Tahrir square eastward?
February 2011 saw the iron fist of Hosni Mubarak being wrenched open after three decades of repressive rule. During this period, the Egyptian secret service – the Mukhabarat – and the country’s powerful military appeared to have imposed an unbreakable hold on Egyptian society and the polity. However, the revolution at Tahrir Square, in central Cairo, took not only the indigenous power elite by surprise, but also astounded its backers abroad – particularly the US and Israel, for which a pliable Mubarak-led regime had long been a key ally. Yet suddenly tens of thousands of young Egyptians were coming together, unified not only by a repudiation of religious differences between Christians and Muslims but also an allegiance to non-violence, pervasive disgust at corruption, and the country’s decades-long lack of democracy. Helping them to organise were modern social-networking tools, which had been used to great effect the previous month in neighbouring Tunisia as well.
Protests in Egypt have laid bare the political manipulations that maintain theocracies such as those in Saudi Arabia and Iran under the guise of religious sanction. Egyptians – and, by their example, the rest of what is often called the ‘Muslim world’ – have learned that they can oppose leaders without denouncing religion. The domino effect that has been seen in subsequent protests in Libya, Bahrain, Jordan and elsewhere threatens – or promises – to alter the political landscape of West Asia.