The Egypt of the Pharaohs continues to be attractive, but the relevance of today's Egypt is determined by its importance in the Arab-Islamic world. If the oriental soul of Islam emerged between Mesopotamia and Transoxania and neighboring areas, the occidental soul of Islam is centered in Egypt and his surroundings. The very first Islamic schism between the Sunni's literally-deist absolutism, and the anthropomorphic rationalism based on the imamate and the cult of saints in the Shiism, had its early beginnings in Egypt.
Indeed, while in Baghdad the Sunni Abbasids caliphate reigns (750-1258), arisen from the ashes of the Sunni Umayyad caliphate of Damascus (685-705), in Egypt the first Shiite of caliphate of Fatimides was established (969-1171), and founded the most prestigious Islamic university and the oldest in the world, the university of al-Ahzar. Subsequently in Egypt, the Sunnis with Saladin and other dynasties violently prevailed, while the Shiism as persecuted ideology with highly marked popular features moves toward East, exactly in Persia, where the Safavid dynasty (1501-1736) strongly imposed it as a state's religion, and starting an alliance with the pontifical state in Rome, in order to oppose their "common enemy", the Sunni's Ottoman expansionism.
Unlike Iran, which preserves its own language and culture, Egypt has soon dissolved itself within Islamic culture and not long after, its language became Arabic. This is a peculiar aspect of the Arab expansionism, which wherever arrives never think to colonize, but starts to work eagerly and with passion, embracing the indigenous culture in order to absorb it fully.
This entire cycle is in the name of Allah to whom everything must be subordinated and everyone must surrender in a full and total way.
With the dissolution of the Ottoman caliphate (1774-1924) that fully incorporated Egypt, comes in the Anglo-French colonialism. In 1922 London 'granted' unilaterally independence to Egypt, but the Suez Canal continued to be owned by the British government. After the Second World War, the nationalist Wafd Party resumed the fight for ending the occupation, which combined not only the young Wafdists but also the social-nationalists, communists, and the Muslim Brothers.
In 1952, the "free officers" three days after their coup, chased away the king. By the 18 June 1953 they proclaimed the republic and nominated General Naghib as the President who tried to restore the political parties. This action was opposed by Nasser that prevailed in 1954, after a show-down, Naser became the President. On the wave of passions and revolutionary enthusiasm, Nasser guaranteed himself a large range of powers, starting to suppress the communists as well as the Muslim Brothers, but also making religious reforms and for the first time, declaring the persecuted Shiism as one of the Islam's religions.
Nasser promoted a land reform that inflicted deadly blow to the previous feudal structures; he refused to join the USA sponsored Baghdad's pact in an anti-soviet view; he achieved the definitive British withdrawal from the Suez Canal; he entered in the 'non-aligned' field joining India, China and Yugoslavia at the Bandung Conference; he broke the (western) weapon's monopoly by obtaining military supplies from the USSR, and encouraged freedom movements everywhere, from Morocco to Algeria and to the black Africa.
This "active neutrality" line, aggressive and militant, gave to Egypt the leadership in the Arab world but attracted against Nasser the hate of colonial powers, particularly of France and Great Britain, but also of the USA whose interests did not coincided with those of Paris and London. The powers supported Israel, against which Nasser lost the war but not the popularity in the Arab world. General Anwar Sadat, Nasser's successor, made a separate peace with Israel in Camp David, gathering western sympathies, but loosing the Egyptian's leadership of the Arab world. Sadat was murdered in a Jihad environment and Hosni Mubarak succeeded to him, and now he is governing as a pharaoh, winning pro-forma elections since 1981 with very high percent.
The reformist thinking in Egypt (and generally inside the Arab's world) has two major currents of thought. The first is of Islamic origin, and has Jamal al-din Afghani and his disciples as precursors, like the puritan Muhammad Abduh, up to the founder of Muslim Brotherhood Hasan al-Bana, whose grandson, Tarek Ramadan, a Muslim born in Europe and with European "education", is continuing with his ambiguous messages, willing to introduce debate about lapidation also in Europe. The second vain, representing the secular reformism, supported as precursors people like R. Thatavi (1801-1873), Shebli Shomeyl (1850-1917) and Taha Hossein (1889-1973) which were willing to apply the Descartes method in the research.
