Ricochet

Egypt: Should We Cheer the People or Weep for Democracy?

The sanctity of the Democratic process is important, but there's an awful lot of other problems to be solved

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Amr Nabil / AP

Fireworks light the sky as opponents of Egypt's Islamist President Mohammed Morsi celebrate in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, July 3, 2013.

As you know, the Egyptian military has taken President Mohamed Morsi into custody, suspended the constitution, and installed an interim government. The army says it has taken these steps in support of the will of the people, and that does appear to be largely true. Still, Morsi and his outraged Muslim Brotherhood allies are defining these events as nothing less than a military coup and a repudiation of the democratic election that was the culmination of the ouster two years ago of Hosni Mubarak. On both these points they are certainly right.

Some Americans are understandably queasy about the slap upside the head that democracy took earlier this week. And there are certainly ample reasons to doubt that the collapse of Morsi’s rule warrants unalloyed joy. But let’s not lurch into Jimmy Carteresque “election = good” reductionism here. To do so is to deny reality.

(MORE: More Protests and Gunfire Following Morsi’s Ousting)

It is supremely disingenous for Morsi, or anyone explicitly or implicitly on his side, to lament the injury to democracy here, since he and his cohort ruled with “near-total disregard for anything other than consolidating their own power” (Daniel Pipes). They aspired throughout their brief tenure to the eventual, and permanent, installation of sharia law and the enshrinement of a “vibrant radical utopian movement” (again Pipes’s phrase). The ultimate success of that movement — the culmination of the Brotherhood’s vision — would have entailed the crushing into dust of any trace of liberal democracy and the dragging back into medieval ignominy of a country, a people, and possibly an entire region.

So don’t cry for democracy. It’ll be just fine, thank you, and it will thrive in Egypt when Egypt is ready for it. For the time being, as Jonathan Spyer has explained again and again, there are two and only two effective forces for change in this neck of the woods: Islamism and the military:

[D]espite all the chatter about peoples’ power, democracy, civil society and the rest of it, when it comes to the real, grown-up exercise of political power in the countries in question, there remain only two contenders: the forces of political Islam, and the armed forces of the ancien regime.

That this is so seems empirically irrefutable – from Algeria to Gaza, via Syria and Egypt – the forces that when the talking is done go out to do battle with one another for the crown are the Islamists and the armed men of the regime (the latter usually organized under the banner of a secular, authoritarian nationalism.)

… this basic fact of the presence of two serious contenders for power in the main countries of the Arabic speaking world has been obvious and apparent before the events of 2011, which are usually (though inaccurately) held to mark the advent of the historic processes currently being witnessed in the Middle East.

But what about the massive demonstrations, you ask? Don’t the people hunger to breathe free? Spyer:

[T]he throngs of young people that we have witnessed in recent days in the streets of Egypt are not a mirage. No more were the young civil society activists who began the uprising in Syria, or the sophisticated liberals and reformers in Egypt. What are the factors which time and time again prevent the emergence of a muscular, representative, civilian and secular politics in the Arab world?

A politics of this type, which can combine the readiness for the use of force with a commitment to the open society seems to me to be the foundation stone for workable democracy.

In my own country, Israel, it very clearly exists. The primordial call of Jewish identity is the bedrock on which the democratic structure stands and is defensible and defended. Take away the former, and the latter would soon fall too.

Now the willingness to use force in order to defend rests at root always on something ‘irrational’, ie deeper than profit-loss, self-interested thinking. It must by necessity do so, since by engagement in such activity, the individual increases the possibility of his or her own early extinction. The ‘trick’ for making the open society work and be defensible seems to me the ability to combine or harmonize this deeper, non-rational layer of human motivation with the entirely rational commitment to institutions, structures, checks, balances and so on.

In the highly populated countries of the Arab world, glaringly, this has never been achieved. The liberal reformers are quite unable to command the kind of potent loyalties by which movements sustain themselves and win. Today, in Egypt, it is not they who are the real political and military actors. The required levels of commitment exist, solely, in the hands of Islamists on the one hand, and authoritarian nationalists on the other.

