Last week, Egyptians voted for parliamentary representatives in a third of the nation’s provinces. Although secular liberals led the revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak, Islamic parties—no surprise—claimed 65 to 70 percent of the vote following runoff elections. The Muslim Brotherhood, which New York Times columnist Tom Friedman describes as less doctrinaire than its Salafist rivals but a long way from liberal, won the most seats. The fundamentalist Salafist Nour Party followed. The liberal Egyptian Bloc came in third with 15 to 20 percent. Nothing unexpected here. The Islamic parties were much more organized.
How Egypt’s military will work with the new parliament remains to be seen. But Egypt appears headed towards some form of Islamic government. That’s what voters—although the turnout was disappointingly low—communicated at the ballot box.
This leads me to wonder why Israel’s self-definition as a Jewish state reaps so many harsh responses. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called for acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state as a condition for meaningful negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas opposes such Israeli status. The concept of a nation having a religious identity obviously disturbs Mr. Abbas, Palestinians and the Muslim world—at least if that status is Jewish. Here’s where illogic reigns.
Fifty-seven countries belong to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, formerly the Organization of the Islamic Conference. The OIC’s mission is to safeguard and protect the interests of the Muslim world. It represents over 1.5 billion Muslims, although not the 140 million Muslims in India. That nation is blocked from membership by Pakistan.
Let’s be clear here. OIC representatives are nations with Muslim populations ranging from virtually total to a majority. Members include the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Islamic Republic of Mauritania and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. These are their official titles, not my editorializing. Flags of a dozen OIC states—from Algeria and Azerbaijan to Tunisia and Turkey—display the crescent/star symbol of Islam. These obviously are religiously defined nations. And while the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia doesn’t have “Islamic” in its name, it hardly disguises its self-proclaimed role as “guardian of the two holy places” (Mecca and Medina) and overwhelming adherence to Sharia—Muslim religious law. Saudi Arabia prohibits public non-Muslim prayer and non-Muslim houses of worship.
As to Israel, since Jews make up three-quarters of its population, Israel as a Jewish State hardly seems far-fetched. Yet Israeli law remains civil, not religious. It protects the rights of minorities—Muslims, Christians, Baha’i and others—unlike so many OIC nations. Admittedly, Israel doesn’t do this perfectly. Abuses exist. They’re wrong. Yet Israeli courts often make bold and necessary decisions upholding minorities’ rights.
Will Egypt become the Islamic State of Egypt? Possibly. We’re about to enter the Arab winter, and the ultimate outcome of the Arab spring remains distant. But now—today—we can acknowledge that a single, self-declared Jewish state hardly poses a threat to the Muslim world—unless all Muslim states suddenly turn to secularism in order to avoid potential religious conflict.
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