Mahmoud Fahmy el-Noqrashy, Gamal Abdul Nasser, Anwar el-Sadat and Hosni Mubarak were the chief executives of Egypt throughout most of the last sixty years. All were targeted for assassination by Islamist groups who succeeded in gunning down two of their intended victims, Noqrashy and Sadat.
In the misguided belief that they could contain one of the most important leaders of those groups in Egypt, the Americans granted Omar Abdul Rahman an entry visa to the United States. No sooner had he settled down, however, than he orchestrated the first attack on the World Trade Centre. He is now serving life in prison.
Islamists in Kuwait are fighting to prevent the state from granting Kuwaiti women their political rights. Such is their power that they managed to defeat a bill submitted by the Emir to the National Assembly which would have allowed women to participate in political life.
These are only some of the depressing facts that come to mind when I hear people talk of the need to include Islamists in Egypt s political life. My heart sinks at the prospect of giving these throwbacks to the Dark Ages a say in how we should run our lives when I think of their attitude to women, say, or Copts, groups to which they accord a status only slightly higher than that of prisoners of war or slaves.
Allowing a political party formed on a religious platform to participate in Egypt s political life is tantamount to lighting a match in an ammunition depot. Whether its platform is Muslim or Coptic, a religious party would open the gates of Hell, ushering in an era of political instability, economic stagnation and educational and cultural regression. Moreover, there is no such thing as a religious party, only parties made up of men of religion.
Despite my strong feelings on the subject, however, I find the harsh and often illegal treatment to which they are subjected unacceptable and a crime against humanity. It is also self-defeating in that it hardens attitudes on both sides. In fact, the only way to resolve our problem with the Islamists is through dialogue, by opening channels of communication and engaging in a frank interchange of views. Debating the issues is the only way to transform a religious party in the long term into a civil political party that subscribes to the main tenets of democracy: acceptance of the Other, rotation of power, respect for other religions and for women. The transformation will be complete when political Islam abandons its distorted understanding of our religion, an understanding rooted in the Middle Ages and reflecting the mentality of Bedouins bred in a harsh and unforgiving desert environment. Civil society is entitled to protect itself from any group that remains locked in a time warp and would have us all retreat with it into a distant past.
Speeding up political, economic and educational reform is the only way to reduce the illogical popularity of Islamism in the world. Once people in Muslim societies start to reap the benefits of freedom and participation, coupled with a marked improvement in their economic and living conditions and real educational reform, their admiration for Islamist groups will wane and they will realize that their welfare will not come at the hands of groups whose leaders are fanatical, narrow-minded and out of touch with the requirements of the age.
Despair, deplorable living conditions, feelings of injustice, the harsh realities of life and rampant corruption constitute the ideal environment for converts to the ideology of political Islam, which offers hope in an atmosphere of hopelessness. But offering hope is one thing, making good on the offer quite a different matter. The Islamists are selling dreams [mirages] and promises [false] that they have a formula to cure all of society s ills. In reality, however, they lack the credentials, not to mention the competence, required to undertake such a task. As someone who has spent many years at the head of a large institution, I find it hard to see what the source of their competence can be. Progress is a modern management concept that can be achieved by Christians, Jews, Muslims and Buddhists as long as its elements are available. These elements are political, managerial, economic, educational and humanistic, regardless of religion or nationality.
The new political term that begins this year and runs for six more years must and can put an end to the Islamists dream of coming to power and destroying all prospects of stability and prosperity in Egypt for centuries to come. This can only be realized if all political, economic and educational reform initiatives come together in such a way as to render the mirage presented by the Islamists no longer attractive by ensuring that the reasons for its appeal have been eradicated from our reality.