Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Hope in Egypt

One point I continually make (because few others do) is that Arab history shows a capacity for a secular order. I talked about it here (or in French.) This is contrary to the common notion that Islam has been the dominant factor requiring that we clear the field and prepare the soil for the growth of a Moderate Islam. Conservatives (or more correctly neo-conservatives) believe everyone needs their religion, let’s back the reformers (after all the secularists are socialists, right?) Not quite. A recent article in the New York Sun recalls the cosmopolitan Egypt of the late 19th century and early 20th century. (Hat tip Kira Zalen):
During the glory years, refugees, adventurers, and entrepreneurs flocked to cosmopolitan hubs like Cairo and Alexandria from all over the Mediterranean basin: Greeks, Italians, Syrians, Lebanese, and all sorts of other nations. They found a booming economy brought about by a sound yet controversial British administration and a relative freedom to thrive and prosper. They also found vibrant anti-British politics and a clamorous constitutional and democratic experiment that the British at times, and the royal family at other times, tried to undermine. Those were heady years when ground-breaking books on Islamic reform and women's rights were published and eagerly read. These foreign-born nationals made their lives in Egypt and saw it as home; they bought-up communal burial plots with room for their loved ones and descendants.
The author describes Egypt’s old movie industry where commercial films vied in charm and pathos with good ole Hollywood flicks. In Cairo bookshops today, forbidden books are kept out of sight while politically approved books, some crudely anti-Semitic, take their place on the bookshelves. The author ends on a hopeful note that the positive changes in Iraq are waking-up the old reformist spirit in Egypt. Let’s hope so.


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