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Why I am Liberal

Egyptian Youth Essays on Liberalism


2 Why I am Liberal

A selection of translations of essays written by Egyptian youth activists


prepared for the book presentation on the sidelines of the IFLRY EC, Beirut ,
July 17, 2009
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Why I am Liberal

Foreword:

The book you are holding in your hands contains twenty distinguished articles
submitted by young Egyptians who participated in the essay writing contest on
“Why I am a liberal”. This competition was the first of its kind in Egypt and
co-sponsored by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Liberty (FNF) and the
Egyptian Union of Liberal Youth (EULY). The competition took place in the
first half of 2009 with the support of the media partners El Marsy al Youm and
radio horyitna

All in all 76 articles were submitted and considered by a team of senior judges
who ranked the quality of the presentations according to a set of defined
criteria, among them the literary quality, the liberal content and message and
the originality of the arguments. The team of judges consisted of the
following individuals:

Dr. Ali Eldin Hilal, Prof. Faculty of Economics and Political Science, Cairo
University, and Former Minster of Youth
Dr. Wahid Abdel Megeed, Expert in Ahram Center for Political and Strategic
Studies and Vice President of the General Book Authority
Dr. Gamal Abdel Gawwad, Expert in Ahram Center for Political and Strategic
Studies and Lecturer of Political Science, American University in Cairo
Mr. Charl Fouad Al Masry, Executive Editing Manager, Al Masry Al Youm
Newspaper

To secure the objectivity of the selection, the names of the writers were
removed from the texts submitted to the committee of judges.

Mr. Muhammad Sa’d Muhammad's article titled "The Flexibility of Liberalism


is the Reason for its Continuity" ranked first in the competition.

The aim of the essay writing contest and the present publication is to give an
opportunity to the Egyptian youth to explain in their own language what it
means to be liberal today. The organizers believe that by asking the young
people themselves to express their thoughts and ideas, we are following a
basic liberal principle.
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This book aspires to contribute to the ongoing discussion about liberal values
and principles and the relevance of liberal politics in this part of the world. We
invite you to join this debate. For further information go to www.librali.net.
5 Why I am Liberal

Introduction:

By Dr. Ronald Meinardus


Regional Director of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation

Liberalism is one of the great political mainstreams. Yet, at the same time, in
the political dictionary of our times hardly another word is as controversial as
the term “liberal”. For many, and surely the liberals, the term has only positive
connotations. However, the many opponents of liberalism treat it as a curse.

This dichotomy is also apparent notably in Egypt, as in other parts of the Arab
world. A powerful coalition of conservative, fundamentalist and pseudo-
progressive ideologues has joined forces in a continuous effort to demonize
liberalism. The proponents of this anti-liberal campaign use all sorts of
negative epithets to denigrate liberals, they call them immoral, greedy,
unpatriotic, foreign-led and un-religious, even anti-religious. In order to
counter these false allegations, yes insults liberals must go on the ideological
offensive and convince the (silent) majority that what is said of them by their
opponents is not only wrong and malicious, but at times also deceitful.

One important challenge, and at the same time a significant advantage of


liberalism, is that unlike other political mainstreams it rejects dogmatism. By
definition, liberalism is contrary to dogmatism. Liberalism does not offer a
single, ideological answer to complicated and complex problems. Liberals like
to debate before they come to a conclusion, they ask questions before they
give an answer. This openness to discussion and the willingness to question
more or less everything should not be misunderstood as a lack of principles
and values. On the contrary, liberals have well defined principles – and some
of them are not negotiable.

At the centre of these stands the freedom of the individual; to enhance freedom
and protect it from encroachment is the very essence of all liberal endeavours.
In a liberal order, the freedom of the individual is not conceivable without
responsibility, which gives a social dimension to the liberal project. In a
political philosophical sense the precedence of individual freedom leads to the
great concepts of human rights, the rule of law and the equality of opportunity
in society. All these great “inventions” of human civilization are the result of
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myriad battles and struggles throughout centuries. In these battles liberal men
and women were always at the forefront.

