Egypt: A Very Democratic Coup

Nobody is more pro-democracy than me. But I must confess a grudging soft spot for a force that can tell a president, “You’ve been a total dick-head and screw-up. You’re done.”

egypt-army-main_635x250_1372885314I was inclined to cut Egypt’s Mohammed Morsi a lot of slack because he was elected. But I didn’t forget – as he apparently did – that his Muslim Brotherhood support base was really just 25% of the electorate (and he was their second choice at that). He became president only because the military, when last in charge, made such a hash of the election process. Still, Morsi could have been a hero if he had done some outreach to the three-fourths of Egyptians who didn’t really support him, and brought some responsible good sense to managing the economy. He did neither. He shut out everyone but Brotherhood stalwarts. Dire economic problems went unaddressed and worsened considerably. Morsi’s only responses were blustering bombast.

imagesMost Egyptians were fed up with this and wanted him out. Even when explicitly told he’d be ousted unless he accommodated political elements beyond his own narrow base, Morsi still pig-headedly refused. It’s mind-boggling that he wouldn’t act to avert so predictable a denouement.* I heard an Egyptian woman on the news say “he delegitimized himself.” And while ousting him by constitutional means was apparently not an option, the constitution itself was of dubious legitimacy, rammed down Egypt’s throat by the Muslim Brotherhood in their artificial moment of power, without meaningful democratic participation.

Hence this was really a coup by popular demand – a democratic coup, confirmed by the widespread jubilation in the streets. I support it. (Just don’t let’s make it a habit.)

I just got back from a July 4 celebration where I participated in a reading of the Declaration of Independence. It says that “when a long train of abuses” threatens despotism, it is the people’s “right,  it is their duty, to throw off such government.” When the reading ended, one listener remarked, “This is what Egypt’s people have just done.”

UnknownTheir first stab at democracy flopped. There’s a learning curve. Maybe Egypt has learned something, and now that they’re back to square one, they can get it right (or more nearly right) on a second try. There are grounds for hope. Having been once-burned, I doubt the army wants to run the show again but, rather, is apparently setting up an interim civilian government encompassing a broad representation of society – the very thing Morsi so foolishly balked at. It looks like there will be another election and another constitution. And the Muslim Brotherhood’s credibility seems shot after its disastrous performance in power; its slogan, “Islam is the Answer,” proven wrong. A costly lesson, but Egypt may be lucky in cutting its losses after only one year.

The situation is fraught because in the short term, the political instability may exacerbate Egypt’s economic woes. U.S. aid would even have to be suspended if what happened is called a “coup.” Better call it another revolution.

Also, in the run-up to it, violence seemed to be stirring between Morsi opponents and his Islamist supporters. If the latter now respond with more violence, that’s indeed a worry, but it would serve to delegitimize them even further. Meantime, the 2011 revolution was actually followed by a shameful persecution of pro-democracy elements; now we hear that not only Morsi but perhaps hundreds of other Muslim Brotherhoodies have been arrested. This is not good. Anti-democratic though the Islamists may be, any representative government must include them. Trying instead to repress them is a recipe for more violent conflict.

As I keep saying, elections are not the beginning and the end of what democracy means. One fundamental point is that it shouldn’t be a “winner take all” system (as Morsi seemed to think). An elected government has great responsibility toward citizens who didn’t vote for it. Their rights and interests cannot be simply disregarded. This kind of pluralism and dispersal of power is essential, and unfortunately, Muslims in general seem to have a hard time with the concept. But perhaps the Morsi debacle taught this lesson too.

imagesToday, Morsi’s supporters and opponents alike are decrying America’s stance. They’re actually both right. We’ve been decisively wishy-washy, trying to have it both ways, thus satisfying nobody. We’ve cozied up to whoever’s in power without staking out a clear stance of support for the aspirations of the people themselves. The bulk of our aid still goes to the military, which Egypt’s people don’t need, rather than to things like schools and clinics and agricultural assistance, which they desperately need. UnknownJust another sorry instance of Obama’s sleepwalking foreign policy.

*I was able to write much of this post before the coup even happened.

3 Responses to “Egypt: A Very Democratic Coup”

  1. Gregg Millett Says:

    I don’t know — I suspect the USA arms industry and CIA is behind this coup.

  2. rationaloptimist Says:

    “There you go again.” Maybe you’ve been watching too many movies like White House Down. (See my review a few days ago)

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