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Islam is not the problem in Egypt

Many conclude that religion is causing turmoil in Egypt. Islam is not the problem. The turmoil comes from the gap between expectations of speedy change by those who made the 2011 revolution and the slow process of dismantling the old way of life while building a new society.

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However, after his decrees on the speedy ratification of the Constitution and on limits to judicial rulings, opposition escalated all over the country. Islamist supporters of the president demonstrated their influence by holding rallies with hundreds of thousands. 

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The organization of the Egyptian population along these major lines – an Islamist constituency, civil liberals, and the silent majority – is not much different from what exists in established democracies. What is new and different for Egyptians is that the fear has disappeared and has been replaced with a sense of the power to shape their collective destiny.

What might be the path forward in the new year?

First, and most important, we need inclusive national partnership among the different parties through dialogue. This unity will come about when the population feels protected by the Constitution and feels secure about the independence of the judiciary. When this is achieved through good governance, violence will subside and the focus will turn to economic growth.

Second, the people of Egypt are in dire need of progress. The government must select some major projects of reform that fulfill Mr. Morsi’s promises to revitalize the economy. I believe it is crucial to begin a serious effort to increase productivity, and this can only be achieved in the modern world by improving education and building a knowledge-based economy.

Third, everyone must accept that Egyptians are a religious people. But theocracy won’t work in Egypt any more than secularism. What will work is governance that is guided by the Islamic values of the majority with protection of the minority’s rights. In a different form, this structure, with a well-accepted constitution based on the principles of human rights and religious freedom for all, would not be too different from the situation in the United States, whose values are guided by the Christian faith.

Egypt has great potential because of the latent power of its human capital. We need to grab hold of the future now. This should be Egypt’s New Year’s resolution!

Ahmed Zewail was awarded the Nobel Prize winner in chemistry in 1999.

© 2013 Global Viewpoint Network/Tribune Media Services. Hosted online by The Christian Science Monitor. 

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