Being opposed to dogmatism, it is only natural that liberals engage in long


debates regarding the interpretation of these basic principles – and what they
mean in practical every day (political) life. In this context it is fair to argue
that, in effect, there exists not one single liberalism that fits all societies and all
countries at any given historical moment. Depending on the given political,
economic, cultural, yes historic environment, liberal programs may have
varying priorities and focal points.

I am saying this against the background of my experiences working for a


liberal Foundation in various parts of the world over the past twenty years:
After associating with liberals in Greece, in South Korea, in the Philippines
and in Taiwan and now in Egypt and in the Arab World, I have come to
appreciate that all are confronted with fundamentally different political, social,
economic and cultural challenges - and, therefore, are forced by circumstance
to develop specific political answers to these local challenges. Still, in defining
their programs and policies, liberals in all parts of the world are united by the
conviction that in the end of the day the promotion of the freedom of the
individual must be the ultimate focus of the political endeavour.

One of the most intriguing experiences since coming to this part of the world
two and a half years ago has been to discover what I like to term the
dynamism of Egyptian liberalism. Egyptian liberals are by far stronger in
numbers and in intellectual power than many people inside and outside the
country think they are. Also, happily Egyptian liberalism is potentially much
stronger than the existing organizations that claim to represent it today. This, I
hasten to add, is not the sole fault of these organizations, but also a
consequence of a political environment which is little supportive or – to put it
bluntly – inimical to liberal political mobilization.

This brings me directly to the essays in this book. They reflect the richness and
the originality of liberal thought among the youth of Egypt. We at the
Friedrich Naumann Foundation and the judges of the competition who
analyzed the contributions with great care and the highest possible objectivity
were absolutely fascinated as we read the entries submitted. In the end, it was
a very tough task to choose what we deemed are the twenty most valuable
contributions.
7 Why I am Liberal

As the Regional Director of the Foundation, I wish to congratulate all the


writers for their participation and their contribution. I encourage everyone to

read the following pages and I hope that in the end you will agree that each
and every one of the essays contains a unique and intriguing contribution to
the Egyptian liberal discourse. The texts provide an insight how young
Egyptians define liberalism, how liberal ideas have had an impact on their
lives and how – on a more general level – young Egyptians believe liberalism
could change in a positive manner the future of their country.

In my many encounters with young Egyptian liberal men and women, I have
met modern Egyptian patriots with a great personal concern for the future of
this great, yet problem ridden nation. My Foundation is proud to be associated
with these fine young people and we are happy to provide the sponsorship of
this publication so that their voices may be given a wider audience.
Liberalism, this book documents, is very much alive in the minds (and the
hearts) of the Egyptian youth.
8 Why I am Liberal

The Flexibility of Liberalism is the Reason for its Continuity

Muhammad Sa’d Muhammad

I was born in January 1977, I hold a degree in


sociology from the Faculty of Arts, the University of
Alexandria (1999) and a postgraduate diploma in tour
guiding, also from the University of Alexandria
(2003).

I started political work as an underage member of the Wafd Party in 1993 and I
joined the Ghad Party in 2005.

I participated in the presidential elections and was elected member of the


executive bureau of Alexandria in 2007. I have participated in a number of
events organized by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, the most important of
which was a trip to Germany with a number of youths from Arab liberal
political parties to study political and economic youth organizations in
Germany. When I dream for Egypt, I dream of a nation that refuses
discrimination on any basis whether religion or gender or race. When I dream
for Egypt, I dream of a nation that is void of oppression and corruption, a true
nation for all its people. I dream of a nation where dreams come true.
9 Why I am Liberal

I think I am of a generation that reached maturity and developed awareness at


a time of great transformations – or great disintegrations – in the world. The
collapse of the great wall of Berlin was not simply the demolition of a wall
that separated the two Germanies, it was the demolition of a line of
demarcation between two ideas that governed two different worlds. The first
was a world where humans are the objective and the goal is their wellbeing
and prosperity. The second was a world where humans become a tool to
achieve objectives that transcend them, pass them over (and in all cases are
never achieved).

