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To hell with the dictatorship of the majority - Daily News Egypt

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To hell with the dictatorship of the majority

My new Egyptian friend is very excited about the recent developments in Egypt. She hates President Mohamed Morsy to pieces and wants a liberal to replace him. She considers herself a liberal Egyptian and a great women’s rights advocate. She supports a constitution that would guarantee equality and preserve human rights. She is veiled, but …

Hanin Ghaddar

My new Egyptian friend is very excited about the recent developments in Egypt. She hates President Mohamed Morsy to pieces and wants a liberal to replace him. She considers herself a liberal Egyptian and a great women’s rights advocate. She supports a constitution that would guarantee equality and preserve human rights.

She is veiled, but that’s not a problem. She told me religion is a personal issue and I respect that. However, my new friend cannot imagine an Egypt where religion is completely separate from state institutions.

She cannot tolerate a constitution that allows gay rights. Most Egyptians still believe that Islam should be our source of legislation, she says. “At the end of the day, we are a majority, and democracy is about what the majority chooses,” she told me with absolute certainty.

That was a slap in my face. Democracy is the choice of the majority? And I thought that this whole Arab Spring was about citizenship and equality among citizens. So now if the “majority” in the Arab world wants Islamic states, I should be OK with that? Do we really think that we have achieved democracy by toppling some dictators here and there? I realised that moment that we still have a long way to go before we understand the real meaning of democracy.

As a secular woman who is a citizen—in our case, a second-class citizen—I expect to be treated as an equal by my state, on all levels. I expect all my fellow citizens—women, seculars, non-Muslims and homosexuals—no matter what their identity is, to be treated as equals. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be a democracy.

A real democracy does not differentiate between one citizen and another based on their religious or sexual identities. A real democracy separates state from religion, and that’s the only way to go. Our so-called Arab Spring would be a huge failure if we cannot accept this and find ways to implement it.

Anything less than a non-religious state would be a waste of time and would result in another kind of dictatorship: the dictatorship of the majority—in our case, the Muslim majority.

Of course, change is a long process, and no one expects the Arab street to move directly into a democratic entity after decades of sitting in the dark. But I also wouldn’t expect a young, liberal Egyptian to tell me with certainty that Islam should be my reference. As an Arab woman, I want to be treated as an equal to men, and there’s no compromise on that.

I am not only afraid of the Islamists taking over; I am afraid of people like my Egyptian friend: a liberal young woman who still cannot accept the rights of minorities. Islamists will come and go because people will realise that Islamic parties are better in the opposition.

They will not be able to deliver in countries like Egypt and Syria because they won’t be capable of maintaining the balance between their ideology and economic development. They wouldn’t be able to create jobs and bring in investment with rigid Islamic rhetoric.

The problem is that after they too go, are the people going to change? In Egypt, will my friend and people like her realise that real democracy is about accepting that those who are different must have the same rights? In Syria, will the people topple their Baath mentality after toppling the Baath regime?

If we look at the Syrian opposition’s behaviour today, from the Syrian National Council to today’s National Coalition, we see large traces of the Baath mentality. They all agree that Bashar al-Assad should go, but will this opposition bring real democracy to Syria?

Now that Assad is about to go, the Syrian people have to understand before it’s too late that a large effort will need to be made to erase all traces of the Baath mentality; otherwise, one dictator will be replaced by another.

Women should be pushed to the front seats of decision-making. Rape of women by the regime’s shabiha will have to be discussed as a collective therapy. Minorities should be protected and civil society needs to be strengthened.

The dictatorship of the majority is hidden in the margins of freedom and democracy. My friend’s understanding of change does not acknowledge my rights. When Islam becomes part of the political process, people like me will suffer. This is not democracy. This is not freedom.

Hanin Ghaddar is the managing editor of NOW. where the article originally appeared. She tweets @haningdr



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  • Mo Agha

    You can’t propose equal rights for a minority (Christians, Women, etc..) without allowing the same laws to apply to ALL minorities (homosexual, atheist, etc..). This is a concept that is hard for average (and unfortunately, educated) Egyptians to understand. Only time and a proper set of equality rights in the constitution can protect against the abuse of minorities; however, it is also wishful thinking to assume this will all happen magically in one constitutional draft. These things take time and ultimately the interpretation of laws should be left to the Judiciary by way of precedent-setting court cases.

    Don’t forget it took advanced democracies a very long time to get to where they are today (Civil Rights act in the 60s, Women voting in the USA starting in 1920, etc..). Why should Egypt be any different?

  • Coptic Means Egyptian

    Do you consider Israel to be a democracy? Although secular, it is a country founded on religious and (fake) ethnic grounds. Do you consider Switzerland to be a democracy? Although they would claim otherwise, Switzerland is not a welcoming nation for non-christians based on various provisions and laws about establishing places of worship for example. And when it comes to mosques especially, this becomes much wider spread in most of Europe

    Do you consider rights for homosexuals to include the right to be married? then the US is not a democracy since the majority of the states don’t approve of such right.
    Tolerance is a rather subjective measure. It is a word that in itself reflect a flaw in the human nature. What should be clear to you is that for generations to come, homosexuality is not going to be an openly acceptable identity. Even you can find instances of it in public(check Siwa, the oliver gatherers practices for example, or some of the old style cafes in down town cairo) it is shunned and unaccepted by the majority of the egyptian people both christians and muslims alike.

    To make this clearer to both the readers who may understand something about the egyptian society, lets draw a religious analogy. In a perfect democracy, the citizens would be free to believe and worship as they please, or choose to be atheists or agnostics. Now if a group of people decided to become satanists, do you think that would be acceptable? Do you think the egyptian society as it stands today or for generations to come would accept and welcome this with open arms?

    Finally, Pure Democracy is mob rules, that is why most countries who try to balance rights of their citizens opt for constitutional republics or constitutional monarchy.To ensure this, checks and balances are established between the various institutions of a country. This is what I think is missing the most in the current draft of the Egyptian constitution

    If you have a different definition of democracy, but only established referenced one, I would love to read it.

  • Ibrahim Yunus

    Poor author, she lives in a world of her own. I’m not sure if you grew up in the West but if you did, I think you need to wake up and see the realities on the ground. However, I doubt that you lived in the West as it seems like your description about democracy is no where near the reality.

    Let me make it nice and simple:

    Your definition about democracy is correct from the West’s point of view. However the West, sadly to say, do not implement their version on democracy except when it suits their needs and desire. I hope you will accept this simple argument. A good example when a person who believes in democracy, is ready to break its tenants because it does not fit her. Take a look at your heading “To hell with the dictatorship of the majority”…

    You thoughts about having religion included in the state and how they country will turn into a dark side is ill thought and require you to dig deep into Islamic history when trued Muslims, not puppets, ruled the world.

    Finally weather you like it or not Egypt is an islamic country and will remain to be so by the will of the Creator. So if you dont like it there, the door is open for you to move into a country where they will accept your values.

    Islam does not coexist with democracy and democracy does not exist with Islam as they both are different way of life.


    Everytime we talked about democracy, when Islamist hold power thru election we objected it we called it dectator but when the fake Muslim grab the power by any means we appreciated and we proud of him thats the sign of hypocracy. May Allah guide us in Islam.

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