The focus of the world shifts to North Africa as the "contagion" effects from the Tunisian uprising take shape in Egypt. Demonstrations that most of us thought would last for two days or three at most have been relentlessly held everyday, defying curfews, government threats, army appeals, mass arrests and police brutality. The cries of a population disenfranchised from its government and ruler continue to rise from Egypt as governments from around the world scramble to give an "appropriate" response.
There are many aspects of the Egyptian uprising that come to light as one looks into the matter. The reaction from the West, specifically the White House, has been subdued and calculated. Egypt is the recipient of the largest chunk of American funds in the region. Its military might has been propped by American bribes in exchange for a normalization of ties with Israel – a normalization that has manifested itself in the form of the siege imposed on Gaza for years now. There is no arguing Israel's siege on the coastal enclave would have been rendered useless had Egypt refused to cooperate.
As the people of Egypt call for the democratization of the country, the US favors a transition to democracy by Mubarak, who remains a close ally of the US and the West as whole. Right after Mubarak's address to the nation on Friday, Obama came out in support of "more democracy" in Egypt so as long as the people work with the regime they have come to despise and not against it.
The reaction coming out of the West highlights its hypocrisy when it comes to the establishment of democracy. There were no comments from the White House regarding the "empowering of protesters" or the constant depiction of police brutality in the media.
Apart from having an ally in Mubarak as far as Israel goes, what many in the world fear is the rise of the Islamists, not just in Egypt but also in Tunisia and much of the North African region. Islam-based political groups have emerged as sympathizers with the oppressed people, promising to fight for political, social and even economic reforms. The movements and groups have come to resonate with large swathes of the populations, presenting an alternative agenda under the pretext of democracy.
The world witnessed the popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood amid mass arrests as it fared better than any other opposition party in the Egyptian parliamentary election in 2005, when Mubarak was under pressure to democratize in cosmetic terms to appease the Bush-era policies. What many fear today is that preaching democracy in Egypt (and the Middle East to a larger extent) will bring about results unfavorable to the West and its agenda in the region – remember the election victory Hamas procured in Palestine?
The election of an Islamist party, like the Muslim Brotherhood, makes the West apprehensive. Not only would it lose a friend for Israel, but it would also lead to the creation of an extremist state hostile towards the West and its policies. The fear is that there will be another Afghanistan in the Middle East. The way Egyptian protesters assemble automatically in the middle of the streets and squares for prayers right after the Adhan despite the tear gas canisters and the water cannons directed at them, reaffirms that apprehension for the West.
Within Egypt though, the apprehension takes a back seat. The uprising is not only being supported by Islamists, but also by progressives, Marxists, and liberals to name a few. Liberation is a nation-wide desire. Who comes in once democracy is established lies in the hands of the people, to whom the country really belongs. A revolution will provide the country the very atmosphere in which all forms of political parties can present their agendas and approaches and give the choice to the people.
It's a decisive time for Obama and his team to really re-set their ties with the Arab and the Muslim world. They could choose to support freedom, favor democracy and the well-being of the population over strategic partnerships that benefit the few. Or, they could choose to continue supporting the dictators propped up by earlier Western governments and continue to alienate the masses that will forever view the West with hostility for its betrayal. It perhaps does bring Obama to a cross-road where he has been given the opportunity to hold true to the promises he made in Cairo in 2009, not because of some strategic interest, but because it would ring true to all that America is supposed to stand for in this world.
The Egyptian uprising seems to be continuing and the call for a million-man march is made as I type this. What this uprising and the one in Tunisia have done is reaffirmed the belief in the will of the people. There will be different groups that will try and capitalize on the situation at hand, some positively and other negatively.
But what needs to happen is that the will of the people needs to prevail, whether it is in accordance with US plans and interests in the region or not. Democracy needs to prevail, even if it brings in the Islamists that may prove to be uncooperative extremists. If the population doesn't agree with the Islamist policies, it will vote to remove them in the next round of elections. Isn't that where the beauty of true democracy lies? This movement and uprising is rooted in the fundamentals of Islam. It is Islam that calls for rising up against all forms of oppression and tyranny. The masses in Egypt have awakened today and are more aware than ever, more determined than ever. If this awareness can oust a modern-day Pharaoh like Mubarak, it will also manifest to bring down any extremist government that runs against the true principles of Islam.
Egypt remains a waiting game. The window of opportunity given to the West is getting smaller by the minute. The people of Egypt remain ever more resilient.