It is impossible to predict which way Egypt will now go. (Some sound thinkers fear it will go in a very ugly direction indeed.) Daniel Pipes, who is “delighted” by Morsi’s overthrow, nevertheless is deeply concerned:

Egypt is a mess. Relations between pro- and anti-Muslim Brotherhood elements have already turned violent and threaten to degenerate. Copts and Shi’ites get murdered just because of their identities. The Sinai Peninsula is anarchic. The incompetent and greedy military leadership, which viciously ruled Egypt from behind the scenes between 1952 and 2012, is back in charge.

But the worst problems are economic. Remittances from foreign workers have declined since the upheaval in neighbouring Libya. Sabotage against the pipeline sending natural gas to Israel and Jordan ended that source of income. Tourism has obviously collapsed. Inefficiencies mean that this hydrocarbon-producing country lacks the fuel to run tractors at full capacity. Socialist-era factories churn out sub-par goods.

Egypt imports an estimated 70 percent of its food and is fast running out of hard currency to pay for wheat, edible oils, and other staples. Hunger looms. Unless foreigners subsidize Egypt with tens of billions of dollars of aid a year into the indefinite future, a highly unlikely scenario, that hunger looks unavoidable. Already, poor families have cut back on their food intake.

Looming over all these dangers, the Ethiopian government exploited Egypt’s weakness a few weeks ago to begin building a dam on the Blue Nile that could entail a reduction in water being supplied to Egypt from 55 billion cubic meters to 40 billion, a move that has incalculably negative implications for life in the country known as the Gift of the Nile.

As these economic disasters hit, the year-long interlude of Islamist rule by Morsi & Co., which did so much to exacerbate these problems, may well be forgotten – and whoever inherits the rule will take the blame. In other words, the pain Egyptians have and will go through may be for naught. Who knows, they might in desperation turn again to Islamists to pull them out of their future predicament.

There’s plenty to worry about in Egypt. The sanctity of the democratic process is important, yes. But there’s an awful lot to be solved before it can rightfully be anyone’s primary concern.

Judith Levy graduated from Duke with degrees in English and History and holds a master’s in International Relations from Oxford. She was the Soref Research Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a managing editor for equity research at ABN Amro in New York, and the author of Wall Street-based mystery novel, A Falling Knife. The views expressed are solely her own. 
This article was published in partnership with Ricochet, a site that provides right-of-center podcasts, content and conversation for conservatives and libertarians.

35 comments
MidoElahlawy
MidoElahlawy

i am egyptian live in it too some people take about why we got out morsy from palace.if u live in acountry in ayear 1-elictricity cut off more than 9 hours in aday(in ayear).2- we had aloans from many country because morsy kill the industry. 3-cut off our relation ship with many countries like uae and syria and ethiopia.4-broke our law and attack  many judges. he and his group attack the Opposition and call them disbelievers .5- attack the media and want to take them to jail with accusation(insult president) like (amr adeeb,bassem youssef,lamees alhadedi,tawfic okasha ,yousef alhosieny,gaber alqarmoty and ibrahim eissa....etc).6-make the police kill some of youth who uprising against his Policies,like(alhossieny abo dief,gaber jeeka,mohamed christy,mohamed elgendy....etc)7-result of that the tourism had terminate  abut from 70 to 80 % from it .
and after all of that when about 33 milions of egyptian go to streets and uprising against that looser muhammad morsi .when the army call him to make asolutions to make egyptians happy ,he ignored it. then when the armed forced send him out of palace that ,it`s not acoup ,it`s(the will of milion of egyptians people)
thx

FarooqHasnat
FarooqHasnat

No double standards, please. What is good for U.S. should be good for the others!!!

FeebWillis
FeebWillis

We should neither cheer nor weep.  There are special conditions (70 million people on the edge of starvation) which made it madness for the Egyptians to tolerate a dithering head of state.  Yes, the Moslem Brotherhood would starve also had not Morsi been removed, but many of them are rural farmers and they can feed themselves.  Not so the city dwellers.

TallusRip
TallusRip

Yes, because a Democracy run by a group calling itself the Muslim Brotherhood is totally not disguising itself as an Islamic Theocracy that must be defended.


