Suddenly, the word went from relative obscurity to become one of Google’s most searched words, as revolution erupted in Egypt and the world began to wonder what would emerge from the anger in Egypt’s streets.
One possibility is … a caliphate.
Simply, a caliphate is a form of government. More precisely, it is an Islamic state that draws its authority from, and is based upon, Sharia law. Get used to hearing the word; it is the form of government advocated by the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest, most organized opposition group in Egypt.
Those who dismiss the idea of a caliphate in Egypt are discounting the country’s history. Egypt is hardly a stranger to such a form of government; it was part of the Ottoman Empire from the early 16th century until in the late 19th century, and the Ottoman Empire was the last great caliphate.
With almost four hundred years of history as a caliphate, it’s not surprising then that Egypt’s penal code is written and based upon Islamic law. Perhaps this is to be expected in a country where an estimated 90% of the people are Muslim. What is surprising is that Egypt’s government is, or at least has been, a secular model. But can it remain so?
Given the country’s history and the religion of the overwhelming majority of its people, it is reasonable to question if a caliphate might emerge out of the current uprising in Egypt. And what that means to you probably depends on who you are. A caliphate may sound fine if you are Muslim. It might worry you if you’re not.
Certainly to the American mind, raised to believe in the “wall of separation between church and state” as articulated by Thomas Jefferson, a caliphate is at best a foreign concept and at worst an anathema. To many, it may just seem unlikely.
If the possibility of a caliphate in Egypt sounds improbable to you, consider these facts: The government in Egypt –a country with a 90% Muslim population – is in collapse. The most powerful and influential opposition group, The Muslim Brotherhood, will be participating in talks about a transitional government … even though the group is still officially banned. And the Muslim Brotherhood advocates a return to Islamic law.
It never works out well to ignore history – either in the far or more recent past. Just over 30 years ago, another uprising in the same part of the world resulted in a new republic that some consider a caliphate in disguise … Iran.
Last week, an improbable word made a comeback. The government it represents might not be so far behind.