April 12, 2024

Theocracy isn’t democracy



Founded by Drew Pearson 1932

Theocracy isn’t democracy

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – The debate in Washington is over whether the Obama administration should or shouldn’t suspend and/or cut off military aid to Egypt, but the essence of the problem is much deeper than the arguments made for and against aid. Egypt is confirming that religion and politics don’t mix, and there’s not a whole lot President Obama can do from Washington to sort that out for the Egyptian people and their leaders.

The Muslim Brotherhood won in an election that international observers ruled was free and fair, and people in Egypt and the world over cheered at the prospect of democracy taking hold after decades of a dictatorship under President Mubarak.

The problem is that democracy means freedom of religion, and freedom from religion, and the Brotherhood did not carry out those dictums.

President Morsi pledged to protect the Coptic Christians, a beleaguered minority in Egypt. He didn’t live up to his promise, and his short time in office was marked by a failure to govern inclusively, and a visible move toward imposing an Islamist government.

Morsi reached so far beyond his mandate that by the time the military intervened, the Egyptian people were demanding his ouster, even if it meant reinstating the military as the center of power, which it had been throughout Mubarak’s 30 years as president.  The military takeover was so popular in Egypt that commentators tagged it “the peoples coup,” making what happened seem so much more benign than it was.

The generals in charge showed their hand when they fired live rounds into gatherings of pro-Morsi protestors, and now they’ve locked up the Brotherhood’s top religious leaders. If a free and fair election wasn’t enough to bring democracy to Egypt, certainly a brutal military crackdown on dissenters isn’t the path to restoring democratic rule, whatever promises the generals make in public or private when they talk to their contacts in Washington.

The Muslim Brotherhood failed in its effort to turn Egypt into a theocratic state, and the generals are failing to put in place the necessary guideposts to point the way to democracy. It looks like the military wants to return to the status quo ante, that environment they inhabited before the Arab Spring stirred things up and offered the possibility of a new and more open life to the many young people who gathered in Tahrir Square and participated in what became the overthrow of Mubarak.

To succeed, democracy must be secular. It must guarantee freedom of religion, not the imposition of religion, a line that has always been respected to various degrees in the U.S.  But given the religious fervor sweeping the Middle East, a totally secular government may not be possible if intolerant majorities are allowed to take over.

The government of Turkey has walked this fine line in differing degrees for some time. That’s why it is somewhat unsettling that Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan moved so quickly to unequivocally ally himself with the ousted Morsi, cutting off his country’s aid to Egypt to protest the military takeover.

On the other side, the governments of Saudi Arabia and the Arab Emirates aligned themselves just as quickly, and just as unequivocally, with the generals in Egypt, and their pockets are a lot deeper than Erdogan’s. The Saudi princes have much to protect. They rather than religious leaders rule a country based upon the tenets of Islam, which is why Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is anathema to them.

Now, with an Egyptian court ordering Mubarak freed from prison Wednesday, the Arab Spring takes another uncertain turn. Will Egypt return to strongman rule, or a democratically elected theocracy, or an American-style Madisonian secular democracy that guarantees minority rights?

© 2013 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.


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