When the time comes for genuine elections in Egypt, the country's future will be determined not by university graduates in Cairo but by 70 million villagers. And also, for example, by the one million people living in the City of the Dead, the cemetery in northern Cairo. They will vote for the Muslim Brotherhood because no liberal party can give them the rapid change desperately longed for by the masses, who suffer from shortages of flour, clean drinking water, jobs and housing.
The parties will be myriad and fragmented, colorless and disappointing, left-wing and right-wing - and all of them hostile to Israel, of course. An unstable, rudderless transition period, a parliamentary democracy in the Turkish model, if not the Iranian, will give rise to a religious regime that within a few years will presumably be in control of the best-trained and best-equipped army in the Middle East.
Many urban, educated city dwellers will calmly accept the will of the people, seeing it as an alternative to the futile, fawning pursuit of the culturally hollow West, which gave birth to exploitative dictatorships. The people love Islam - the culture, the tradition. The proponents of sane and secular freedom will wake up too late, just like the socialists and liberals who took to the streets to bring down the Shah of Iran, only to be hanged in the city squares when the transition government in Tehran was replaced with darkness.
Those who believe that the fear of losing the U.S. lifeline will rein in this process underestimate the Egyptian people. Radical, political religion is what will shape the Middle East in the coming decades.
Even in states where a tiny, tired minority rules over an oppressed majority, like Syria, the alternative's day will come. Freedom, in our secular interpretation of the concept, will not easily represent an alternative. The Gaza Strip is already in the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood, which took the election decisively, and Lebanon will be controlled by Hezbollah. Islam is the solution, according to the slogan of the movement that was born in Egypt 90 years ago.
The masses in the dictatorships are losing their dread of the regime. For them, the new and relevant "leader," who rules and stirs the spirits, is freedom of information and of technology, the most effective manipulators of which and often its big winners are the fundamentalists. That is the case with the Al Jazeera television network, which is controlled by supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood but which cynically benefits from the support of international human rights organizations, which see it as battling for freedom of expression in the Arab world.
The world does not necessarily move forward; it generally goes in circles. And progress does not necessarily lead to advancement. In late 1970s in Iran, too, it was audio cassettes of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's sermons that spread the revolutionary message. It is entirely possible that within a decade or two Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the West Bank will be part of the axis of political Islam.
In two decades or so, more than half of Israeli youth will be either Arab or ultra-Orthodox Jews. Most of the Arabs will presumably support the Islamic Movement. The Haredim, for their part, will join the workforce, even high-tech, but their support for political religion and for a justice system ruled by Jewish law will not change. People can become accustomed to anything, and we too, presumably, will gradually get used to religious edicts and a changing reality. Many of us, members of the productive, liberal public, will give up and flee in desperation. Others will remain optimistic. Or skeptical.