The demolition of the Berlin Wall in 1989 was not simply the demolition of a
wall of stone blocks and mortar, it was the demolition of the stones of ideology
or the ideologies of the stone age that regarded individuals as inferior and
transformed humans into a cog in the wheel of a machine that is supposedly
bound for paradise but never arrives at its destination.
The collapse of the wall was like a mercy bullet to what used to be known as
the Soviet Union – the empire that ruled the communist bloc for seven
decades. And the Soviet Union fell when its mighty military machine and its
terrible machine of internal oppression and its vast propaganda machine were
no longer able to prop it up. They could no longer prevent the collapse because
it came from within the individual for whose sake the Bolshevist revolution
claims to have arisen. Man was no longer able to achieve the higher goals of
the group and the state and in parallel, the group was no longer able to secure
man’s rights and reinforce his liberties.

The collapse of the Soviet Union had more than one meaning, the most
significant of which was that the state lasts and survives as long as it maintains
individual liberties not military machines and tools of oppression.

This scene shaped the universal awareness of a generation of Egyptian liberal


youths. This is the generation that was born at the end of the seventies and the
beginning of the eighties, a period that witnessed a series of regional and local
transformations that affected Egyptian society and attracted it to liberalism.
The most significant of these transformations were as follows:
1. The phenomenon of Gulf money and the migration of many of the
members of the Egyptian middle classes to these countries and their
return influenced by a culture that is more conservative and less
liberal.
10 Why I am Liberal

2. The reinforcement of religious forces that combat liberal ideas and put
them in a forced and unreal position of opposition to religion.
3. Despite signs that the political scene might clear up especially after
the re-establishment of political parties, these signs did not achieve the
expected results and liberal thinkers were clamped down on both by
the state and by the religious movements to the extent that some
thinkers (Farag Fouda for example) paid for there enlightened stances
with their lives.
4. Western support of Israel at the expense of the legitimate rights of the
Palestinians resulted in a state of apprehension and rejection of all that
is Western. This included the rejection of progressive and enlightened
values and was due to the confusion between civilized values of a
universal humane nature and the political choices of the West.
5. Although Egypt had a liberal heritage that developed from the
nineteenth century to 1952, the liberal forces that appeared later were
unable to regain their former strength. This was due to changes in the
historical and political circumstances and to the administrative
weakness of these new movements.
6. The ruling party carried out economic policies that did not gain
popular approval such as the badly planned liquidation of the public
sector and the random sale of these assets at prices less than market
value. All this was overshadowed by increasing accusations of
corruption and was carried out under the banner of liberalism, a fact
that led to a state of confusion about the meaning of the term.

All of the above led to the appearance of a new generation of Egyptian


liberals. This generation was burdened by the accumulated problems of the
past years yet armed with the fruits of an information revolution – the
biggest in history – that allowed it to find out more about the progression
of the human race towards values of liberty, co-existence, tolerance,
acceptance of others, equality in rights and duties, and many other liberal
values that Egyptian society was in dire need of. This was especially vital
after the political and social arteries of the nation had became clogged,
what with the state of isolation propelled by religion that has manifested
itself lately.

The idea of liberalism first appeared at the end of the Middle Ages under
circumstances very similar to those Egypt is now going through at the
beginning of the third millennium. Control of the heavens was in the
hands of a religious establishment and control of earth was the monopoly
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of political tyrannical forces and in both cases, it was the people who paid
the price. Liberties were repressed first in the name of religion, then in the
name of the group, then in the name of the state.

Religious and political oppression was what the whole world had in
common. In the East, caliphs used scholars of jurisprudence to get rid of
their opposition and oppress all those who dared not to agree with them
(examples range from al-Husayn to ‘Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr to al-Ja’d
ibn Adham to Abu Hanifa to Ibn Hanbal to Ibn Rushd). In the West, the
Church allied itself with kings and feudal princes who ruled in the name of
religion and were regarded as God’s hand on earth. Anyone who opposed
or disagreed or thought differently paid the price (examples start with the
inquisition courts and do not end with Galileo).

Historical happenstance favored the European West and its civilizational


curve was on the rise while unfortunately, the East started to regress. In
Europe, ideas started to surface rejecting the concept of the divine right to
rule and denying the notion that God had delegated one person out of
many to rule His subjects in His name.

Theories surfaced that argue that the political conception of government is


that it is a consenting contract between two parties both of free will. It is a
variable human contract not a sacred Godly one. It can therefore be
changed, altered and developed. This is known as the theories of the social
contract.

