A letter to the Egyptians: Keep proving me wrong

By Charles Redfern

Dear Egyptian People:

I hereby admit it.  You astonished me.  I didn’t think you’d pull it off.  Skeptical me could only imagine a grim display in an ugly future:  Your revolution bathes in blood under a Tiananmen-style bullet hail; the more organized Muslim Brotherhood takes over and gives the regime its coveted excuse to smash you; Mubarak flees like the shah of Iran, perhaps dooming your nation to chaos and eventual tyranny.

You proved us cynics wrong, so celebrate.  You can even make fun of my continuing worries in the blog comments – if you want to take the time.  This is your hour, your day, your festive moment – and you deserve it.  You have just overthrown a dictator who may have robbed your coffers of up to $70 billion (see the Guardian article here; see doubts about that figure here) and smothered you with a 30-year “state of emergency.”  What’s more, you were substantially peaceful; Mubarak’s thugs brought in the violence.  I’m with Marc Lynch: “It’s okay to celebrate – to stand in awe of the Egyptian people and their ability to topple a seemingly impenetrable dictator through massive, peaceful protests.”  You emulated the Philippines and you have given hope to those bearing oppression’s weight.  There are the other Middle Eastern nations – and there’s also Burma.

Don’t let up

But forgive me.  I confess.  I’m still concerned.  Dictatorships are stubborn.  The rich and ruthless rarely transform once they’ve tasted power.  Scrape away all their pretexts, justifications, alibis, excuses, and clichés, and we find that they think of themselves as gods.  Surrendering divinity – even if it’s false – and returning to psychological mortality is a herculean task.  Promises are mere trifles to be renegotiated or abandoned; revolutions, however peaceful, must always be crushed.  And I can’t help but notice to whom Mubarak passed the baton: The Army, the foundation of power ever since the monarchy’s overthrow and Nassir’s rule.  More experienced journalists are trying to tell us that your military is not the Teddy Bear of current media fame.  Witness Guardian reports on torture allegations:

The Egyptian military has secretly detained hundreds and possibly thousands of suspected government opponents since mass protests against President Hosni Mubarak began, and at least some of these detainees have been tortured, according to testimony gathered by the Guardian.

The military has claimed to be neutral, merely keeping anti-Mubarak protesters and loyalists apart. But human rights campaigners say this is clearly no longer the case, accusing the army of involvement in both disappearances and torture – abuses Egyptians have for years associated with the notorious state security intelligence (SSI) but not the army.

Read the full report here.

Please, beware.  Be diligent even amid the euphoria.  Prove me ill-founded once more.

Please, I want you to make me look silly

And prove me foolish in another area.  A Pew survey found that 84 percent of the Egyptian populace favored the death penalty for those leaving Islam even though 90 percent favors religious freedom.  I bear no grudge against any religion viewing itself as the single path to God.  How can I?  I’m among the most irritating of the obnoxious.  I’m an evangelical Baptist Christian.  I know traditional Muslims argue their case because they genuinely care for my eternal well-being.  They harbor me no ill will, nor do they consider themselves personally superior.  They’ll even see that there are debatable issues among their religion’s finer points and they’ll recognize me as wayward kin: We’re “people of the book,” members of the great monotheistic triad (Jews, Christians, and Muslims), relatives in the Abrahamic heritage.  Who am I to begrudge the belief in absolutes?  They feel it’s important for me to take the next step.

But how can religious freedom reign if there is no liberty to convert?  And can you not see that state-mandated religion soon becomes state-manipulated and state-polluted?  Presidents pray before the cameras but muscle in on religious institutions, appoint their lackeys and adulterate religion itself.  True devotees are branded heretical – which is why we obnoxious Baptists are the first to go to court for those with whom we avidly disagree.  We know real religion thrives when the regime backs away.  Our cousins, the Anabaptists, paid a terrible price for state religion.

Please, learn from Christianity’s mistakes.

I really do want to look very, very silly

One expert told me that the military is certainly no panacea, but we cannot let the perfect become the enemy of the good.  You have leaped a huge leap.  Keep leaping.  Keep proving me wrong.  Make me and other skeptics a laughing stock.  I will be the first to join the raucous chorus if a constitutional democracy forms and minorities are protected.  I’d love to laugh at myself.

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About Charles Redfern

Charles Redfern is a writer, activist, and clergyman living in Connecticut with his wife and family. He's currently writing two books, with more in his head.

View all posts by Charles Redfern


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