Home > International politics, Islam > Why Egypt is not quite back to square one

Why Egypt is not quite back to square one

The military are temporarily—at least, so they claim—back in power, having gotten rid of Morsi, an inept and clueless would-be autocrat. Muslim Brotherhood leaders once again find themselves behind bars while their rank and file vow martyrdom. So, what has changed?Muslim B HQ

a) Politically, Egyptians have come of age. Put to the test, they rallied. Shifting alliances? Of course. A mix of secular and well-educated youth, disenchanted officials, Coptic Christians, even Salafists, unhappy with the Brotherhood? Sure. But any population that can come out 17 million strong with demands has to be acknowledged. No one can pull a Bashar Assad and mow down such crowds. Morsi failed to capitalize on the goodwill of people finally rid of decades of military dictatorship and corruption; he had no idea of how to build democratic foundations and no intention to do so; he didn’t begin to tackle the immediate and huge economic problems of a population already poor before the Arab Spring and now plunged into immeasurable woes and difficulties.

b) For its part, the Muslim Brotherhood miscalculated. They assumed that because during the preceding decades when they had been muzzled politically, they stepped in to supply social services to the poorest of the poor, people would be on their side no matter what. The mass rejection of Morsi in the recent demonstrations, the attacks on Brotherhood headquarters throughout Egypt, the refusal of the Egyptians to allow greater Islamization, show how wrong that premise was. Under the various military dictatorships preceding the Arab Spring, many dreamed of the day the Muslim Brotherhood would take over. Well, that day came and was an abject failure. Now, Egypt has already fallen into chaos and may be on the brink of a terrible civil war. The Muslim Brotherhood’s typical response to the military coup? Kill or die a hallowed martyr. What century do these mentally challenged fanatics live in?

The PC brigades in the West, ever alert, still don’t understand that the word “democracy” does not mean the same thing everywhere. Governments, editorialists and analysts decrying the military coup against a “democratically elected” president only have the first part of the equation right. Yes, there has been a military coup and that is cause for extreme worry. But saying that Morsi was democratically elected gives the impression that a majority of Egyptians who went to the polls were educated and politically aware, informed about issues and voting for Morsi because they thought he would be better for the country than the alternatives. Not so. The majority that went to the polls were the poor and disenfranchised, far more numerous than other voters. And these 51 percent had been molded into subservience for years by the Muslim Brotherhood that provided everything corrupt governments such as the ones before the Arab Spring (and incapable ones after) failed to give them: education, health services, food, clothes—in short, a life. That the price to pay was to vote for Morsi does not mean that a democratic process took place and should be respected. (Not to mention, but I will, that being democratically elected is not a pass for switching to autocrat mode, as Morsi did increasingly, granting himself sweeping powers even Mubarak would not have dreamed possible.)

On the road to democracy, elections per se don’t mean a thing, they’re a baby step. A functioning democracy requires a democratic structure that affects every aspect of government, a consensus, inclusion, coalitions, happy citizens seeing their candidates win, unhappy ones preparing for their own candidates to win the next time around. Democracy, a state of government we, who are lucky enough to live under, should be grateful for every minute, is not perfect but perfectible; it is also fragile and needs much upkeep; it puts obligations upon us. Democracy means that we may hate what some people say but we don’t kill them because they say it. We may not like what they believe in but we understand that they are entitled to believe it as long as they don’t try to force us to think the same way. It means that a society and its government make mistakes, that even though citizens are equal before the law, inane or unfair laws are occasionally enacted, that justice is not always blind, that the poor sometimes get even poorer, and definitely that people don’t always get what they want. But democracy also means that in civilized countries, society as a whole gradually moves toward what is best—or not too bad—for everyone. It bears repeating that in a democracy, people have the freedom to think how they will and not be punished for voicing their opinion, writing it, blogging it, the freedom to wear, eat or drink what they will and lead their personal lives how they will, be it calamitous. Beyond freedom and equal rights, democracy also means choice, a concept sadly lacking under repressive and particularly under religious regimes. In a democracy, concepts take hold, in infinitesimal increments: people eventually listen to reason or agree to disagree, ideas that don’t work get scrapped after a while and replaced by some that may. Things, on the whole, function. Elections that don’t usher in these principles are a sham, barely masking deeper problems, and “democratically elected” means zilch.

Certainly, in the case of Egypt, elections only encouraged the setting up of an autocracy that abolished the recently voted constitution, trampled on already weak minority rights and was fast paving the road to Islamization and eventually the repulsive sharia, something Egyptians sampled for a year and no longer wanted. Traditionalists in Third or Second World countries may say they reject “Western values,” precisely those of democracy, in favor of what they call superior values of generosity or hospitality or family relations but the fact is that humanity has not come up with a system that gives society a better structure or individuals a better chance of having a fulfilling life.

Beside reaching out for an elusive democratic process, what people in Egypt and other countries with a benighted regime are saying loud and clear is, “no more religion in the affairs of government.” Ask Iranians who, after thirty-four years under a harsh religious regime, have come full circle toward secularism, except for the lower classes—for the most part still religious, if disillusioned—and those with vested interests in the continuation of the Islamic Republic. Ask the Turks who, under a much milder Islamist regime and a strong economy, found an excuse to pour into the streets to protest Erdogan’s moves toward a stricter application of Islamic principles. Ask Tunisians who are chafing under the Ennahda Islamist party, close to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. The push back everywhere is becoming the main struggle. At last, light may be rising in the East with the hope that a once-respectable religion may become so again and the fundamentalist, extremist plague that replaced it be eradicated.

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  1. Edward Yeranian
    July 6, 2013 at 3:34 pm

    Egyptians have rallied to rid themselves of an Islamist tyranny that was slowly gaining ground and was trying to copy Iran’s Islamic Republic. Former President Morsi has tried to purge the judiciary, the military, the police, the provincial governorships, and al Azhar University and sent secret delegations to Iran to beg Ali Khamenei to help him build a parallel secret police. Thankfully, Egypt, as yet, has no Basiji militia, no Revolutionary Guard and a military that is loyal to its country and not to an Islamist militia.

    Like Saideh, I am very proud of Egyptians for demanding their rights and throwing out Mr. Morsi and his party. In fact, he is merely an apparatchik of his group’s Supreme Guide, Mohamed Badieh, who’s angry eyes were glistening with hatred as he addressed his supporters yesterday, just before setting off a tsunami of violence. The group’s spokesman, of course, insists that the MB has “renounced violence.” I suspect that it hasn’t.

    Most Egyptians that I spoke with (Saturday) morning have told me that they think they have delivered a mortal blow to the MB from which it will never recover. Many also believe that this will set off a chain reaction across the rest of the Arab world. Their big worry, however, is that the US, and especially President Obama, are supporting the MB. I can’t confirm that, but they continue to present me with circumstancial evidence which is troubling.
    Edward Yeranian, foreign correspondent, Cairo

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  2. Jonathan Agronsky
    July 6, 2013 at 10:39 pm

    Very insightful analysis of the situation in Egypt–more so than most of the columnists who appear in our daily papers. Ever thought about trying to get a syndicate to pick up your blog and make a buck off of the hard work you’re doing now for free?

    Jonathan Agronsky

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  3. July 7, 2013 at 10:44 pm

    greatly appreciated your words on democracy—well-written.

    Like

  4. Melinda Barnhardt Jud
    July 8, 2013 at 2:34 pm

    Excellent analysis of the “democratically elected” issue, and thus a great contribution to political discourse.

    Like

  5. July 8, 2013 at 4:47 pm

    Well said. What you are describing/prescribing is not just ‘democracy’ but an ‘open society.’

    Like

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