Even more important than the concept of the social contract is the idea that
John Locke put forth, namely that of natural rights. This is the idea that I,
you, and all humanity whether they are ruling or being ruled were born
with equal rights and that no one is above others whatever the religious,
ethnic, gender, or class differences between them. And no religious or
earthly power is allowed to strip these individuals of their rights, which
are as follows:

1. The right to life


2. The right to have faith and to express this faith freely.
3. The right to private property. Property used to be a monopoly of the
feudal classes and this enabled them to monopolize wealth and power.
Monopoly, whether political or economic, is absolutely rejected by
liberal thought.
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I do not deny that a good part of these ideas has roots in our culture.
Human civilization is a continuous chain of ideas, one adding to the other.
As we have benefited from concepts that have appeared in the West, the
West has made use of ideas that are rooted in our culture.

The major contribution of western thinkers was to formulate these ideas


and arrive at a clear concept of individual liberty that does not allow any
power, whether religious or political, to penetrate or defile it.

Based on the concept of natural rights, came what can be called the system
of liberal values, i.e. the principles indispensable to the realization of
liberalism. To my mind, the most important of these values is the value of
diversity or difference. According to liberalism, people are by nature
different whether in ideas or in religious, cultural, ethnic or social
background. Moreover, it argues that this diversity is the best of human
qualities because it leads to creativity, competition and development.

A further set of basic values related to this basic value of difference


appeared. They were acceptance of the other (he who differs with you),
tolerance (accepting that the other has a different view and has the right to
express it in any manner as long as it is peaceful), co-existence (that
different ideas can exist together without attempts by any side to alienate
or eliminate the other sides), the relativity of truth (no opinion has a
monopoly over absolute truth, truth is relative and it differs from one to
the other according to point of view and way of thinking).

Then comes the inception of another set of values that are related to liberal
political views. They argue that all humans have the same natural rights
and this is why liberalism believes in a state governed by laws that
consider all individuals, whether rulers or ruled, as equal. Liberalism also
believes in the accountability and responsibility of the ruler. In other
words, it believes that the ruler has reached a position of power through
the free consent of the people, or by contract from the individuals he has
come to rule. He thus rules by proxy in return for responsibility and is
therefore always in a position of accountability and is answerable to his
people. The people are allowed to review the level of his commitment to
the terms of the contract or to the constitution. They can, by common
consent, call him to account, even remove him if he does not abide by the
terms of the contract.
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And since liberalism is against monopoly, it believes in the peaceful


exchange of power through a political competition between different ideas
(through free elections in which individuals choose a person to represent
them in the administration of public affairs or legislation of laws or
monitoring the government, i.e. in the parliament).

Economic liberalism is founded on the idea of freedom to own coupled


with freedom to compete in the market. This only happens through the
prevention of monopoly and encouragement of competition. Liberalism
argues that competition in economics, as in politics, will raise the
efficiency of both services and goods.

Probably the thing that surprises me most about liberalism is its amazing
ability to self-critique and correct its mistakes. While many ideas have
fallen prey to rigidity, ideological apathy and intellectual narrow-
mindedness, liberalism developed its economic performance. When the
idea of letting the market work without state interference according to its
own mechanism failed, a new liberal school of thought appeared and
called for the intervention of the state to regulate the market and prevent
monopoly, exploitation of workers and protect the rights of the individual,
whether producer or consumer. A set of laws appeared in liberal countries
that outlawed monopoly, dictated the number of working hours, regulated
wages, holidays, days off, specified quality control for goods and set up a
wide network of social security that insured against unemployment,
disability, sickness and old age. It provided many of the privileges that the
states that claim to have arisen for the rights of workers could not sustain.

This economic flexibility comes hand in hand with political flexibility


whereby the applications of liberalism differ from one country to the other
and from one political current to the other. These differences enrich the
concept of liberalism without undermining it.

I was even more amazed by the respect liberalism has for the cultural
specificity of the peoples of the world. As we mentioned, it is not against
diversity, in fact it co-exists with difference and interacts with it. Nor is it
against religion, as some people have portrayed it to be. It was always a
call for religious and cultural tolerance. It assured every individual the
right to adopt whatever suits his beliefs without coercion or interference in
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his religious faith and without this faith being the reason for any form of
discrimination or persecution.
This is why liberal tolerance of religious and sectarian difference is the
only guarantee and the ideal solution for societies with diverse religious
doctrines. This precludes the elimination or isolation of the followers of a
certain sect or religion.

