Warnings that democracy will turn Egypt into a dangerous theocracy has been heard for a long time, but with the Egyptian people strongly intent on winning back their rights, those concerns seem this week to be everywhere. Nowhere is this fear of Egyptian democracy is being heard loudest than here in the U.S. media.
This concern isn’t limited to the American right: In today’s Washington Post, liberal columnist Richard Cohen expresses his fears that Islamist influence in a democratic Egypt would endanger Israel.
The problem is, to all these critics, the only options facing Egyptians are Mubarak or Islamists. That is simply wrong. Egyptian aspirations for democracy have simmered for too long for outsiders to block it by playing on the same fears that have helped maintain an autocrat in power for three decades.
Let’s start with the obvious: For Amnesty International, this is not a relevant issue. As a human rights organization, we focus on preventing and documenting human rights abuses. That is one reason why we don’t call for Mubarak’s resignation; our interest is stopping the torture, unfair trials, arbitrary and prolonged detentions and abuses of freedom of speech, association and religion that fall under his or any other regime.
Secondly, the fears expressed about the Muslim Brothers overstate the group’s current position. After decades of attempts to muzzle civil society, the Egyptian government has effectively handcuffed most political parties and secular institutions. One result was to make room for Islamist opposition. The Muslim Brothers have publicly renounced violence and pledged to work within the political system.