The Cycle | September 17, 2012
>>> as those anti-american protests fan out across the arab world , we want to focus in on egypt . the images of egyptians tearing down a u.s. flag at the american embassy last week signaled serious trouble in the region, much like the tens of thousands in tahrir square last spring. are the pictures telling the whole story? we're going to bridge the gap between what we think we know and what might be going on. sherman jackson has worked extensively in egypt and he's a professor of religion and he's the chair at university of southern california . thank you so much for joining us.
>> thank you very much.
>> so help us understand what's going on on the ground in egypt . how widespread are the sentiments that are being expressed through these protests?
>> well, i think we might begin by recognizing the fact that cairo itself is a country of about 18 to 20 million people. what i've seen so far and what i've been able to gather in terms of the numbers involved in the protests barely reaching to the thousands. i think we have to separate tahrir square from what's going on around the embassy. if you get up to a couple thousand in tahrir , that's a large number for these demonstrations. by the embassy, it doesn't reach into the hundreds. i think that in the context of a city, that's 18 to 20 million people, we're talking about a very small percentage of people involved in actual protests.
>> professor, you've written quite a bit about sha rerira and a lot of americans don't understand it. can it be compatible with a true democracy in our understanding of that word?
>> i think it by "democracy" we mean political decisions are subject to a process where there are winners and losers and there's equality and participation in the political process, i think it can. i think that the major differences is that there's foundational principles like we have in the west. we have it in the united states and we have it in germany that may differ from what we generally recognize in the west. i think in terms of democracy as a process that opens up political decision-making to the entire population, i think that s sharia is quite compatible with democracy. that's the growing sentiment and point of view among scholars and clerics among the muslim world .
>> let's talk about the political landscape in egypt as islamism takes shape. morsi is not elected by a landslide. are there moderate muslims in egypt that can steer the culture away from extremism and more towards the progressivism, i think, western audiences certainly hoped for out of the arab spring?
>> well, i think it's a matter of how you define those things. i think coming out in places like egypt , the more moderate among them, we can expect movements who will advocate policies that may not be consistent with some of the west values, but i don't think these are movements that are interested in clashing with the west in terms of violating or threatening its security. i think that over the long run what the relationship between these movements and the west will turn out to be will depend on the kind of negotiating relationships that can be established between these movements and western governments. i don't think that we're going to be anytime soon looking at movements that produce social political orders that are carbon copies of the west.
>> professor, there's an interesting article in the "new york times" from david kirkpatrick , and he said he heard the word "freedom" come up a lot. it got a different definition from the protestors. they were talking about, quote, the right of a community, whether muslim, christian or jewish to be free from grave insult to its identity and vaulvaul values. is there a big difference in how we define freedom in the west and what that word means in the muslim world .
>> i don't know if i'd characterize it as a funt mental difference. we tend to be more individualistic in our identity and there's more of a communal identity. so people will react to affronts to their communal identity, whereas in the west we tend to react in terms of what threatens us in terms of personal identity .
>> interesting. professor jackson, thanks so much.
>> thank you very much.