One should therefore not wonder when one finds out that liberalism is one
of the oldest ideas that appeared in the Modern Egyptian state at the
beginning of the nineteenth century. Liberalism and Egyptian character
blended and took on a new shape that was purely Egyptian. It was first
introduced to us by turbaned men of religion (and not foreigners in hats).
The inception of the Egyptian liberal tradition came with the ideas of the
Azhari Sheikh Hasan al-‘Attar and his call to make use of what suits us of
western civilization. He was followed by another Azhari, Rifa’a al-
Tahtawi, who translated the French constitution and was awestruck by the
law that equates between all citizens, whether rulers or subjects. Despite
his reservations about some of the aspects of European civilization, he did
not hide his admiration of the tradition of European liberties. He was then
followed by a third sheikh, originally from Syria, ‘Abd al-Rahman al-
Kawakibi who exposed what he called the ‘traits of oppression’ in Arab
political thought and paid for this with his life. And finally, we should not
forget the great reformer, Sheikh Muhammad ‘Abduh and his enlightened
views on reforming religious apathy that had hindered progress for
centuries.

The ‘sheikhs of the Egyptian renaissance’ or the founding fathers of


Egyptian liberalism continued to appear and their efforts were crowned by
one of the greatest of all Egyptian revolutions, the revolt of the people of
Egypt in 1919 in demand of independence and of a constitution. This is
the revolution that produced the 1923 constitution in which came the
admission, for the first time in Egyptian history, that the nation is the
source of all power. This constitution shaped what came to be known as
the period of liberalism. It had its flaws and they included the palace
overthrowing constitutional legitimacy and the constant interference of the
British occupation. Yet it also witnessed the peaceful exchange of power
between the different political parties (in spite of the palace stepping in
against the will of the people), the flourishing of academic liberties and of
literature and art. During this period, Egypt produced giants in the world
of literature, poetry, art, science and politics and they were living proof
15 Why I am Liberal

that the experience was growing in spite of certain negative aspects. Yet
instead of building on this great tradition, it was completely destroyed and
overturned after July 1952, the revolution that started a new era with its
own pros and cons. And the most negative of these cons was the fact that it
turned against the great liberal tradition.

I think that this project is able to unleash human abilities and talents that
had broken down and rigidified under the yoke of tyranny and political
and social oppression.
This is why … I am a liberal
16 Why I am Liberal

Richness is in Diversity

Cynthia Farahat

I was born in 1980. I study Journalism in the Modern


Science and Arts University. I was a founding member
of a liberal political party between 2004 and 2007 and
have participated in organizing a number of political
activities related to liberalism and human rights under the auspices of both
Egyptian and international civic organizations.

In addition to my work experience as co-coordinator of the Network of Arab


Liberals in collaboration with the Friedrich Naumann Foundation in 2008, I
practice sculpting and writing as hobbies. I dream of a political environment in
Egypt that is both civic and civilized and that emulates the types of political
regimes that facilitate all aspects of life for its citizens and have discovered
that the ideal way to achieve this is through work, political civic and liberal
struggle with passion and love for this nation and for the achievement of
comprehensive human rights for all citizens of Egypt, on all levels, as is the
case with the citizens of the free world.
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“The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free
that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”
Albert Camus

Many thinkers, scholars and philosophers have remarked that good questions
incorporate their answers. From that we can deduce that good ideas hold
within them the mechanisms for their successful application. This question
(why am I a liberal) can be classified as one of those self-explanatory
questions that answer themselves somehow, especially if we rely on
observation and life experience to mould our opinions and thinking methods.
We are not accustomed, in the Arab Region, to wonder about the terms that
define us and that we may even be obliged to fight for. We do not stop to think
about this type of question, a question that may even be considered by some as
criminal for we did not choose most of the identities that define us. Most often
they are Prêt-à-Porter identities.

