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June 27, 2006

In the Face of Repression
Posted by Shadi Hamid

The regime of Egyptian President-for-Eternity is in full repression mode, arresting pretty much anyone it doesn’t like. Yesterday, Ibrahim Eissa, the liberal editor-in-chief of al-Dustour, was handed a one year prison sentence for his criticism of President Mubarak. Today, the ruling National Democratic Party shoved through parliament the horrendous Judicial Authority Law. The Egyptian government is still apparently grappling with the idea of “due process,” and it appears they remain steadfast in their belief that human rights standards are not “appropriate” for Egypt, due perhaps to its “cultural specificity.” More than 700 members of the Muslim Brotherhood have been arrested for belonging to a “secret,” “illegal” organization, which is rather absurd when you think about it, since the Brotherhood is the largest opposition group in parliament, holding 20% of the seats.

In times like these, one hopes and prays (since this is the kind of thing that may require intervention of a divine nature), that after God knows how many years of mutual acrimony, Egypt's notoriously fractious opposition will get its act together, put its squabbles behind it, and unite behind an inclusive pro-democracy platform. This means that leftists, liberals, secularists, and Islamists need to work together because they share one thing in common – a hatred of Arab autocracy and a desire for a democratic Egypt.

It is worth recalling that successful democratic transitions in Latin America and Eastern Europe were facilitated by broad-based opposition coalitions which were able to unite behind inclusive platforms. A culture of compromise prevailed as key players were able to reach a basic consensus on key issues. In the Arab world, however, the opposition has been paralyzed by ideological cleavages – until now (or so we hope at least).

To be sure, the ideological cleavages still exist but, in the shade of regime brutality, there are signs that liberals, leftists, and Islamists are beginning to grasp the need to get over the past and work together, today, against a common adversary. Which is why I found the blogger-activist Alaa Abdel Fatah’s recent declaration of solidarity with the Muslim Brotherhood quite interesting.

Alaa was released from prison a few days ago. Keep in mind that Alaa is a staunch secularist, but that didn't keep him and the young Muslim Brothers whom he met in prison from finding common ground and sharing a moment of solidarity. In Alaa's own words:

While I was waiting to hear the prosecutor's verdict in the cell they let in around 35 young men who where in a very good mood, they made alot of noise, they joked about the bags of munchies and sweets they have with them, turned out they where a group of ikhwan [Muslim Brothers] from Alexandria who went for a summer trip in Marsa Matrouh, a perfectly harmless social activity full of singing and dancing and football, but state security decided it was a training camp and arrested them all. Try to imagine being arrested and facing anything between 15 days and 6 months of detention because you went to the seaside with 30 of your best friends. They where from this new breed of islamists that reads blogs, watches al jazeera, sings sha3by songs, talks about intense love stories and chants "down Mubarak"...and all of sudden they transformed from just ikhwanis into comrades! they hugged me, they clapped, they shook my hands, they laughed and they were genuinely happy for my release. they felt and expressed solidarity and they gave me the one happy memory that would help me live through 14 hours of hell.


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The effect of an oil-driven economy on political structure and stability is absolutely key to understanding politics in the Middle East. As I argue in here , the oil export driven economies of Middle Eastern countries has a clear effect on the authoritarian nature of political regimes in this region. If the US is serious about spreading democracy to the Middle East, then it should reduce it own dependency on oil to help reduce the influence of this commodity on the political structure of Arab states.

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