Saad Eddin Ibrahim is founder of the Ibn Khaldoun Center for Development Studies, a leading think tank for the study of democracy and civil society in the Muslim world, and a visiting professor of Arab and Islamic Studies at Harvard University. On April 7, Mr. Ibrahim, formerly a political prisoner of Hosni Mubarak, discussed the topic of Egypt and democracy in an event presented by the Middle East Forum and the University of Pennsylvania's Middle East Center.
Saad Ibrahim commenced his lecture with a reflection on the peace and stability marking Egypt's "Lotus Revolution." This model of peaceful protest, Mr. Ibrahim stated, resonates around the world—from Madison, Wisconsin's "uprising against their governor" to Beijing, China where "the children of Tiananmen Square protestors" persist despite government crackdowns. Mr. Ibrahim stressed that democracy is not as foreign a concept to Egypt as some may believe. Some of his key points follow:
- Despite the post-9/11 writings of people like Bernard Lewis and Samuel Huntington, who argue that the Middle East is "immune" to democracy, protests sweeping through that region and overthrowing dictatorships suggest otherwise.
- Egypt first attempted democracy in the 1860s, with relative success until uprisings forced the Egyptian government to accept a British intervention in 1882—leading to occupation.
- Neither anti-American nor anti-Israeli slogans were a core aspect of the protests; rather, protestors focused on toppling a "corrupt" and "decadent" regime.
- The Muslim Brotherhood staked its claim in the revolution four days after it began, but hopes to gain 30% of seats in parliament due to its better funding and organization.
Some listeners present at the lecture voiced their concerns, ranging from Egypt's illiteracy rate and female circumcision to the diplomatic influence of Turkey and Iran. Mr. Ibrahim remained optimistic that democracy will take root. Others, less optimistic that a truly democratic government and society could take root, pointed to voter fraud and the role of sharia. Mr. Ibrahim concluded that no matter what type of democracy Egyptians aim to create, democracy in any form will be superior to autocratic rule.
Summary by MEF intern William Aquilino