Maybe it's just the pics CNN decided to show on it, but when they showed photos of the opposition protestors, it was a mixed crowd.  Those who supported the MB were all old men.  I feel there's something telling in these populations.

sensi
sensi

Oh jeez, another jewish author mentioning far-right jewish and clash of the civilization propagandists -e.g. Daniel Pipes-and their usual garbage wrapped around an agenda in another desperate attempt to justify a military coup over democracy. The usual disgrace from the Times...

billorights
billorights

Why does everyone act as though the Morsi regime was legitimate in the first place?

My God, no one does ANY real digging these days.

The entire 'Arab Spring' was orchestrated by the Obama administration, Erdogan and the Qataris...from start to finish.  And the election process was dominated by election fraud.  Were it not for this evil alliance, the Muslim Brotherhood would never have come to power in Egypt--where 80% of the population is Muslim, yet still does not support empowering the ultra-radical Muslim Brotherhood.

citym8
citym8

I guess we finally got a fresh breath of air from the west. Finally they have dropped their masked and the "democracy in the middle east" bull and showed their true colours. What was really meant was "democracy until someone I don't like comes in to power. Oh and if you protest peaceful you will be labelled as a terrorist."

mahadragon
mahadragon

Morsi had given himself unlimited power to do whatever he wanted without judicial oversight or assessment. Can you imagine what would happen if Obama gave himself unlimited powers to do whatever he wanted without any discussion, oversight, or ability to overturn his decisions? This is a no brainer, Morsi deserved what he got. This is a win for the people of Egypt, sort of. It's only sort of a win, because when you kick someone out of power in only 1 year that means the vetting process wasn't very good and you basically elected someone who was unelectable which actually falls on the process.

khaledmourad99
khaledmourad99

I believe Egypt will have a better democracy as this will give a lesson to anyone in power to listen and collaborate with other.

Democracy is not when some group hold to power, mess with everything, don't listen to any one and put incompetent people as ministers and governors due to their loyalty and not competency  

InSitu64
InSitu64

The big elephant in the room is this.  Can Islam even coexist with Democracy?  If there is not a break between God and Government, how does the population ever converge on a political question that is independent of religion and how do people of a differing religion than Islam ever have political legitimacy   If all truth comes from God, and if there is no separation between God and government, then it must follow that the only form of decision making must be Sharia Law, which is not and can never be Democratic in that it is exclusionary to those who are not Muslim.  It seems that it is this question that Islam (Political or Otherwise) must sort out before they can have anything close to a sustained Democratic Government.

AlphaJuliette
AlphaJuliette

Ms. Levy has presented a very sobering and very honest description of the reality that is Egypt.  This is the proper perspective we in the global neighborhood need to understand in order to track the events as they occur in that struggling country.

If ex-president Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood are angry they have only themselves to blame.  This popular uprising and the supportive military coup was the result of their unrelenting focus to install an Islamic based government that would negate democracy for Sharia law.  Look how well that worked in Afghanistan when the Taliban was in power.  The end result in Egypt would have been the same thing that happened under the Taliban; unrelenting, suffocating and cruel authoritarian theocratic rule.  Fortunately the people of Egypt are electronically connected to the rest of the world and are aware. 

AlexVallas
AlexVallas

There can be situations when one has to give up freedoms (temporarily) to remain free.   The Egyptians have never had a democratic election and unfortunately Morsi violated his oath and lied to the populace.  The military gave him opportunities to compromise and he chose not to.  He got what he deserves.  We cannot compare all democracies and constitutions based on ours. 

ShakahaarParishadBhopal
ShakahaarParishadBhopal

every coin has two sides. you can not please to every one. every one is right. it is the fight of egoism. every body wants to be superior. who is right and who is wrong god knows but it is the worst stage on any country. unrest leads deterioration of economy, unwanted killings and unrest in the state. we are hopeful for peace there and find out the causes of unrest.

RamonRoman
RamonRoman

It is beyond me, miss Levy, that you and Zionist and Israeli is talking about the great processes being realized by the will of the people that want a country free of oppression. How can you talk about the will of freedom of other people when you have an apartheid and a concentration camp in Palestine. Every time the Palestinian rise to claim their land, they are massacred by the puissance of your unbeaten arm forces. Every day you steal the land of the Palestinian, even during the visit of mr Kerry. You, namely, your government use the resolution of the UN that condemns this crime as toilet paper.

