VIEWS and REVIEWS
Stillborn Democracy in Egypt?
By Scott C. Alexander, Ph.D.
The very fact that the Egyptian military has deposed the first democratically elected president of Egypt is the strongest single piece of evidence that the government of Mohammed Morsi was that country's best hope for the initial stages of the country's transition to viable democracy and the rule of law. It is as axiomatic in the Arab world as it is elsewhere, that there is no greater enemy to democracy and a strong civil society than a military which can depose an elected civilian government with impunity. Indeed, it was this characteristic dynamic of pre-AKP Turkey which the Turkish people knew would have to end if their republic were ever to accede to the EU or, far more importantly, fulfill its aspirations to be a credible democracy.
The fact that the crowds in Tahrir Square--the birthplace of Egyptian democracy--originally formed to cheer the military's removal of a duly elected government, no matter how authoritarian, illiberal, inept and clumsy, is profoundly disappointing. No matter how difficult circumstances may be, short of a complete failure to abide by the rule of law, it bodes quite ill for an aspiring democracy to appeal to the military to settle political differences. In fact, it is painful to have to say to that, contrary to their own sincere aspirations, the crowds now gathered at the behest of General Abd al-Fattah are, in effect, threatening to render the birth of democracy in Egypt stillborn in the very womb it was conceived back in January of 2011. In the very place where thousands of Egyptians once stood their ground to bring an end, by largely peaceful means, to the dictatorship of Mubarak, throngs of Egyptians (perhaps many of the same people?) are now supporting the coup that is not a coup: the 'un-coup.' These throngs are ostensibly lending their support to a de facto military junta which has taken actions that are an affront to democracy and the rule of law. It is a junta which has: engineered the mass jailing of Muslim Brotherhood leaders; leveled brazenly political charges of "espionage" at Mr. Morsi; summarily shut down media outlets with the potential to stir support for Morsi (exemplified by an outrageous mid-broadcast raid on the Cairo offices of the Qatar-based premier international Arab satellite news network, al-Jazeera); and through all this has asked the world to believe that it is possible to unfurl a 'roadmap' to democracy at the point of tank cannons.
And just when the Obama Administration could have taken a principled stand, it issues waffling statements that do nothing but hedge its bets. Is this hypocrisy or just good old-fashioned prudence? Might it not be the latter, especially given that many of the anti-Morsi "victors" in this conflict have vilified the current U.S. ambassador to Egypt for establishing a cordial working relationship with Egypt's elected chief executive (go figure!). Before you answer this question for yourself, I propose you consider what the Obama Administration would be doing had the roles of the various players been reversed? What would the White House be saying had a more secular-leaning party won the last presidential election, had the military insisted, in June of 2012, on the dissolution of the lower house of parliament because of too many elected secularist parliamentarians, and had the same military--just one year later--staged an 'un-coup' to oust the duly elected secular-leaning government at the urging of a swelling Islamist movement of political dissatisfaction and unrest?
In one of his recent landmark monographs, Columbia University professor and renowned Middle Eastern historian Richard Bulliet talks about how U.S. foreign policy in the Muslim world in the post-WWII era was plagued by a tendency to 'look for love in all the wrong places.' What Bulliet meant by this rather humorous allusion to the Johnny Lee ballad was the disastrous miscalculation of U.S. foreign policy-makers that secularists (like Mubarak) must be more pro-democracy and pro-civil society than people with strong religious commitments. Although it may be hard to believe, it appears that, in the case of the current situation in Egypt, a Nobel peace laureate like Mohamed el-Baradei has ironically decided to cast his lot with the same establishment and hard power that kept Mubarak in power for so long, while the so-called "Islamist" Morsi pleas through Twitter for the maintenance of the constitutional process and a non-violent resolution to this social conflict which respects the rule of law.
I thought Mr. Obama had learned the lesson that Prof. Bulliet is trying to teach us. Now I am not so sure.
Dr. Scott Alexander is an associate professor of Islamic studies and director of Catholic-Muslim studies at the Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, Illinois.
Views and Reviews do not reflect the opinion of MAS or MAS-PACE.