July 23, 2024

Egypt may have it right


Founded by Drew Pearson 1932

Egypt may have it right

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – The administration is getting pushback for its refusal to call what happened in Egypt a coup. It’s a word that carries a lot of baggage, and if used to describe the situation in Egypt could trigger the cutoff of U.S. aid to the interim regime.

More importantly, it’s not accurate. If anything, what Egypt just experienced could be called a people’s coup. Millions of people took to the streets, and more than 22 million, more than a quarter of the population, signed a petition demanding the ouster of President Morsi, in effect inviting the military to step in.

Granted, something is lost when the first democratically elected president is removed from office against his will, but the alternative would have been mob rule. In a scene reminiscent of the Paris mob storming the Bastille in 1789, the Egyptian people were on the verge of storming the presidential palace when the military intervened.

What we have learned in the decades since the fall of the Soviet Union is that instant democracy isn’t a solution. Democracy is far more complex, and it can’t be established overnight with one election. Mob rule in revolutionary France led to the Reign of Terror, authoritarianism, and monarchism and delayed democratic rule for 80 years. Morsi was installed in a free and fair election but he went on to govern in an authoritarian way, ignoring the rights of minorities and imposing Islamic religious traditions that trampled on those with different beliefs.

The constitution that was written under Morsi’s rule wasn’t that great as a model of democratic governance, but even so, there was no mechanism to protect minority rights. In the week since the military empowered itself, the key leader, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi moved quickly to establish a technocratic government, naming a president, a prime minister and a vice president, all experienced and assuring figures designed to calm critics both within and outside the country.

The name many Americans will find familiar is that of the internationally known former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohamad El Baradei, who was given the foreign relations portfolio. He will likely function as a secretary of state dealing with foreign dignitaries and governments, including in Washington where he is known and respected.

Egypt has a chance to show the world a realistic path toward democracy. General al-Sisi could have installed himself as president, and he didn’t, choosing instead to name an interim civilian government with the promise of early elections. The country is divided between Islamists, Coptic Christians, secularists, and others, and figuring out how to share power and insure the rights of minorities is the challenge ahead.

The Muslim Brotherhood blew their chance at proving they could govern, and now the military has to be careful they don’t follow suit. And religious freedom only comes when governments are religious-neutral, which means that public service is open to people of all faiths as long as they do not involve their faith in their public duties, something Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood refused to accept.

The military did everyone a favor by stepping in, but they’ve got to avoid getting drunk on their own power. The military enjoys great popularity in Egypt, and they essentially run the country no matter who is in power. They can be brutally repressive when they think it’s necessary, or with enlightened leadership, they can show the path toward democracy.

They’re walking a fine line, and if democracy is to take root, it can only flourish if the Egyptian people understand their role. President Bush thought he could bring democracy to Iraq, without a minority rights mechanism, and all he did was lay the groundwork for a religious civil war.

What we may be witnessing is Egypt showing the world an effective method of transisting from autocracy to enduring democracy. As President Obama noted, “Elections alone do not make true democracies.”

© 2013 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.


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