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Egypt: “Why Not Us?”

by Michael Armanious

Two and half years after the January 25, 2011 revolution, Egyptians still are wondering about their dream of building a modern Egypt. They look around, see the economic successes of China, South Korea and Israel and ask “Why not us?”

It is a reasonable question. The Egyptian economy has stagnated while the rest of the world has moved ahead. Since the 1950s, China has become an economic powerhouse, recently designated by the World Bank as the second largest economy after the USA. Less than 70 years ago, South Korea was a wasteland. Today it is the world’s 11th largest economy and has a vibrant, emerging democratic culture. Just 65 years ago, Israel was born. Today it is home to more start-ups and IPOs per capita than any other country in the world.

Sixty-one years ago, when Egypt was liberated from the British occupation and became an independent state, it had massive resources, but unfortunately it chose a different path. The result has been an ugly combination of illiteracy, misery, and corruption. Egypt does not work as a modern nation state. Foreign investors have been driven from the country by social and political unrest. Members of the country’s Christian minority, which has historically played a significant role in Egypt’s economic development, have seen their lives and property destroyed. And women, who play a transformative role in the education and well-being of their children, are still being badly mistreated.

Egypt has, in other words, declared war on the people who are in the best position to help it develop.

It does not look as if this view will change in the near future. Egyptians have a tradition of blaming their misfortune on Westerners and Zionists, but never look within. They are loath to look at how the decisions they have made contribute to Egypt’s failure as a nation-state. Moreover, Egyptian elites are working hard to make things worse by promoting the creation of what R.I. Moore called a “persecuting society:” promoting a mentality that calls for the isolation and harassment of people who deviate from the Islamic norm.

The architecture of this persecuting society is rooted in the Egyptian constitution, as revealed by Dr. Saad El-Din Hilaly, professor of Comparative Jurisprudence at the Faculty of Sharia and Law at Al-Azhar University. Hilaly, who serves as Al-Azhar’s representative to the 2013 constitution committee, stated in a October 29, 2013TV broadcast, that the new constitution will allow people to believe in God or in anything else as long as these convictions remains locked in their heart and not made known publicly. He also stressed that only Muslims are allowed to reveal their faith publicly to preserve a harmonious society.


The Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo, pictured above, is part of Al-Azhar University. (Image source: David Stanley)


Is it any wonder, in the light of these ideas, that religious minorities, particularly the Coptic Christians, are under continuous attack by Islamists?

The architecture of this persecuting society can also be seen in textbooks used at religious schools overseen by Al-Azhar University, which oversees the education of Muslims from kindergarten to graduate school. The use of these textbooks, which promote Sharia law, is not confined to religious schools or “madrassas,” but in all schools supervised by Al-Azhar – in kindergartens as well as medical schools – and anything between. These textbooks teach youngsters that Christian woman should wear metal rings around their neck to distinguish them from the superior Muslim women. Books used in Al-Azhar-run high schools in the 2013-2014 school year teach students that a women’s pregnancy can last as long as 4 years. Dr. Ismael Shaheen, deputy head of the Al-Azhar University, defended the use of these textbooks in televised interview on November 16, 2013. When challenged about the use of textbooks that say a pregnancy can last as long as four years, he stated, “This fact was supported by western medical journals.” (In a tactic often used by Islamists, Shaheen did not provide the name of a journal to prove his point, but said he would provide a source at a later date.)

What do Egyptians think will be the result of exposing children to such ideas for the duration of their childhood and early adulthood? Fatima Naoot, an Egyptian poet and guest on the same show, answered this question: “They are creating terrorists.”…

….Egypt has an abundance of natural resources and is situated at the crossroads of Africa, Asia and Europe. It should be an economic powerhouse capable of providing jobs and economic well-being for its people, who have suffered enough. But no one in his right mind will invest in a country where persecution – and not the rule of law – is the norm.

Until Islamist clerics learn to follow their own advice and stay out of politics – and allow women and Christians to live in peace – Egypt will remain a backwater. Only when Egyptians look within and admit to themselves that it is their own decisions that are really causing so much unnecessary misfortune, will Egypt be transformed to a modern state.


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