sissi's decree to ban the Grand Mufti from traveling abroad unless they get a permit from the president in person.

A third angle we should examine while analyzing the tremendous Egyptian impact on the region is the cultural one. Egypt is a country with dozens of universities from which millions of Arab youth have graduated. Hundreds of the most renowned poets, novelists and writers in the Arab world are also Egyptians. In Cairo, the first Arab Opera House was opened in 1869 and the first ever cinema in the 1890s. Egyptian movies and series are still being watched by millions in the distinct 22 Arab countries.

Being distinguished in the historical, political, religious and cultural areas, Egypt was the most influential country during the Arab Spring. The endless political activism witnessed during the year-long democracy in Cairo saw that any progress in the Egyptian political arena will definitely lead to political progress in the entire region; likewise, any political or cultural setback will badly affect many Arab countries, as seen with the infamous 2013 military coup. To sum up, any resurrection for the Arab world will come directly from a free Egypt.

* Ph.D. student at Yıldırım Beyazıt University's Department of International Relations

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