For 18 straight days last winter, the world's eyes were fixed on Egypt. After decades of tragedy after tragedy emanating from the Middle East, and from Egypt itself, something positive was happening. Egyptians were unshackling themselves from a heavy burden of perpetual dictatorship, and fanning the winds of freedom. Optimism was everywhere. Young people were using social media and modern communications to nurture the revolt. Men and women were participating side by side. Christians and Muslims were protecting each other, just days after 24 Christians had been brutally murdered on New Year's Eve at the hands of Muslim fanatics.
A new Egypt was being born, and we were reminded of that hourly by the Western media. CNN's Anderson Cooper took a personal interest in attacking then president Hosni Mubarak after he narrowly escaped the wrath of pro-Mubarak mobs. For five straight days, he hosted a Johns Hopkins University political-science professor, Fouad Ajami, who pontificated about Egypt's bright future and belittled the Islamist threat lurking in the wings. Almost every Western media outlet, from the BBC to the CBC, adopted the same line. The conventional wisdom was that the risk of Islamic extremism in Egypt was exaggerated by Mubarak, an instrument he was using to gain the West's support and hold on to power. The cover of Maclean's magazine after the revolution read: "How Egypt changed the world." I was beginning to buy it myself.
On Feb. 11, the Mubarak regime fell. Like millions of Egyptians, I was elated and proud of my countrymen, although a deep worry about Egypt's future dwelt in my heart. Western media reported on the celebrations, and then promptly left Egypt for neighboring Libya. For the last three months, we have heard little about Egypt. You would think the story ended with democracy taking hold and the revolution's youth realizing their progressive aspirations. But it didn't.
The stories that followed the revolution have been as important as, if not more important than, the revolution itself, despite the flagrant lack of interest displayed by the Western media.
Days after the revolution, Muslim mobs, apparently angered by a romance between a Christian man and a Muslim woman, burned a church to the ground in the village of Sol as the army watched. Muslims in the village then turned against their Christian neighbors and destroyed their homes. For days, Christians were forbidden to return to their homes. When Christian youth staged a protest camp in front of the Egyptian TV building, the army violently ended their sit-in. Another peaceful demonstration by Copts ended with 13 Christians dead when thugs opened fire on them, while army officers sitting on their tanks watched from a short distance. When a Christian blogger dared to criticize the army, he was sentenced to three years in jail after a 20-minute military trial.
Within weeks of the revolution, the army set up a hasty referendum on a temporary constitutional decree that clearly and strongly favored the Muslim Brotherhood. The referendum passed by 77 per cent after an intense campaign by Islamists that equated a Yes vote for the decree with religious duty. When Mohammed El-Baradei, Egypt's hope for reform, tried to vote No, he was pelted by rocks, called an American agent, and chased away from the voting booth.
It became clear who was the de facto power in Egypt: the Muslim fundamentalists.
And then came the Salafists, Egyptian Muslims who espouse Saudi Wahhabi style Islam, the most fundamentalist and radical form. They seek to establish a pure Islamic state devoid of Christians, whom they refer to as "filth." Nurtured by the Mubarak regime to counterbalance the Muslim Brotherhood, who had a strong popular base, they began to show their fangs after the revolution.
When the government appointed a Christian governor for one of the southern provinces, they violently protested and cut off the main north-south highway and railroad lines in the country for days. As the country was paralyzed, the ruling generals watched in silence. The temporary civilian government initially expressed rage, only for the acting prime minister to visit days later, suspend the Christian governor, and promise to meet all the Salafists' demands.
In incident after incident, the demands of Salafists and other Islamic extremists were being generously accommodated. It became clear who was the de facto power in Egypt. It was Muslim fundamentalists, not the temporary civilian government or the armed forces.
And then 10 days ago, the Western media finally decided to return to Egypt. It took the burning of two more churches on May 7, the deaths of 13 more people, and the injury of more than 250 during another senseless Muslim attack on Christians to get the attention of the media once again.
The Egyptian spring was short-lived and had turned into a long, hard, cold winter. Mubarak had many times reminded Egyptians of their two sad choices - his dictatorship (and corruption), or Islamic extremists. On that, he was right. Egyptians had rejected him, and are now on the verge of willingly espousing the only alternative they know. Decades of state-sponsored and mosque-sponsored teaching of hate, discrimination and intolerance in Egypt had born results.
In a Pew Research poll of Egyptians' attitudes toward government and religion, taken after the revolution, 62 per cent of Egyptians said that laws should strictly follow the teachings of the Quran, and one-third sympathized with Islamic fundamentalists. While 54 per cent want to annul the three-decade-old peace treaty with Israel, only 36 per cent believe that Christians and other religious minorities should be allowed to practice their faith freely.
Egyptians understand democracy as the majority's imposition of hegemony over the minority. They want to "democratically" institutionalize the discrimination and persecution of Christians that has existed unofficially in Egypt for hundreds of years.
The Salafists, the Muslim Brotherhood and the tens of millions of their supporters are buoyed by those results. They smell an Islamic state in the making. Only one barrier stands in their way: 10 million indigenous Egyptian Christians who have preserved their faith intact despite 14 centuries of uninterrupted suffering. And so the Islamists are accelerating their attacks that led to last week's bloodshed, and whose end no one dares to imagine.
The progressive youth have been silenced by the one force that they cannot - dare not - confront: Islam.
And what happened to the progressive youth of the Egyptian revolution? What happened to those who braved water cannons, government thugs, thick tear gas, and live bullets? What happened to the tens of thousands who left their homes daily last winter, not knowing if they would come back?
They have been silenced by the one force that they cannot - dare not - confront: Islam.
And so I still wait for an Egyptian revolution. I wait for a revolution in thought, in ideas. I wait for a revolution that values tolerance, one that grants every Egyptian equal citizenship whether he or she be Muslim, Christian or atheist. I wait for a progressive Egypt that opens itself up to the 21st century, a country that revives its ancient civilization, a country that rejects ignorance and backwardness and prejudice and discrimination.
I wait for a revolution that revives Egypt's economy and translates economic success into social justice. I wait for a revolution that leads to a civil, not a religious, state built on the rule of law and respect for human rights. I wait for the Egypt the revolution intended, not the one the revolution produced.
If we in the West believe this is an internal Egyptian matter that should not disturb us, we are naive. The common calling of revolutions spreading across the Middle East from Yemen to Egypt to Libya to Syria is "Allah Akbar" - an Islamic call to arms. Even in moderate Tunisia, Islamists have made huge gains since the revolution and are poised to win the next elections. The current Egyptian government has already made overtures toward Iran, and brought Hamas back into the Palestinian fold. A homogeneously fundamentalist Islamic Middle East is taking shape. And if we think we saw the worst of radical Islam on 9/11 or in Afghanistan, we are in for a nasty surprise.
This op-ed originally appeared in the Montreal Gazette.