Miss Levy, before you give an opinion about the fight for freedom of the people of the Middle East, do it with clean hands and don't be an hypocrite.

OmarKamel
OmarKamel

Thank you for at least trying to write a reasonably balanced article. It's far better than most of what I've seen both in TIME and elsewhere regarding recent events here. It's sad that so many in America are having so much trouble seeing that if something takes place with the backing of the overwhelming majority of the population, then it is, in effect, a democratic action, whether or not we choose to call it a coup (yes, that kind of platypus apparently exists) - I'd like to quote a passage from something a friend wrote earlier today - 

"Even if this whole *****ing thing was directed from Washington or Abbaseya (Military) or from Tora (NDP Regime), every evil force we can imagine in the background has to face the reality of a mobilized population and a new vigor to see the principles of the revolution put into effect. How could that be bad?"

The real problem seems to be that most many observers and commentators are making two mistakes; the first is that they are assuming that removing Morsi is a 'return' to Military Rule, when in fact, we never left it. Morsi did not remove the military, he and the so-called 'Muslim' Brotherhood partnered with the military, and in time, after the military got what it wanted from them (constitutional gains for the military) he quickly outlived his usefulness to them, rendering him susceptible to a removal by a population that has grown sick of his gang's fanaticism and fascism. The other thing many miss is that this is not a 'coup' that 'followed' a revolution. The revolution does not live in 2011. It is an ongoing process that has yet to settle. 

The pendulum so far has swung between the army and the Islamists, and the people of Egypt are hoping it'll wind down somewhere in the middle, where most of them live, and from where we hope to nurture a new beginning, not just a process by which we replace one dictator with another. If you're curious to read a blog post that explains a little more what's been happening here, please google "Western Media: Egypt is a Platypus". 

Hxtext
Hxtext

I just have to add my comment on this one. It seems to me that this article, news bite, or what ever, is almost completely ignoring the most important force in these historic event taking place in Egypt. Don't you wish you were there in the crowd? Among those millions of people from the whole political spectrum who all have something in common...one goal. They are that power behind all state powers, the world over. They have the chance to bring about, or rather, to take the Arab Spring to a transitional phase; a leap forward, if not derailed! The important thing of the whole dramatic events unfolding there is The people. They are the state and can direct it in the desired direction, which is what all people desire most - a truly democratic state where all can have a voice in and have a constitutional government that respects the rights of all the people. The eyes and ears of the world are watching intently like a Hollywood drama of real life. I say, Viva la revolution de Egypto, and the people of the region in their struggle for a better world where all people's rights are protected!

MaramWahidBadawy
MaramWahidBadawy

please. Tell your president and government to stop supporting Muslim brother hood , I'm a Muslim but me and millions others in Egypt were threatened by Muslim brotherhood over and over if we

don't follow what they want

MaramWahidBadawy
MaramWahidBadawy

Dear sir , I'm an american citizen married to an Egyptian , my name is Maram badawy , well to begin with we want to assure you that what happened is not a coup all our family and friends we were begging the military to save us from these terrorists , peace haters and violence lovers , since mursi ruled we all felt unsafe , mursi filled the government with brother hood supporters whether they were qualified or not , we faced shortage of good food, power , water supply even petrol for cars , ple

AlphaJuliette
AlphaJuliette

@sensi Obviously you have no reasonable commentary on a well thought out and well presented piece describing the unfolding events in Egypt.  Attacking Time and the author is not a well considered reply.

AlphaJuliette
AlphaJuliette

@billorights The Morsi government was legitimate because it won in free national elections.  But, it lost its legitimacy because it focused on its own Islamic interests at the cost of the people of Egypt.

