There are no easy choices in Egypt. On one side is the democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood that was deposed in July 2013 after being in power for just a year. Millions of Egyptians celebrated the ouster, as did many on the Right. And there seemed to be good reason. Islamist president Mohammed Morsi had used his time in office to roll back the few meager democratic gains that had been achieved by the removal of the autocratic Hosni Mubarak. He issued a presidential “constitutional decree” to modify the basic constitutional rights of Egyptians. Women, the secular, and religious minorities such as the Copts were the biggest losers. He attempted to get fellow Islamists into the leadership of the army and security forces. He appointed extremist governors; allowed Islamist militias to grow across the country; and far from cracking down on the anarchy in the Sinai Peninsula, Morsi opened a dialogue with al-Qaida groups operating there. Internationally, Morsi stood against the Franco-African campaign against al-Qaida in northern Mali and consolidated ties with General Omar al-Bashir, responsible for genocide committed in Darfur against the Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa tribes.
Still, the military junta headed by Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is hardly liberal. Under his rule a new constitution is under discussion that would deny civilian government oversight of the military budget.
More ominously, it would allow civilians to be judged by military courts in closed, rushed trails that would often take place without defense counsels. In addition to the prosecution of Morsi supporters, the junta has also cracked down on free speech, accusing an award-winning journalist who covers the Sinai of “publishing false information about the army.” At least a thousand people have been killed since the coup against Morsi and 16,000 more have been detained, according to state officials, and some human rights organizations put the number at 24,000.
The junta’s latest move has been to sentence 529 people to death for an August attack on a police station that left one policeman dead. Human Rights Watch called Friday on the US to delay military aid to Egypt in protest against the collective death sentence.
Back in July, shortly after the coup against Morsi, The Wall Street Journal editorialized that “Egyptians would be lucky if their new ruling generals turn out to be in the mold of Chile’s Augusto Pinochet.” The motivation behind this unfortunate bit of well-wishing – which has come true to the extent that the Egyptian general has begun emulating the Chilean’s disregard for human rights and democratic processes – seems to be two-fold: some capitalists exhibit insensitivity to torture and extra-judicial murders perpetrated by a regime as long as the same regime is also advancing free-market policies and allowing Friedmanite breezes to blow; and some anti-Islamists are willing to ignore military excesses when those excesses are directed against Muslim extremists.
But even Daniel Pipes, whose anti-Islamist credentials are impeccable, has argued that while very tough treatment is needed to repress this totalitarian movement – including excluding the Muslim Brotherhood and other such movements from the democratic process – Sisi’s extra-legal crackdown on Islamists will likely backfire and end up helping the Islamist cause by winning it broad sympathy.
We would add that the gratuitous trampling of basic human rights of an entire group in the name of political expediency is a slippery slope, that inevitably spills over to additional groups for the same justification.
Undeniably, the ouster of Morsi and his replacement with a military regime has served Israel’s interests.
Military cooperation between the two countries has improved tremendously. And the Egyptian government shares Israel’s concerns over Hamas’s rule in Gaza and the terrorist organization’s links to al-Qaida- affiliated groups operating in Sinai.
However, Israel, a country that champions democratic values, has no interest in being identified with Sisi’s repressive regime (nor for completely different reasons does Sisi want his crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood to be portrayed as a “Zionist plot”).
Clearly, there are no easy choices in Egypt.