Europe's leading Muslim intellectual warns against demonizing Islamic movements, and challenges the West to truly stand for democracy in Arab world.

(SFU)

Tariq Ramadan is used to pushing the boundaries. But even Europe's most beloved and reviled Muslim intellectual, and grandson of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, could not have predicted what is happening in the Arab world. He is clearly following the events with great interest. La Stampa reached the Swiss-born Ramadan by telephone.

How will events in the region evolve? "It is a revolution, a point of no return. After Tunisia, the analysts were on alert, knowing that Egypt had similar characteristics: corruption, unemployment, lack of freedom. But if they had told me then that events would unfold exactly as they have, I would have said ‘no." Egypt is such a strategic country. Instead what has emerged is a mass popular movement without allegiances to political parties or religious leaders. "

Who will lead the opposition? At the moment there is no leadership. There are three major forces, the Muslim Brotherhood, the secular left and the grassroots association Kefaya. But these are people united only by a desire to oust Mubarak. Sooner or later someone will take over the political reins, while the West is also trying to have its say. It is possible that someone from the army will lead the transition."

Will the Muslim Brotherhood push the protest in an Islamist direction, as is feared? The fear comes from the Israeli propaganda that is the same used by the Mubarak regime when it justified itself by waving the threat of the fundamentalists. It's a pity that there haven't been Muslim leaders guiding the movement on the streets in recent days. I do not know what the strategy of the Muslim Brotherhood will be. For now, they are trying to keep a low profile, but also supporting (Mohammed) ElBaradei, even though he doesn't have the support of the people.

That's the point: the Muslim Brotherhood is the most popular force of opposition. Demonizing them is a dead end. Instead, we must ask ourselves, without prejudice, if we are for democracy or not? The Islamists are not all equal. Among the Muslim Brotherhood is a large gap between the older, more conservative generation linked to Saudi Arabia and new leaders who look to Turkey. The Brotherhood has been evolving for years, and it is right to pressure them on many issues such as their stance on women. But it is also time to give democracy a chance. Repression does not work. "

Which country is next? They're all afraid. Yemen, Mauritania, Algeria, Syria. Jordan's King just changed the government. After Tunisia, you could have your doubts about a domino effect, but now that Egypt has fallen, no. Now, it can happen anywhere. Even in Saudi Arabia. If Jordan fell, it would be an earthquake. Let's see what happens in Egypt; the situation there is still fluid. And it's not a given that removing Mubarak will bring democracy right away.

Will peace with Israel collapse? Peace depends on who will lead the new Egypt. However, unilateral support for peace with Israel cannot be taken for granted.

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Mariam Nabattu, a religious studies teacher, must work at two schools in central Uganda to make ends meet.

Patricia Lindrio/GPJ Uganda
Edna Namara and Patricia Lindrio

KAMPALA — Allen Asimwe has dedicated more than two decades to teaching geography at a large public high school in southwestern Uganda. Her retirement age, as a public servant entitled to benefits, is just six years away.

She doubts she will wait that long.

“I am determined, I want to quit,” she says, calculating that she could earn more by shifting full time to the salon she opened six years ago to supplement her income. “Given the frustration, I cannot continue in class anymore.”

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