Tarek Ragheb, an Egyptian-American, is a senior U.S. aerospace executive, former US military officer and investor in Egypt.
When I was a child growing up in Egypt I remember playing hide and seek. Invariably I was always the last one to be ready for the game to begin when those dreaded words of “ready or not here I come” rang out. Egypt, involuntarily, had wasted a very long time finding its place in the modern world and Democracy just announced, “Ready or not here I come!”
I am all for democratic change, long for it, and Egypt deserves it. In a recent article entitled Egypt Must Focus on Democracy I stressed the need for democracy and a secular one at that! Whether Egyptian society is ready for democracy or not that is something politicians and academics can now argue forever and a day. Egyptians must now get ready and there are many choices and many priorities Egyptians must now make.
The world today has 10 religious democracies. Six Christian, three Islamic and one Jewish. The rest of the world body is either not considered a democracy with or without an official state religion such as Saudi Arabia, or democracies such as the United States which is secular. For this discussion let’s just agree to dispense with the only three communist states still standing.
Of all the choices Egypt will have to make perhaps none is more important than the nature of the state be it religious or secular. The question of religious or secular democracy should now be high on the agenda. I fully realise that elements of Islamic religious groups are warning that this is a red line that must not be crossed. Others on the other side of the political spectrum are insisting that no party should be established on religious grounds. Clearly neither side has yet to realise that this is old thinking. Perhaps even this is the very school of thought that preached repression, division and intolerance that the youth of Egypt had just thrown out!
I disagree with many Egyptians who fear the ascension of the Muslim Brotherhood. I disagree with those who try to cut off their path to power by pushing to out-law religion-based parties as it is currently stated in the now suspended Egyptian constitution. I also disagree with the Islamic religious groups that refuse to even discuss the religious or secular nature of the State which is currently described as Islamic and whose jurisprudence stem from the principles of Sharia in Article 2 of the suspended constitution.
Many say that given Egypt’s traditions, customs and long historical religious heritage, Egyptian society may not be ready, willing or even able to discuss the issue of religious or secular democracy. To that I say no one imagined that the 20 something generation had something worthy to say much less lead a revolution. No one could have imagined the hated Ministry of Interior would have cut and run. No one could have ever imagined that former President Mubarak would have resigned and, finally, the scenes of Christians and Muslims praying together in Tahrir Square defied everyone’s imagination.
We are at the dawn of a new age. Many prodemocracy Egyptians, myself included, would have preferred an evolutionary process rather than a revolution. That said we have a revolution now and a democratic country will hopefully emerge. Let’s embrace it and act truly free and democratic. Let’s not suppress or vilify anyone’s ideas and convictions. Let’s not have any red lines to dictate what we can and cannot discuss. In a free democracy we can always discuss all issues without intimidation from government or religious leaders. We must not suppress or try to out-maneuver those with religious views who want to participate in the political process based on those views. That is their basic human right. That may be a lot to ask but, guess what Egypt? That is what a democracy is all about. So ready or not here it comes!