Can the Middle East really offer freedom for all?
All over the Middle East spontaneous and organized crowds are assembling to demand freedom. Even experts on the region cannot accurately predict what will happen next.
How will citizens of formerly despotic regimes use their new freedoms? A recent survey by the highly respected Pew Charitable Trusts shows some attitudes among Egyptians which may inform policy in a post-Mubarak age. According to the study, which has had wide circulation since events in Tahir Square, have come to world-wide attention: 95% of Egyptians surveyed would like religion to play a larger factor in state politics. This in
itself does not have to be a problem, though that 84% of the same surveyed believe that those who leave Islam should be put to death, as will the 82% who want to stone adulterers and 77% who say they would like the hands of convicted criminals removed.
Given the amount of scorn heaped on Mubarak for his alliance with Israel, the crowds now agitating for their right to democracy are not likely to want to hear the following advice. Nonetheless, if the intention is to let religion play a role in political and civic life while respecting the rights of other religions as well as accepting modern norms in the treatment of women and people who identify as gay, then there is no better example in the Middle East and perhaps the world than the State of Israel.
The Jewish state is in fact only about 75% Jewish. 16% of the population of Israel is Muslim and the rest Christian and unidentified. This breakdown shows a diversity much greater than any other country in the Middle East all of which have a very small
percentage of non-Muslims and almost no remaining Jews. While Israel does not have a constitution and while its Declaration of Independence calls Israel a Jewish state, the freedom of worship for all its citizens is demonstrated every day in the mosques and churches all over Jerusalem, especially near the Dome of the Rock, where though it
is built on a structure Jews also consider among their holiest, Muslim worshippers are unrestricted in their participation.
Most people around the world, including most Jews, wish the people of the North Africa and the Middle East their best hopes. This is true even in Israel, which will bear the harshest brunt of an Islamist turn in Egypt, its current partner for peace. With democracy, however, will come responsibility and as Israel has shown for all of its near 65 years, the obligation to protect the rights of those who believe differently or even not at all.
February 18, 2011; 3:31 PM ET
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