06/08/2011, 00.00
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Freedom is Islamic fundamentalism’s greatest enemy

For Wael Farouq, a Muslim scholar at the Arabic Language Institute of the American University in Cairo, it is legitimate for the Muslim Brotherhood to take part in politics. The desire for freedom shown during the uprising on Tahrir Square is changing the Islamist movement.
Cairo (AsiaNews) – “Freedom is fundamentalism’s greatest enemy;” hence “I support the right of the Muslim Brotherhood to take part in political life. To exclude them would go against the ideals of civilisation for which we fought during the revolution in the Square,” Wael Farouq told AsiaNews. The Muslim scholar teaches at the Arabic Language Institute of the American University in Cairo. He was deputy chairman of the Cairo meeting, an interfaith event organised in October in cooperation with Comunione e Liberazione. He was interviewed by AsiaNews on the current situation in his country and the risk of a fundamentalist turn after the fall of Mubarak and the entry of the Muslim Brotherhood into politics. For him, the events in Tahrir Square are a revolution of faith and morality by the Egyptian people. In his view, the desire of freedom and justice shown by the young demonstrators is changing the Muslim Brotherhood.

A moral, not an angry revolution

For Wael Farouq, events in Tahrir Square are evidence of a moral and spiritual change in the Egyptian people. “People,” he said, “have come to realise that it is possible to change things in our own country by voicing our demands and expressing our desires. Demonstrators were not stage-managed by anyone; they did not follow any party or ideology, but believed in the ideals of freedom and justice”.

According to the professor, this marks something quite new in the uprising, something unique along with that of Tunisia, in the Arab world. “The square scared Mubarak because this type of unrest is not part of our tradition. He was unable to crush the uprising because he was unable to cope with changes in consciousness.”

Young Christians and Muslims organised the demonstrations, Wael Farouq noted. They worked together during and after the revolution, irrespective of their religious differences, only considering their demands and wishes.

“During the revolution, there was not a single attack against a church,” he said. “I saw with my own eyes Muslims protect Christians and vice versa during the clashes.”

According to the scholar, after almost six months of uprising, this union persists, despite attempts by men of the regime to stop the change. This is clear in the recent attacks against Coptic churches by Salafis.

“These extremist elements get money from abroad and are led by men from the old establishment,” he said. “For this reason, the battle is not between Christians and Muslims but between Egyptians of either religion and elements tied to the old regime who do not want a democratic and civilian-controlled state.

Freedom, the real weapon against Islamic extremism

The ideals of the revolution are influencing the Muslim Brotherhood as well, Wael Farouq noted. The Brotherhood, one of Egypt’s oldest Islamist groups, has been accused of trying to fill the gap left by Mubarak and turn Egypt into an Islamic state.

“It is reasonable to fear an extremist drift in Egypt,” Wael said. “Many factors point in that direction. However, in the new reality, the Muslim Brotherhood does not scare me.”

For the scholar, the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood has undergone profound changes since the revolution in Tahrir Square. It is right for them to take part in the political life of the country.

“After the revolution, the movement split in four parties, and the division continues. One is more liberal, and had joined the revolution. It has antagonised the movement’s leadership by asking for greater transparency, and has moved away from fundamentalist positions. Other leaders want to separate politics from religion and for this reason have split from the more radical wing of the Muslim Brotherhood”.

One part of the movement realises that people want a secular not an Islamic state, Wael explained. The platform of Justice and Freedom, a party linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, and allowed to run in the elections, explicitly speaks of a civilian-controlled state based on Islamic tradition, not Sharia. They also accept the possibility that a Christian might be elected president.

“Since the 1950s, fundamentalist groups have lived under authoritarian regimes, which persecuted and banned them. They have never been under truly democratic regimes. Freedom is fundamentalism’s greatest enemy. For this reason, I support the right of the Muslim Brotherhood to take part in political life. This way more radical fringes can be isolated.”

The young people of Tahrir Square and building the new Egypt

After the meeting in Cairo in October last year, and following events in Tahrir Square, several working groups have been set up by young Christians and Muslims, under the guidance of scholars and university professors.

“These people are not political activists,” Wael said, “but are helping various liberal parties to coordinate their political agenda ahead of September’s parliamentary elections. Many of them worked as volunteers at the meeting in Cairo, and underwent training courses with me.”

Out of these activities came an international committee in which to discuss and understand how liberal movements can coordinate their action, starting from the ideals that emerged out of Tahrir Square. The goal is to set up a liberal front for the coming parliamentary elections. “We are struggling to obtain a new constitution that protects minorities as Egyptian citizens,” Prof Wael said.

However, in his view, the economic crisis due to political instability is the real problem troubling Egyptians. “After the revolution, we can divide the population in three groups; those who got rich under Mubarak’s regime, the liberal activists and the millions of Egyptians who backed the revolution, but did not participate directly, following events on TV.”

All these people have responded to the great hopes raised by the revolution, but the country’s economic crisis could stifle their desire for change. In his view, Western nations, in addition to supporting the ideals of the revolution, could provide concrete help to the Egyptian economy, by investing in the country and supporting its tourist sector, Egypt’s main economic engine.

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