Bernard-Henri Lévy Headshot

With the Egyptian Democrats

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Funny, the need some have to claim that intellectuals are "embarrassed" by the revolution taking place in the Arab world.

Intellectuals in general, I don't know.

But as far as I am concerned, things are fairly clear.

From the first day, I welcomed the breeze of liberty that began to blow through Tunisia, then turned towards Egypt, and is now spreading through the rest of the region.

And I did so all the more enthusiastically since the event sounds the knell of a certain number of preconceived ideas I have been combating for the past twenty years--beginning with the racist conception of an "Arab exception" pronouncing this part of the world as stubborn, by nature, to accept the very idea of democracy.

This is proof that it is not.

This is proof that the differentialists, the culturalists, and other defeatists who argue whatever inevitability to block the paths of emancipation to these people have, once again, understood nothing.

And, as usual, democracy has been verified a common good, as has the fact that everywhere oppression, servitude, and massive violations of human rights exist, there are men and women, whatever the numbers, who become aware of this common good and demand their due.

That said, enthusiasm does not exclude lucidity.

And in this case, lucidity, as, moreover, probity, calls for several comments.

1. Rebellious does not necessarily mean democratic.
And the fact is that, among the hundreds of thousand of city dwellers who camped out at Tahrir Square for days in hopes of causing the fall of the regime, there were those who were seeking democracy and there were others--the Muslim Brotherhood--who absolutely were not.

2. I have often said the only clash of civilizations that counts is, within Islam, the clash between Islam of the Enlightenment and fundamentalist, rigid, eventually terrorist Islam. Well, we are there. This is exactly the situation that prevails in Egypt today. But saying that Islam of the Enlightenment is asserting itself, emerging from the shadows, progressing, does not mean, unfortunately, that the other has been vanquished or that we should let down our guard against it. In other words, democrats are faced with fighting on not one but two fronts. Not against one enemy, but two. I cannot imagine in the name of what one should refrain from thinking they must take down Mubarak, on the one hand, but on the other, they must prevent the heirs of Hassan El Banna from taking advantage of the situation to replace tyranny with their own iron rule.

3. All the more so since, in this tri-partite game, unusual alliances may be formed, one of which, in particular, would suffice to put out the flame that has been lit at Tahrir Square.
This is the alliance of Mubarak and the Brotherhood, one that could result from the dialogue, initiated by Vice President Suleiman with the blessing of the United States, with representatives of the opposition--the most prominent of whom are, inevitably, the Brotherhood. And the fear that the brotherhood might take the upper hand over, for example, the so-called movements of the 6th of April or Kefaya and, in league with the Raïs and, especially, with his army, gently snuff out Egypt's hopes for democracy is, to my mind, neither exaggerated nor that of a Cassandra.

What, then, can the chancelleries do as they watch, petrified, the glimmer of light rising in the south?

They must convince themselves, first of all, that democracy is in their interest. Take a peace treaty like that signed with Israel. Signed by a dictator, the treaty lasts as long as his dictatorship does, and when he is brought down, there is a risk the treaty may crumble also. Ratified by a legitimately elected parliament, it survives changing majorities, is enduringly inscribed, and becomes increasingly firmly established.

They must then resist the craven sense of relief an agreement between the Brotherhood and the regime might bring. This would amount to plastering over the dictatorship, putting in the saddle a power that only the irresponsible profess has "matured" and renounced the Sharia. It would thus be a repetition of the error committed thirty years ago, in Afghanistan, with the Taliban. Is this what we want?

And nothing ultimately should prevent one from addressing the different actors emerging from the movement--including, unfortunately, the Brotherhood--and to index our support upon their respect for a certain number of conditions: the commitment, precisely, not to call into question the peace treaty with Israel (what can a democracy that begins by breaking off with the only other democracy in the region be worth?); the proclamation of the principle of freedom of conscience and of religion (isn't the behaviour dealt out to the Copts and to Christians in general a good indication of the conception of tolerance in this part of the world?); and finally, the affirmation of equal rights for women. (In Egypt, as elsewhere in the Arabo-Muslim world, they are the vanguard of protest movements--of what avail democratic advances that would leave them, once established, more ill-treated than they were under the dictatorship?)

The Egyptian revolution is on its way.

Furthering its assertion is the responsibility of each of us.