Laws exist to punish skeptics who question those ideologies they didn't choose
for themselves, yet they are being used consistently to represent us. The laws
that are there to protect these ideas are an indication of the critical situation we
have put ourselves in and which does not speak well for our ideas and
methodology. We were brought up to believe in ideologies, defend them, and
sometimes die for them without being afforded the luxury of questioning them,
analyzing them, or objectively testing them or doubting the degree of their
relevance or applicability. We were therefore never primed to question even
the most private of beliefs such as those related to religion or political
orientation. Most of the definitions that represent us are drilled into us. They
are an intellectual and existential reduction of who we really are and they do
not even allow us the luxury of rejecting them. Political, legislative and
penalizing systems against questioning and criticism and this in itself is
sufficient proof of the inapplicability of these ideological systems. We need a
lot of courage to come face to face with this realization.

So why liberalism? My personal choice of liberalism to be one of the basic


tenets by which I define myself is not simply a result of conviction of an idea.
It is much, much more than that. Liberalism is the political, social and
intellectual philosophy that I found myself being guided by as I tried to live
the values of brotherhood and tolerance by putting the rights of all those
around as a priority in my daily life. My ambition is to be a small seed for the
18 Why I am Liberal

solution rather than a negative factor in the problem. One of the fundamental
points that makes me proud to represent myself by this term is because
liberalism is capable of presenting itself through a critical question such as this
and accepts that I write now in its favor or against it and in both cases allows
me the same rights and privileges. This is because liberalism is a political and
economic system and a way of philosophical and everyday thinking that does
not involve incriminating those who doubt it, analyze it or reject it. In fact, you
are choose it freely and rejected freely. Moreover, liberalism will guarantee me
the right to declare and announce my disapproval and rejection of it through its
very different channels! And I do not accept to represent myself by an idea
unless this idea can tolerate my rejection of it should choose to do so one day.
Yet this degree of tolerance would certainly make me more and more
tenacious in holding on to it.

Liberalism assumes that I am responsible and mentally adequate of bearing the


burden of freedom, which in my opinion is more difficult than being born
within a sealed system of intellectual slavery that affords us with the means to
relinquish individual responsibility and throws the burden of informed choice
off our shoulders. With liberalism, all options are available and I have to
choose and decide and bear the consequences. This is responsible freedom and
it is not the freedom that is endorsed by non-liberal regimes. They try to
convince us that freedom is moral lassitude and crime, as if these regimes do
not themselves suffer from all forms of immorality and criminal behaviors. In
fact, their policies of opacity and covering up inflame the situation and provide
the perfect environment for these problems to escalate.

Liberalism is knowledge through the right to publish all ideas and information
and to disseminate knowledge through any medium of communication.
Liberalism creates an environment of freedom in which you can get to know
yourself and come face to face with your true identity hidden under the veneer
of big words that have been forcefully dictated and indoctrinated to you. It
allows you to choose after you get to know your identity and after you become
relatively informed about the nature of the outside world, not through what is
said about it in the media of its enemies, but through how it has chosen to
represent itself. You then bear the consequences of this newfound knowledge
and accept responsibility for it because there is no merit in choosing virtue if
this choice is forced upon us. In fact, choosing any human or moral value
within an atmosphere of freedom is the true test of the real mettle of the truth
of our core. This is the kind of space that liberalism affords us so we can see
ourselves in our true light and choose and become who we want to be based on
19 Why I am Liberal

experience, trial and error and individual responsibility. This to me is


liberalism. The late American Judge Potter Stewart once said, “Censorship
reflects society’s lack of confidence in itself”. To withhold information and
rein in ideas because we are not able to deal with them is to pre-judge that we
are mentally disqualified for freedom. It is a preconception that dooms us to
incompetence of thought. Withholding ideas and information through
censorship makes us more enslaved to prevalent ideas that are approved by
dictatorships and totalitarian regimes.

My choice, as an individual, to represent myself as a liberal does not simply


stem from my love of tolerance, it is also a pragmatic choice based on how I
can make use of it. It therefore contains within it the seed of self-improvement
and evolution that is the main trait of the planet we live in. Liberalism is the
result of accumulative knowledge that comes from centuries of human
struggle to improve our civilization. It is an idea that has crystallized through
centuries of trial and error and forbearance with the aim of creating an
environment suited to the application of political, individual and economic
liberties and for the practice of sound science, art and thought under the
banner of liberalism. This freedom has been one of the primary goals of the
human race many eras and epochs past. Moreover, it is a political and
intellectual system that is good for hundreds of years to come, and should a
better idea appear, liberalism is capable of evolving with it and not obliterating
it. It is a philosophy of bridges and open doors, not of ready-made walls or
dictated identities.

