I’m pleased to see that Alaa Al Aswany, the author of the iconic The Yacoubian Building, is blogging for World Affairs Journal. He has only written two articles so far: here and here. They are insightful calls for action, urging the Egyptian people to start actively resisting Mubarak’s authoritarian regime. Passively submitting to the abuses of the current regime will, Aswany points out, only lead to more abuse. Unfortunately, however, this has been the general approach for most Egyptian citizens:
Generations of Egyptians have grown up in the firm belief that submitting to injustice is wise, and that kowtowing to those in power is the best way to protect oneself from harm. Egyptians have long believed that objecting to the authoritarian system is sheer folly and will never change things for the better, and that those who resist injustice will be detained, tortured, and even killed. Egyptians have believed that coexistence with the authoritarian regime will save them from the harm it can inflict, trusting that the vast apparatus of repression which the state possesses only goes into action to crush those who stand in its way.
In the second article, Aswany focuses on election fraud in Egypt and how the police and other officials refuse to acknowledge the ways that this type of fraud violates Islam. This is “because the books on Islamic law, all written well before elections existed, do not mention elections or election fraud.” Such prescriptive following of religion, Aswany warns, is dangerous when it is the foundation for societal action:
Civil and political rights advance only in two cases: when the society recognizes religion as a promoter and defender of basic values — truth, justice and freedom, or when a society bases itself on an ethical concept whereby the collective human conscience is the ultimate arbiter which sets the criteria for virtue and honesty. However, in countries where religion is detached from human values — talents and resources go to waste, dooming those societies to falling behind in the march of civilization. Those who define religion and piety as set of procedures lead their followers to a false formal piety and undermine the natural sense of conscience, and right and wrong itself. Indeed, it can drive a man to behave appallingly while confident of his goodness, which has been unwisely determined by his correctly performing prescriptive religious obligations.
Such impassioned criticism and calls for resistance are much needed in the lead-up to next year’s elections. Without some concerted effort to resist Mubarak and the culture of corruption and impunity that characterises his regime, the abusive status quo will undoubtedly remain. Depressingly, even with an active effort to resist Mubarak, there is a good chance he will remain in power. But that should not stop people from working to generate much-needed change in Egypt.