Nowadays these currents are still present in the Egyptian's political and cultural life. On the one hand the Muslim Brotherhood, while suffering continuous internal struggle and being under the constant pressure of various currents of the Jihadist movement, keep dreaming about the Islamic Caliphate. Despite the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood's main social support is based amongst the poorest people, they're - as stated by Samir Amin - absent from the real social struggles of the working class and support usually for the preservation of the status quo. The reason of this view is based on their belief that the true justice belongs to the other world and what it is possible, in this world, is to help the poor through the act of charity (Sadaqah). The solidarity for the Muslims Brotherhood is just is based on philanthropy.
Alongside the religious tendencies, there are weak left and democratic parties more or less secular such as Kifaya (Enough) which represent the democratic opposition to the regime's party. These parties, either under the effect of the regime's repressive policies or by the weakening of their ideal intentions they seem to be reduced like a surrogate of power. In front of Muslim Brotherhood and of the weakening political parties of the opposition there's the dominant power of the National-Democratic party, whose congressman clearly exhort police and security forces to shoot over anyone opposing his undisputed dominion and demonstrate in favour of the candidacy of El-Baradei, a moderate diplomat and a winner of a Nobel Peace Prize.
The Egyptian oligarchy as a mixture of richness and repression has a gravitational centre in the family and the person of Hosni Mubarak which enjoys the advantages of a Constitution "ad Persona". There's a weak economy based on agriculture, on the selling of very few raw materials, on the tourism and the migrant's remittances (from Saudi Arabia and sheikhdoms, but also from Europe and USA). In a context of widespread poverty, Mubarak collected uncalculated riches thanks an unregulated neoliberism marked by corruption.
Mubarak's family, jointly with the power oligarchy, is able to control almost all the media and the security apparatus that apply a systematic violence against every form of disobedience. Mubarak as a general also belongs to the military apparatus without whose consensus no one is allowed to rule in Egypt, and as a mix of Pharaoh-Caliph-General, he's able to reign, undisputed for more than a quarter of century, while making a serious attempt to keep the succession inside his family.
The ruling party was unable to implement any kind of reforms, or to modernize a society oppressed under the poverty weight, the traditions and the habits of the past (the female circumcision is emblematic), and fight a poverty that afflict more population. A million of Cairo's inhabitant is still living in cemeteries of the ottoman era. As a matter of fact Egyptians are fighting for bread, without thinking about the responsibilities of the political system. Despite this level of poverty, Egypt is one of the major buyers of weapons. The Egyptian case is a classic case of those Arab regimes which, divided between absolutist monarchies and lifetime presidencies, they see democratic elections as an enemy to fight with any possible way.
In this context El-Baradei, former president of the IAEA (the operating branch of the United Nations for nuclear matters), and Nobel peace prize winner, presents itself as probably presidential candidate to run against Mubarak and most of all against the system based on the name of Pharaoh. His purposes are: free and monitored elections; the end of the emergency situation; democratic governance; press freedom; modernization. If the Mubarak's reign transformed the whole Egypt in a cemetery-city of the Pharaoh's age (the towns of Pharaohs are in reality towns of dead people) the platform and messages of this moderate diplomat gave new soul to the Egyptian society which using new technologies such as internet, is now moving forward: national society, trade unions, celebrities, intellectuals, women, youth, students, human rights activists and most importantly ordinary people.
According with the current constitution, El-Baradei couldn't not even run as a candidate because he should have been part of the general direction of a party for at least a year, while he returned in Egypt after 25 years of diplomatic career abroad. Or he should have the support of 250 elected members of both houses (Shura and People's Council), which has made this difficult task, almost, impossible. The old diplomat knows that nobody will amend the constitution in order to render possible his candidature. While saying that "peaceful ways are the only one to avoid violence", at the same time El-Baradei makes understand that he's not willing to play in a institutional context "under the rules of this pseudo-democracy" and even speaks about revolution, "not for the people but with the people".
