News overnight that Egyptians are being killed en-masse by their government is hardly inspiring--especially since the reasons for the bloodletting this time are not going away.
Sixty years of state brutality has suppressed violent Islamism, but not killed it—and brutalised all of Egypt in the process. And democracy has failed—delivering at first the radical Islamism the majority seem to want, and now a return to the brutal suppression that has characterised too much of “modern Egypt.”
So how to save Egypt—and the few liberals there that are the only genuine source of hope?
A suggestion comes from an unusual source, a former foreign policy adviser to Jimmy Carter, who says instead of heading for democracy they should become a secular republic with one important constitutional criterion:
What Egypt should focus on instead is the formulation of a new constitution, employing it as an opportunity to seek a basic understanding about the future of the regime to which both side can subscribe. This is unlikely to be simply a procedure like free elections. Rather, it could be a principle: separation of state and religion…
This approach would allow Islamic groups to feel free to promote their way of life without limiting the secular liberals’ freedom to pursue theirs, inasmuch religion would not be promoted as a matter of law but through social means. Such a separation of state and religion may seem at first a very American idea. However, it is not alien or even novel for Egypt…liberals would find such a separation far from unfamiliar because they lived for decades under Mubarak in a nonreligious regime… [And] Over the last forty years, the Muslim Brotherhood was first oppressed and then tolerated, but it was never was able to draw on the state to promote its religious agenda. Despite this limitation, it spread its ethos by providing social services. Skeptics who might ask why they would settle for something they always had should take into account that in the past the regime tried to curb and hinder the religious groups; under the new deal they would be sure to flourish.
Too much to hope they might eventually become (classical) liberals themselves, but they might, perhaps, hopefully, maybe, eventually, realise that brutal state imposition of Sharia on those who don’t want it is neither desirable nor necessary.
So why would either side agree to this?
In pondering what might prompt the pro-Morsi and anti-Morsi camps to reach a compromise, I thought of a line I heard from the reformers in Iran during a meeting in Isfahan. The leader of the reformist group stressed that he and his comrades were anticlerical but not against religion. He put it this way: “we do not want to force people to pray; we want people to want to pray.” When applied to Egypt, this dictum would be best satisfied by a constitution that renders the state largely neutral on religious matters. Thus it would not ban the consumption of alcohol, not penalize women who refuse to wear a headscarf, and so on. At the same time religious groups and organizations (such as the Muslim Brotherhood and even the Salafis) would be free—and even financially supported by the state in their running of private schools and their provision of social and medical services…
…well, he is a former adviser to Jimmy Carter…
[Hat tip Robert Tracinski]