First, Egyptians took to the streets and got rid of the dictator Hosni Mubarak, and we all thought that was a good thing. Then, Egypt decided to hold free, democratic elections, and we thought that was also very good. Then, Egyptians voted for the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi as their president, and we weren't so sure that was the right thing to do. Now, Morsi and the Brotherhood are on the verge of seeing their draft constitution, which dictates Egypt is to be governed by Islamic shariah law, ratified -- this a week after Morsi attempted to bestow upon himself Mubarak-grade power -- and we're convinced Egypt is headed down the wrong path.
In terms of the Arab Spring, Egypt is the most evolved nation. Consider the phases of the Arab Spring movement:
1. Mass protests
2. Deposing tyrant/despot/insane person
3. Institution of democracy
4. Elect new leaders
5. Ratify a constitution
Syria is still mired in phase one; Libya is in phase three. But if the constitution is indeed accepted by the populace. Egypt will have made it to phase six -- it will have effectively completed its transition to democracy. Egypt presents the most significant storyline of the Arab Spring because it offers us the best view of what the future might look like in the Middle East.
And what exactly is that?
Let's begin with what it isn't. The Middle East is not going to look like the West, despite whatever many of us might have hoped and/or expected. This is because religion -- Islam -- is going to continue to play a very large role role in these countries, and that means sharia law will remain a viable base for law-making, and women, religious minorities and homosexuals will not be afforded equal human rights (and that's putting it mildly). In short, aside from the basic tenets of democracy, the Arab Middle East will continue to not have much in common with the West.
This appears to be the way the Arab street wants it. The protesters in Tahrir Square who forced Mubarak out were never fighting to change their way of life, only to get better leadership. We romanticized them as freedom fighters out to shatter the status quo -- and in our minds, that included banishing, at the very least, the more repressive elements of Islam. Turns out they are predominantly perfectly fine with radical Islam, they just want democracy, too.
This is the Arab world as it will be going forward: democratic, yes, but likely no less amenable to Western values.
Don't be disappointed, though -- it's still a step in the right direction. Lack of democracy is the largest barrier to the Arab Middle East learning to get along with the West, because the foundation of democracy is tolerance -- the idea that on some fundamental level you and everyone around you, regardless of gender, sexual preference or religious belief, are equal. Therefore, if democracy sticks in the Arab world the result will be less influence for religion in the public sphere which will loosen the grip of radical Islam, and that will be the game-change. It's not going to happen overnight -- it might well take decades -- but it will happen if the democracy trend continues in the Arab World.
Mohammed Morsi doesn't strike me as being particularly gung-ho about democracy (what he tried to do last week is a good hint) but he's sticking to it -- because the Egyptian street is forcing him to. Morsi's power-grab could have derailed Egypt's transformation, but instead it became an inspiring moment: an Arab leader was challenged by his own people and the people won with almost no violence or bloodshed, and nobody getting kicked out of office. This is progress.
So if the constitution still has sharia in it, if Egyptians and their leaders still openly hate our way of life, well, maybe we should just learn to live with it for now, I mean, it's not like we haven't given them any reason to hate us, right? Egypt is a growing democracy, Libya and eventually Syria probably will be, too and that's the important thing. Give them some time on the other stuff -- they'll come around.