Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, will be spending what is quite possibly his last night in the presidential palace in Cairo after the British and American governments called for “an orderly transition”.
The stability of Egypt is of great importance to most of the world for two reasons: the Suez Canal and Islam.
The Suez Canal cuts tens of thousands of miles of journeys by ships heading for the east coast of Africa, Asia and Australia and the pacific. Threats to the Suez Canal have prompted invasions in the past.
Egypt is a muslim country but religion is banned in politics. New laws in Egypt have to agree with Sharia but the government is still officially secular. Along with Turkey, it drives a secular wedge between Islamic north Africa and the middle east providing a buffer zone along Europe’s borders.
The key turning point in the revolution was the military deploying in cities where protests were taking place to protect civilians from the police who have been marauding the streets in plain clothes with knives and indiscriminately threatening, abusing and even killing civilians. The military is well respected in Egypt and whilst soldiers are careful not to intervene, they are overtly on the side of the protesters. Protesters are having their pictures taken with soldiers and they are making no attempt to clean off the anti-government graffiti daubed on the side of tanks.
While it’s great to see Tunisians and Egyptians ousting their unpopular, undemocratic and oppressive governments – and I hope that one day soon we’ll see an uprising in England against the British government – there is a real danger that Islamists will end up taking power. The recently ousted Tunisian president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, was pretty strict in his opposition to Sharia and the oppressive aspects of Islam such as women covering themselves in public and treating women like slaves. Christians and Jews in Tunisia have enjoyed relative freedom in Tunisia but the country is 98% muslim and there is a good chance the next government will be controlled by Islamists. In Egypt too, Christians and Jews are well tolerated by the muslim majority but the Muslim Brotherhood is expected to convincingly win elections once Mubarak has gone. With Tunisia and Egypt converted from secular states to Islamic states, most of north Africa – Europe’s maritime border – will be under the yoke of Sharia law or at least well on the way to it.