Liberalism is a thought process that has taken shape through an experimental


methodology of scientific and critical thinking. Its applicability is tried and
tested and its success is proven. I have adopted it and am overwhelmed by a
need to apply it so as to create for myself an environment that embraces my
trajectory towards self-improvement. And because I am part of this planet on
this historical moment and because evolution and change are the fundamental
quality of Planet Earth, it will not wait around for me to acknowledge it and it
will not move backward with or without me. Yet in embracing evolution and
development, I fulfill a need as an individual and as part of society to be in
sync with the nature of evolution, to be at ease with the world, and to find
myself a small space in which I may be creative with my life on both the
individual and social level.

Liberalism is one of the few ideologies in the world that propose criticism of
self and other as one of its primary poles. This is because it is one of the
20 Why I am Liberal

results of relative human accumulative experience that discovered that


freedom is the ideal ground and the true lab for trial, error, evolution, and then
success. One of the main pillars on which it stands is acceptance of the others
without incriminating difference or attaching negative preconceptions and
labels to it. I disagree with Sartre for saying hell is other people. On the
contrary, other people, other cultures, and other identities are a paradise of
richness as has been proven by liberalism, which comes in tandem with
pragmatism. We grew up in Egypt learning from society that difference is a
sign of danger and that it should be avoided, in fact obliterated, at all cost. I
then discovered that diversity is indeed a goldmine of educational, cultural,
developmental and peaceful resources. The benefit that I derive, for example,
from dealing with Orthodox, Catholic and Anglican Christians or Sunni, Shia,
Quranic, Bahai Muslims, Jews, Atheists or Sikhs or Hindus or Buddhists is
indescribable. It has enriched me with intellect, education, depth, tolerance,
forbearance and logical thinking much, much more than I would have gained
if I had imprisoned myself within one idea, seen the world through its eyes and
prejudged it inexperienced. The liberalism that has emancipated my mind and
allowed me to exist in a healthy environment is the same liberalism that is
applied in western countries that offer asylum even to those who do not
believe in these countries or have even attacked them ritually. Liberalism has
created a social and political environment where even those who oppose and
fight liberalism aspire to live. Even its opponents desire to live under its
protection! Are any of the ideologies prevalent here strong enough to take a
similar position?

Can any of the schools of thought currently prevalent in our society provide
refuge for those who oppose them as liberal societies and countries have with
their opponents?

For example, can Salman Rushdie come to us and find protection? Can we
afford him complete rights although he has rejected a principle tenet of our
identity the way the United Kingdom has guaranteed protection and rights to
its opponents from other countries, this in spite of the fact that some, like
Omar Bakry, have announced their complete and utter hatred of this country?
For years, Bakry has rejected and criticized the UK, until he finally decided to
wage war and incite violence against it after years of living in luxury and
comfort of the money of the British taxpayers. Can we, without liberalism,
reach this level of sophistication and give our opponents a chance to express
themselves peacefully non violently?
21 Why I am Liberal

We do not accept those who differ from us or oppose us some of ideas and
ways, and this is why non-liberal countries have problems like transition of
power. We never find a scene as powerful as the one we witnessed in the
United States when the white man bowed in front of the black man he had
previously enslaved not very long ago and handed him the keys of the White
House to rule him from.

This scene that shook the world was one of the few scenes that I witnessed and
made me truly grateful to witness one of the strongest moments in humanity's
modern history. I was watching a scene whose protagonist was not simply the
black man who triumphed over oppression and slavery. The real triumph
belonged to the white man who vanquished his racism. This scene is the
answer to the question, “why am I a liberal”. I am one because liberalism is a
triumph over our individual bigotry before it is a triumph to whom rights are
endowed.

