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Understanding Egypt: A Letter to the People of Egypt from an American Muslim

Editor’s note: The Blaze is featuring some guest posts to help our readers gain a deeper understanding of the situation in Egypt. M. Zuhdi Jasser is the President of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy based in Phoenix, Arizona. He can be reached at info@aifdemocracy.org.

To the People of Egypt:

I cannot even pretend to be able to fully relate to the courage and spirit your people have shown the world these past few weeks. As an American physician, a devout Muslim, and president of an organization founded on the concept of bringing the principles of liberty to Muslims, I applaud your fearless pursuit of liberty for the Egyptian people. I am hopeful that your courage will reach the doorsteps of all oppressed Arab nations.

I have watched with amazement and great respect what you have been able to accomplish. Without using violence, relying on only your courage, self-determination and unwillingness to compromise your principles, you forced a long-term autocrat to cede power. That is the power that freedom can bring, and I hope you will clench that feeling of victory from liberty close to your chest as you struggle through to the next path for Egypt. The actions you take in the next few months will define the destiny for your people and I respectfully offer a few ideas that I hope you’ll find valuable to consider.

I am a first generation American-Muslim, Arab, and Syrian. My parents were forced to flee to America from the same terminal vortex of totalitarian Arab fascist rule that you are hopefully stepping out from under today. I so wish my father and grandfather were alive, to see what you have been able to accomplish so far. You’ve shown that the free will of the Arab people has not been interminably paralyzed by the fear of these entrenched despots and the henchmen of their police states.

In 1966, by becoming American, my parents got back their inalienable rights to their Creator that their motherland of Syria had long denied them. I remember my grandfather telling me prior to his death in 1976 how Arab societies were dying the slow deaths of their spirit. Later I would hear of some towns like Hama in Syria in 1981 actually being wiped out with over 30,000 people executed in a matter of a few days, while the world paid little attention.

Now, in this new age of 24/7 cable news coverage and the growing uncontrollable global village of social Internet networks and communication, such acts of genocide are no longer possible without an immediate global backlash. Had your demonstrations this month occurred in the 70’s or 80’s, they would have been met with mass murder and imprisonment, with little reaction from the West.

But as we saw last summer, with Iran’s Green Revolution, when the West turned its gaze away after only a few weeks, the thuggish theocrats in charge began using savage violence against their own people, in order to smother the organic popular uprising.

Please know that there are many of us in the United States who have not forgotten our roots, and who know that the only way to defeat the two evils of Arab fascism and radical Islam in our motherlands is through the moral advocacy of another means of living --- in liberty.

I hope your actions get us to “reboot” the lens though which America sees Middle Eastern countries. For all the good America has done and tried to do around the world, our foreign policy towards Egypt has not always been consistent with the advocacy of the liberty that our founding documents articulate. Too often, we have allowed our stance on Egypt to be governed by momentary expediency, and choosing between the lesser of two evils. I can only hope that your courage will re-inspire our political leaders to take a principled approach to advocating on behalf of your freedom, vigorously and without apology.

But while the road ahead is wide open for you, I can only pray that you will not succumb to the pressure of those who want you to vote yourselves into a tyranny of the masses, to replace the autocratic tyranny from which you just liberated yourselves.  For as Thomas Jefferson, one of America’s greatest Founding Fathers noted:

"An elective despotism was not the government we fought for.  The concentrating of [legislative, executive, judiciary] power in the same hands is precisely the definition of despotic government. It will be no alleviation that these powers will be exercised by a plurality of hands, and not by a single one. 173 despots would surely be as oppressive as one."

While your courage and actions have inspired many of us here in America, I must tell you that many of us also fear that without a movement that embraces and clearly articulates the virtue of individual liberty, of the right of the individual to think and decide for himself and herself, Egypt may devolve into instability, chaos, or Islamism.

You have brought back personal accountability to the condition of Arabs in the Middle East. You have taken the first steps to walk Arabs out of the morass of conspiracy theories that blame everything in our condition on everyone else with little to no personal accountability. To see your demonstrations, free of anti-American, anti-Israeli, and anti-Western propaganda, I am left with great hope that a pragmatic, responsible movement of advocates for freedom and self-repair can happen not only in Egypt but in every Middle Eastern nation.

You now have our attention and renewed respect for self-determination. What next? The transition from protests to pluralistic democracy is a great chasm. Do not be distracted by trying to settle sectarian or tribal disputes that have long festered in the oppressive environment from which you are arising.

I have never known oppression like you have lived, but my family has. I have known freedom and liberty and understand the underpinnings of a society necessary for that. Mubarak and his henchmen have prevented the growth of any institutions that would have fostered the ideas of liberty you now need while he also fueled the theocratic ideas of political Islam and its slippery slope of radicalization in order to keep your masses at bay.

In the coming weeks and months I pray that the military in control now in Egypt will actually step aside and allow a new organic Egypt to emerge. If they do not and all your efforts do is bring forth a new dictator from the old henchmen, you must return to the streets. I also hope that before elections you will endorse and move forward a set of universal principles of a new Egypt, codified in a new constitution that respects all equally before the law- a law based not in one faith but rather based in reason. I hope you embrace Western principles of liberty as humanitarian and not only Western.

I am under no illusions that this will happen overnight. Iraq is a testimony to how drawn out and complicated that process can be. You may take steps backward before you go forward.

While your movement does not appear to be Islamist, there is also no denying the fact that some fear over a future Islamist hijacking of your movement is valid. Islamists are well versed in using democracy and elections as a patient vehicle toward the Islamic state and the implementation of sharia law.

The freedom you seek will not come from a new-Mubarak like despot and it will not come from sharia law. Countering Islamists never works by pushing them underground, but that does not mean they deserve a “seat at the table.” They may eschew violence in order to feign moderation but their ideology is at its core incompatible with a free Egypt or a secure Middle East. They must be confronted with this openly in a true battle of ideas towards Islamic reform the only way to diffuse their movement. I believe that a secular constitution founded in the inalienable equal rights of every individual, blind to faith and yet under God, is the only path that will fulfill the destiny you long for Egypt.

Recent polling shows a deep penetration of various draconian ideas of shariah law into the Egyptian mindset. We are thus deeply concerned how a people for whom over 80 percent believe in the murder of apostates can give rise to a modern democracy.

As your new leaders arise organically, I hope they marginalize Islamists and their ideas and form new reformist institutions to counter global founts of Islamist theocracy like Al-Azhar University in Cairo. A secular leadership in Egypt’s new republic will not have staying power to succeed against Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood and their insidious ideologies without genuine scholarly Muslim reform toward modernity and the separation of mosque and state.

As I sit in the comfort of my Arizona home in the warmth of this lap of freedom, I dare not make a suggestion that I know what direction you will take. But I do know that anything short of genuine pluralism and liberty in Egypt will remain an unstable society in conflict with the free world.

In the words of Benjamin Franklin: “A democracy is two wolves and a small lamb voting on what to have for dinner. Freedom under a constitutional republic is a well armed lamb contesting the vote.”

Do not let the illusion of the Islamic state anesthetize your drive toward modernity as the only pathway to God. Remember that the Islamic State is still run by despotic theocrats and not God. The Islamic state by definition is doomed to failure. As an American Muslim I have come to love liberty and eschew the Islamic state. I know Egyptians can do the same. The world is watching.

One last thing…
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