We’d like to think…

the unrest in the Middle East is about freedom, democracy, and the rule of law. As Americans it fits into our cultural narrative and colors the way we see things. Several weeks ago, though, I saw something telling on television, a spokesman for some Egyptian protesters with a dark spot on his forehead. My guess is that many people simply passed it off as a birthmark or something of the kind. I’m not sure.

Very devout Egyptian Muslim men may have a dark spot on their forehead which can come from repeated touching of the forehead to the ground in prayer. Besides being a mark of piety it can be also be a political statement of sympathy for an increasingly “Islamic” culture. It would be good to notice, as well, the large number of women in burkas seen at these protests. Again such dress can be a symbol of Muslim piety or a political statement about the desire for a more “Islamic” society, especially in countries where the full burka has not been the usual garment.

Suffice it to say even the President and his staff may be preparing for Islamic States emerging as the current governments in some parts of the Middle East. Instead of something we would recognize as democracy the protests may be the first events in the replacement of corrupt dictatorships with repressive Islamic regimes. The effect of this on religious minorities could be catastrophic and the idea of more well armed and oil wealthy Islamic governments will certainly make the world a much more complicated place.

One can still hope that the people in the streets will somehow be able to take a leap out of their culture, their history, and their religion to establish genuine democratic institutions. Yet the odds are probably very slim that any group of people have that kind of “hops” and going backwards requires so much less effort.



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