Middle East Blasphemy Laws Last Barrier to Emergence of “Liberalism”
Cynthia Farahat, a 22-year old woman from Egypt, who happened to have also founded the Liberal Egyptian Party, the nation’s first ever secular, self-described “classical liberal” political party, sat down for an interview with Reason’s Justin Monticello. In the interview, she documented what it was like to go through the recent political upheavals as a classical liberal swimming in a sea of totalitarians and theocrats.
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Later in the interview, the part we highlight, Farahat gives her reason for believing there is a rising tide of classical liberalism sweeping through the Middle East as many are growing weary of the cycle of violence and oppression under the totalitarian and theocratic governments that have dominated the region for centuries.
The discussions are happening across the Middle East, on the internet, for now, but if and when the blasphemy laws are cancelled, she predicts you will see classical liberal ideas sweep across the region. Farahat said, “The internet, under Mubarek’s regime, it was illegal for five people to sit in a room and discuss politics under emergency law. Because the government would basically come and rape you or kill you, or you’d just disappear and vanish from the face of the Earth. And, the internet allowed us peaceful assembly for the first time since 1952. And, if you go, the war of ideas, you will find every economic school is debated. Every form of government is debated in Arabic. Every religious sect. There’s no blasphemy laws on the internet, thankfully. Let’s hope Zuckerberg doesn’t start to implement it because I think he wants to. Because the internet is the worst nightmare for any dictatorship.”
You can also watch the full video below.
Monticello: With sort of a longer term, struggle to win hearts and minds, and change people’s views, especially when dissidents are getting tortured or getting put in jail. But if in the immediate term, the choice is between allowing people to vote in a democratic election, and perhaps they choose the Islamists, right? If that’s the current status quo, what do we do?
Farahat: I don’t believe in democracy. I believe in the rule of law. I believe in republic. I don’t believe in the mob rule because soon the ballot box turns into a guillotine. And, that is a very, very dangerous recipe. I would never endorse it. If they vote oh, we all want to kill you because you have red hair, am I going to support it because it’s the democracy and majority? I don’t believe in that. That’s illegitimate. It’s only legitimate when it’s the rule of law.
Monticello: There’s an argument that a lot of Middle Eastern countries are simply not ready for democracy. They need a strongman or an autocrat in order to keep things in line to prevent massive violence, all these different factions fighting each other. Do you agree with that?
Farahat: I absolutely do not agree with that because I have been in the political process myself, and I’ve seen it. And I’ve seen how people were hungry for our ideas. I had veiled women hugging me and crying and begging me to continue fighting for the freedom of thought and freedom of religion, and to protect them from the Muslim Brotherhood. I believe that Egyptians are very ready for freedom, and if it wasn’t for blasphemy laws by the way, you would see so many more of them.
Monticello: And that’s what ultimately got you in trouble, right?
Farahat: Of course.
Monticello: Do you think that it’s possible that what we’ve seen happen in Syria could play out in Egypt?
Farahat: Could play out anywhere in the Middle East. If the Muslim Brotherhood has its way, that’s exactly what would happen. They’re calling every day, if you look at their websites, they’re calling for something similar every day. They declared against regular Muslims and Christians, something called a Nafir, Nafiriam, which is total war. That’s why they need to be designated a terrorist organization. They have enough funding to start to find military and recruit military operations inside the country, yes, yes we will see a scenario similar to Syria.
Monticello: And, do you think that there is a lasting legacy of the Arab Spring that’s something positive going forward? And do you think it’s possible that there could actually be a secular free market-based government in the Middle East?
Farahat: Absolutely, yes. Because let me tell you something about the Arab Spring. That started in 1998. The internet, under Mubarek’s regime, it was illegal for five people to sit in a room and discuss politics under emergency law. Because the government would basically come and rape you or kill you, or you’d just disappear and vanish from the face of the Earth. And, the internet allowed us peaceful assembly for the first time since 1952. And, if you go, the war of ideas, you will find every economic school is debated. Every form of government is debated in Arabic. Every religious sect. There’s no blasphemy laws on the internet, thankfully. Let’s hope Zuckerberg doesn’t start to implement it because I think he wants to.
Because the internet is the worst nightmare for any dictatorship. And let me give you another example. I was banned from, my name was banned from mention, from being mentioned in the paper from 2006, late 2006, till 2015. In 2015, I started publishing in Arabic in one of the most important newspapers. And guess what? I publish articles with zero censorship. I say whatever the heck I want. And I’m only getting positive feedback for my values. So, I’m definitely optimistic.
Monticello: So, you think if we just kind of stripped away some of those layers of the blasphemy laws and the support for these dictators, there is sort of a hunger for these types of ideas?
Farahat: And it exists, and they’re very powerful organizations that emerged, right now. And it’s a very, very rich intellectual atmosphere that developed over there. So, I’m very excited about it. I’m very happy.