At a recent gathering in Egypt, I met pious and secular, with headscarves and without, young men and women debating and training together. They believe in pluralist Islamic democracy – drawing strength from Islam while respecting personal choice. Yet the meeting was electrified by the fear expressed by a woman in a white headscarf: “The question we are asking is what happens if the majority do not share our vision of the future.”
Little did we know that the next day the stark immediacy of this concern would be tragically exposed an hour and a half away in Cairo. The attacks on members of the Christian Copt minority, and the killing of 25 of them, encapsulate concerns in Egypt and the wider world about the direction of the revolution. In essence, the question is simple: when can Egyptians trust democracy? The answer should be the sooner the better, and the fuller the democracy the better. I say this not out of some naive faith in the kindness of human nature, but rather as a calculated and principled response to the challenges facing the most important Arab state.
The greatest boost to the Islamist vote would be a sense of victimisation by the west. We should never appease views we hold to be objectionable. We should explain our differences. There is ample ammunition to challenge exclusive and sectarian definitions of Islam. But we should not fall into a rejectionist trap. Continue reading »