Opportunity Missed: The Arab Spring and the Failure of Egyptian Secularism

Analysis, posted 04.21.2012, from Tunisia, in:
Opportunity Missed: The Arab Spring and the Failure of Egyptian Secularism (Photo: picture-alliance/dpa)

For years, academic papers and symposiums have argued that Arab liberal secularism has failed. Although that may have seemed clear, it has always been the hope of Arab liberals and secularists that the pundits could be mistaken and that a golden age of liberal values and secular ideologies would one day re-emerge.

Liberalism in the Arab world has had its day and fallen along with the unsuccessful ideological experiments of pan-Arab socialism in Egypt, Syria and Iraq. The unfolding of the Arab Spring has underscored this reality and made it glaringly obvious, not only to academics but, to even the most casual observer.

The uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia at the beginning of last year were not initially led by Islamists, but were largely secular and free of ideology. Many liberals had hoped that this symbolised a renaissance of their values. However, Islamist electoral victories in both Tunisia and Egypt have unequivocally dispelled this dream.

Failure to capitalise on the uprisings

Karl Sharro, a commentator on the Middle East, points bitterly to the secularists' lack of self critique and a complete inability to engage with the masses: "This disconnect between the secularist elites and the Arab masses is clearly illustrated in their patronising attitude. They constantly speak of 'education' and 'raising awareness', the preferred tools for social engineering they like to borrow from Western liberal democracies."

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By Amira Galal

[Excerpt—See accompanying URL for full original text]