El-Baradei sees that the extreme poverty has reduced Egyptian's claims to improvement in wages and leaving conditions, while he argues that any economical improvements is impossible without democratisation of political system. So he says: most of the Egyptians must be introduced and educated about fundamental rights. Albert Camus once said: "whoever stole your freedom, tomorrow will stole also your bread". It seems that El-Baradei almost quotes Camus when he says that "people must understand the link between bread to eat and democracy".
El-Baradei, supported by large parts of the civil society, from the world of culture to the workers, by al-Wafd's nationalists, by Amr Musa (president of the Arab League), by the Alliance of Egyptian Americans (AEA) and by some parts of the Muslim Brotherhood, announced the creation of the "National Association for Change". The unknown issue is the position of the Muslim Brotherhood which demand to be allowed to form a political party in case of victory, and this might irritate -some conservative circles- in USA and in Israel that El-Baradei did not hesitate to criticize together with the UN on several issues, like the war in Iraq: "I continue to ask according to which international's law principle is allowed to invade another country? "
In a very high demographic grow, the poor Egypt's economy mainly based on agriculture, remittances, tourism, and very few raw materials, is not able to stand. Europe adsorbs a part of the Egyptian labour force. The USA taxpayers provide every year more than 2 billion $ in bailouts to the devastated Egypt's economy and circles of the USA establishment could not appreciate the critics of El-Baradei . But, will the American democratic administration of president Obama keep his support the Egyptian police regime, which is fully corrupted and incapable to manage with a minimum of skill the major country of the Arab world?
It is absolutely well know that most of the jihadist extremism is formed and comes out from Egypt. The confessional extremisms naturally were born in the swamps, an area of no-rights created by tyrant's regimes. Mubarak's regime, instead of promoting reforms to fight and drain the swamps where these tendencies were born and grown under the wing of terror, with the scapegoat of fighting jihadist terrorism, he feeds himself with aids, but de facto exports terrorism towards other places as in Iraq, as in the tribal zones between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and elsewhere. The struggle for rights and democracy concerns Egypt and the Egyptians with far reaching effects within the Arab world.
In chancelleries of democratic countries it's time that someone begins to think about democracy as a core value for stability and security. It is necessary that the democratic and pragmatic America and the Europeans chancelleries raise the question of how long this kind of swab measures (with very high costs) supporting dictatorial regimes, could resist before an explosion that could originate instability and global insecurity? It is well known that most of the Sunni Islamic world is managed by edicts promoted by the highest authority in the Muslim world that is Al-Azhar, which is based in Cairo. The perpetuations of a power disrespectful of every right, in the absence of a real "change" could make the situation to explode and make the Jihadists currents to prevail inside al-Azhar . In this case not only Europe and USA but even Russia and China may have some problems for their stability.
In order to isolate Jihad's extremisms, dialogue must be open with moderate Islam which represents a great civilization, and not surrender to Islamophobia. That moderate Islam which is ready to support the candidature of the moderate diplomat. The future developments will demonstrate if El-Baradei will be the first Egyptian civil president or he'll face the destiny of Ayman Nour, leader of the opposition's Liberal Democratic Party Al-Ghad (Tomorrow), who was imprisoned in order maintain the facade of free election but to determine the outcome. In the meantime Mubarak continuous to make it clear that he doesn't want to leave power that have reached a state of full mummification.
Over 300 millions of Arabs suffer the lack of a Martin Luther Al-King and they are caught between jihads confessional movements and regimes supported by security structures. We must demonstrate that there's a third way capable of fighting, through the culture of rights (and subsequently the rule of rights) the violence of terrorism and war, and fighting those who promises a land of desolation. El-Baradei, who for weeks wears nothing but green ties ( the colour of democratic movement in Iran) , is an emblematic character in this battle which have to be supported by all those who care about rights, stability and security as the basic elements of perpetual peace.
There is a strong demand for democracy in the whole Middle East, Eurasia and surroundings areas. A demand that, unlike the past, is mainly based on the moderation and on the instances of the civil society. Having the courage to support these movements also means to marginalize extreme tendencies and contribute to the global security.