Is Egypt's rebellion a coincidence, or is there something in Muslim culture that all too often perpetuates a vicious cycle?
As an Arab raised in the Muslim faith, I believe it's the latter. The reason is Sharia law. I was born in Gaza and raised in Cairo during the generation of the 1952 Nasser Egyptian revolution, which promised freedom, democracy, Arab nationalism, socialism, self rule and the end of oppressive colonial rule. My father held a prominent role in the revolution. But the revolution gave Egypt more of the same and even worse: more poverty, illiteracy, tyrannical dictatorships and a police state.
Egypt's rebellion that started last week has been lingering on the horizon for a very long time. The brutal life of the ordinary Egyptian was waiting for the right moment to explode. But instead of understanding what was surely coming, the 82-year-old Hosni Mubarak wasted every opportunity. He could have gone down in history as the first Arab leader to conduct a fair election and transfer power peacefully. Instead, following the many sad examples in the region, he kept re-electing himself for 30 years, grooming his son to take over.
Westerners often describe the current Egyptian government as secular, when in reality it is not. It is true that Mubarak comes from a military background and that he and his wife do not wear Islamic clothes. But no Muslim leader can get away with or even survive in office if he is secular in the true sense of the word. It was during Mubarak's rule in 1991 that Egypt signed the Cairo Declaration for Human Rights stating that Sharia Law supersedes any other law. So even though Sharia is not applied in Egypt 100 percent, it is officially the law of the land.
Mubarak, like all Muslim leaders, must appease the Islamists to avoid their wrath. According to Sharia itself, a Muslim head of state must rule by Islamic law and preserve Islam in its original form or be removed from office. Because of that law Muslim leaders must appear Islamic and anti-West while trying to get along with the rest of the world. It's a game with life and death consequences.
I am therefore not optimistic that the current uprising will bring democracy. Many Egyptians believe they can combine democracy with Sharia Islamic law. That is the first unrealistic expectation. Sixty percent of Egyptians want to live under Sharia law, but do not understand the ramifications. Many chant "Allahu Akbar" and "Islam is the solution." But the truth is, Islam can be the problem.
The most dangerous law in Sharia that stands in the way of democracy is the one that states, "A Muslim head of state can hold office through seizure of power, meaning through force." That law is why Muslim leaders turn into despots in order to survive. When a Muslim leader is removed from office by force, we often see the Islamic media and masses accept it and even cheer for the new leader who has just ousted or killed the former leader, who is often called a traitor to the Islamic cause.
That was what happened to the Egyptian King Farouk in 1952. The assassination of Mubarak's predecessor, Anwar Sadat, followed many fatwas of death against him for having violated his Islamic obligations to make Israel an eternal enemy. He became an apostate in the eyes of the hard-liners and had to be killed or removed from office. This is the reality of what Sharia has done and is still doing that causes political chaos in the Muslim world.
Many in the Muslim world lack the understanding of what is hindering them, as well as the foundation for forming a stable democratic political system. I fear that my brothers and sisters in Egypt will embrace extremism instead of education. I worry that they will continue to rise and fall, stumbling from one revolution to another and living from one autocrat to another while seeking the ideal Islamic state that never was. The 1,400 year old Islamic history of tyranny will continue unless Sharia law is rejected as the basis of the legal and political systems in Muslim countries.
Nonie Darwish is the author "Now They Call Me Infidel" and "Cruel and Usual Punishment."