Abraham Lincoln once said, “As I would not be a slave, I would not be a
master”, and as I would not be a victim of oppression, I would not be a silent
party to its favor.
22 Why I am Liberal

So that Mariam Loves her Country

Shihab Abd al-Magid Wagih

I was born in February 1984, I graduated in May 2008


with a BSc in engineering from the University of
Helwan. I am an electro-mechanic engineer in Degla
Group for Real-Estate Investment. I am a founding
member of al-Gabha Party and am the head of the Free Youth Front, the youth
wing of the party. I am a member of the executive bureau of the party and a
liberal activist.

I would like to thank everyone who taught me to accept the other and
understand him. I dream of a world in which everyone accepts each other and
dream of a world where everyone accepts each other and know the fact that
they differ and compete enriches them and builds them a better future.
23 Why I am Liberal

I did not know her but the innocence and sweetness that lit up her features
were unmistakable. I was in one of these endlessly argumentative debate
circles about the Camp David treaty and about peace, and to be honest, like
many others, I was not paying much attention to the subject under discussion
until it was her turn to speak. Her accent was obvious Palestinian, and this was
in keeping with the Arab features of her face. “My name is Mariam. I am a
Christian Palestinian from Gaza”. This is how she started her comment. She
did not join the ongoing competition for ‘most powerful empty slogan”.
Instead, she told her story with the utmost honesty and love. She, like all the
people of Gaza, had suffered under Israeli occupation. She was persecuted for
no reason other than the fact that she was an Arab Christian living under the
shadow of an occupation that had usurped her freedom and her land. And
when a new hope shone thanks to her struggle and the struggle of her brethren,
a new system of self-rule came as a result of a democratic process. It was a
government that represented the dictatorship of the majority and it wished to
force her to wear the hijab, a choice she respected but did not embrace, and it
wished to prevent her from listening publicly to the hymns she loved, and if
they were sung out loud, the police of the majority could attack her. Just one
example of the many infractions of liberty that are committed in the name of
democracy. Mariam was the victim of a democracy that was not liberal.

My dear reader, before you start to insult and curse Mariam and the writer of
these words, and start saying that before the freedom of the individual comes
the liberation of the land, and that for the sake of the nation sacrifices should
be made willingly, and that Mariam’s right to practice her faith freely is
nothing compared to the quest for a nation that is whole not fractured, I ask
you to imagine with me Mariam’s future within the current conditions.

Do you think that Mariam, as part of the minority, will love a nation that does
not love her? Do you think she will hold on to her sense of belonging to a
nation that rejects her and does not acknowledge her rights? Will she resist the
temptation of the monies of the invader and his promises of freedom? Will a
weak and crumbling nation campaigning abroad for its freedom be able to
stand firm when its minority is persecuted within?

Let us apply this example to Egypt. Egypt is a nation whose true majority is a
large group of ethnic, sectarian and ideological minorities. Imagine with me
24 Why I am Liberal

what would happen if the majority of one faction took control and forced its
beliefs on everyone and privileged its race over all others, will the sense of
belonging survive? Will peace survive? Will the nation survive?
This is why I am a liberal. I am a liberal because I believe that the state was
not established so that it may force its views on the inhabitants of the country.
It was established to respect their rights and their liberties.

I am a liberal because I do not believe in a state that feeds you, teaches you,
employs you according to its whim and within the limitations of a capacity
which will stay limited because of a deficiency in enthusiasm and passion for
work. How could we expect a person to be enthusiastic for work when he sees
that those who work and those who do not are equally rewarded?

I am a liberal because I believe in a ruling majority that respects the rights of


the minority. I am a liberal because I believe that competition is the only way
to a better life as long as it is governed by law. Political competition brings the
best candidate to power and economic competition brings the cheapest best
quality product to the citizen.

I am a liberal because I refuse monopoly over power, economics or truth.

I am a liberal because I believe in a state based on law, not on a state founded


on one person or one idea. I am a liberal because I believe in a world that
develops and does not stop at one rigid ideology whatever its name and
liberalism by nature is the opposite of rigid ideology.

I am a liberal because I believe in the integration of the world and in its co-
operation through free trade and cultural links.

I am a liberal because I believe that only the rule of law can provide citizens
with a good life and that only equal opportunity can achieve the best results.

I am a liberal because I want Mariam to love her homeland and to build it


hand in hand with her brethren of different religions and ideas.