Prof. Saad Eddin Ibrahim, just back from Cairo, shares his thoughts on the revolution and beyond as part of a CRCC panel.

MADISON, NJ–Egypt’s newborn democracy will likely include elements of the Muslim Brotherhood and the military as well as the young revolutionaries who brought down the Mubarak regime, according to one of Egypt’s best-known human rights activists. But that should not frighten Israel or the U.S., he says.

“It is my belief that if we have two democracies in the Middle East, there is nothing to fear,” Professor Saad Eddin Ibrahim, currently the Wallerstein Distinguished Visiting Professor at Drew, predicted Feb. 23 during a packed public program on the Egyptian Revolution of 2011. “If we have democracies in the Middle East, they will not go to war to settle their differences.”

Ibrahim, a sociologist and former political prisoner in Egypt, told of flying excitedly into Cairo three days before the revolution ended Feb. 11 and going with his wife, daughter and grandchildren to Tahrir Square. He stood among the crowd of one million Egyptians demanding President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster after 30 years in power. Many talked of rewriting their Constitution to set term limits on future presidents and limit their power.

“It was festive, it was electric, it was fantastic. You were overwhelmed by the feeling of empowerment,” he said. “I don’t think anything like that has ever happened in human history—a revolution, carried out by people of all ages, covered minute by minute, under all mankind’s eyes. A middle-class revolution, by people willing to risk everything.”

Ibrahim said he understood concerns that the Muslim Brotherhood or military might compromise democratic ideals as the country prepares for elections.  “These two groups are like each other—disciplined and organized—and so, as a student of social movements, I worry about them,” he said. “But I don’t want my worry to turn into pathological fear. The way to deal with it is to fight back with peaceful means. We learned that from Martin Luther King and, before him, Ghandi.”

The forum, sponsored by Drew’s Center on Religion, Culture & Conflict, also featured Mona Eltahawy, Egyptian-born journalist and frequent commentator on Arab affairs. She credited women and social media with playing crucial roles in the uprising. In one video that went viral, she said, it was a young woman who issued the original call for demonstrations Jan. 25.

“Social media gave these young people, who had been denied a future, a place to talk and say ‘I count,’ but it did not invent the courage you saw on Egypt’s streets,” Eltahawy said. “That courage has always been there.”–Mary Jo Patterson


Posted: February 24, 2011