As for the Obama administration orchestrating the Arab Spring....rubbish.

sensi
sensi

@billorights What a garbage, the elections were free and fair by anybody accounts, but you must know better...

sensi
sensi

@mahadragon Meh, he granted himself temporary extended powers in order to override your beloved Mubarak dictatorship judiciary -hardly legitimate- military junta and civil servants meddling and crippling -electricity sabotage, etc-of the country for months leading to this coup d'état. Do I have to be surprised that you and others people failed to notice those little facts?

billorights
billorights

@mahadragon 

Clearly, Obama has already granted himself unlimited powers.  Where on Earth have you been for the last four years?

Need I remind you that the Obama administration, working with Erdogan and the Qataris, inserted the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in the first place?

sensi
sensi

@khaledmourad99 Again while Morsi was calling for dialogue and moderation the opposition(s) refused talks and insisted on his ouster, calling for the coup...

MartianMelancholy
MartianMelancholy

@khaledmourad99

Actually this sets a very bad precedence because it teaches political groups that even if you play by the rules and within the law you will not be allowed to serve your term and implement your mandate so violence is the answer.  In the end what has happened will not make the country stronger but will weaken it and will have far reaching implications for the region as a whole.

The groups who were protesting against the government were primarily made up of factions that had less than 30% representation in the lower house (i.e. The House of Representatives) and less than 20% representation in the upper house (i.e. the Shura council).  What that effectively meant was that the MB and its coalition of allies had the power to pass any laws they deemed necessary which angered opposition groups.  Their claims that they didn't have enough time to prepare for the 2011 elections are refuted by the fact that Al-Noor, as new as any of the opposition groups, was brand new to the political scene but managed to secure around 21% of the votes in 2011.  Furthermore, this idea that the government lost popularity was refuted by the 2012 constitutional referendum in which almost 64% of the voters were in favor of changing the constitution.  The constitution gave more power to elected representatives, made it illegal for security forces to use torture or detain people without trial which was a good thing but for whatever reason the opposition did not approve.  Thus, with a minority backing the opposition they resorted to using violence to accomplish their goals.

It is clear form the Egyptian armies actions (i.e. using tear gas and violence against protestors demanding the restoration of the government and in favor of democracy but  having done nothing against opposition protestors who were marching against democracy and using violence to accomplish their goals) that their intentions was always to revert the country back to a military oligarchy where they place their own puppet as head of state (just like they did with Mubarak).

The government needs to be restored and if the opposition feels that there is strong sentiment against Morsi then they should have a non-confidence motion vote in parliament.  If successful Morsi is gone but if they aren't then he should be allowed to serve his term and when the next elections arrive the people can vote again to see who runs the country next.  However, I am pretty sure that the opposition was always under the impression that they would never win in free and fair elections which is why they resorted to murder and vandalism and now side with the military that ousted a legitimate civilian government.

AlphaJuliette
AlphaJuliette

@InSitu64 This actually is a great example of separation of church and state.  Turkey is a good example of how Islam and a secular government can co-exist.  Iran is not.

AlphaJuliette
AlphaJuliette

@AlexVallas I agree.  And the astounding thing here is that the military did give him a chance.  He took the hard line and as a result is now a guest of the military.  He and the Brotherhood did it to themselves.

RamonRoman
RamonRoman

@AlexVallas  Yes, mr Valla, the Egytians had a democratic election and precisely in this one, mr Morsi was elected president. I don't understand your idea of giving up freedoms just to keep being free. A house dog is free, but lives on a leash all its life.

AlphaJuliette
AlphaJuliette

@Hxtext Excellent observation Hxtext.  And I agree that it was really the people themselves that have precipitated this new chapter in the Egyptian Spring.

The Egyptian people are connected to the outside world like we in the US are, via electronic communications.  They all have cell phones and take pictures & video's and Tweet and make their voices heard.  I'm thinking that this time around the military won't stay in power and will actually follow through to re-establish a civilian run government because of the people and their interconnectedness.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@billorights @mahadragon I would not go that far, But Obama is a Muslim but he does not have unlimited powers this is the United States no President has unlimited powers. He may wish he had and does lean in the direction of the Muslim brotherhood, But is smart enough to stay low profile in reference to talking about them after all he is the President of the United States. Barrack H Obama, What does the H stand for again Oh yes the name of the Guy We ousted out of Bagdad. Wake up people.

AlphaJuliette
AlphaJuliette

@billorights @mahadragon Obama has unlimited powers?!  Where have YOU been for the past 4 years.  Have you not seen the utter obstructionism of the far right and the Tea Party?  They have essentially hog tied our political system and have dumped reasonable discourse in favor of extremism that is hurting We the People in favor of ideology. 

It's no wonder the Republicans are so badly thought of these days.

AlphaJuliette
AlphaJuliette

@MartianMelancholy @khaledmourad99 What violence?  The protests against the Morsi government were very much peaceful if not aggressive.  The violence we have seen recently has stemmed from the supporters of Morsi.

While I agree with you that this sets a bad precedence (we here in the US see every president we elect have to deal with calls for impeachment) the situation in Egypt was unique and incredibly bad as Ms. Levy described.  Something had to be done to avert the collapse of the Egyptian economy.  What did the Morsi government do?  They focused on consolidating their own power along Sharia law.  NO ONE in Egypt wants that as is evidenced by the incredible popular demonstrations.

The Morsi government did it to themselves.   

AlexVallas
AlexVallas

@RamonRoman @AlexVallas On a very simple scale, we give up the freedom of privacy when we go through a security gate at the airport.  We are subjected to this to assure that a terrorist does not bomb the plane or crash it into a building killing thousands.  In essence to remain free of a terrorist act or threat.  Mr. Morsi was elected but then chose to take the first steps to turn Egypt into a Theocracy with Islamics in control.  The Egyptians have a right to enjoy the same freedoms as those in truly democratic countries.  He was taking steps to become a dictator.  That is not acceptable.   

MartianMelancholy
MartianMelancholy

@AlphaJuliette@MartianMelancholy@khaledmourad99 

 Were you even following the events up until now?

 Here are some articles you may have missed regarding the protestors "non-violent" behavior across the country:

http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/30/us/egypt-pochter-profile/index.html

http://www.breitbart.com/Breitbart-TV/2013/07/01/Egypt-protesters-ransack-burn-Muslim-Brotherhood-Headquarters

http://www.egyptindependent.com/news/protesters-burn-two-fjp-offices-damietta-over-activist-s-death

http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/africa/2013-06/19/c_132467952.htm

This has been ongoing since the end of the 2011 Presidential elections with groups like the Egyptian black bloc literally going around burning public and private property as well as assaulting individuals who were seen to be in support of the government or government officials which resulted in retaliatory attacks that spirals into chaos (which we see today).

The opposition could have introduced a non-confidence motion in the House of Representatives to remove Morsi if they felt that he had lost support of the people.  So why didn't they instead of resorting to violent protests?


The current government has only been in power for about a year so they cannot be expected to resolve issues that are the byproduct of a host of factors most of which weren't of their making including the law and order situation following the elections (opposition groups protests resulted in the state wasting money on security instead of being able to invest it elsewhere), the countries rapid population rise (considering Egypt is mostly desert the state doesn't have the agricultural land to feed its people nor the money to seriously industrialize the agricultural sector in an attempt to save foreign reserves by reducing food imports), global economic downturn (richer western countries simply aren't buying as much as they used to nor traveling as often as they once did to countries like Egypt), too much of a reliance on tourism (which appears to be a byproduct of the Mubarak regime not investing in industry), etc...  

People are looking for quick fixes which don't exist.

The government needs to restored.  Those political parties that played by the rules must not be punished and allowed to implement their mandate and serve their terms.  The fact is that if they don't respond to the will of the people and enough opposition builds up against them they will be replaced which has happened in other countries regionally (ex. Pakistan).

RamonRoman
RamonRoman

@AlexVallas @RamonRoman Mr Vallas, it is not my desire to meddle in your way of deciding what is freedom. You can simplify all you want about the terrorists, but it could be a learning experience if you and all that vociferate about terrorism know just a little bit about why the behaviour of these people of the middle East.

Many a time in these opinion places I have shown how to evaluate the loss of your freedoms. I have done  this simply indicating one link, so the people that are interested can appreciate what I am talking about. This link is about a speech that Judge Napolitano gave explaining this topic. The link is in youtube and is named, " Constitution for dummies", by judge Napolitano.