The speed of Mohamed Morsi’s fall, just a year after his dramatic rise to power,
underlines the unpredictability of Egyptian politics. For Israel there are both
dangers and opportunities in the wake of Morsi’s ouster.
dominance of the military could be a positive development for Israel. It is,
after all, the military that monopolizes force and is a stabilizing
It was the Egyptian military, for instance, that was instrumental
in bringing about the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas last November. It is
the military that seems most likely to protect the Camp David peace agreement
between Israel and Egypt. And it is the military that has a vested interest and
the capabilities to maintain control in the near lawless Sinai
The humbling of the Muslim Brotherhood’s seemingly inexorable
expansion not just in Egypt but also in Tunisia and potentially in Syria and
perhaps even in Jordan is another positive development, at least in the short
term. And this setback for the Muslim Brotherhood is likely to have a moderating
effect on Hamas.
We might, however, see a faceoff between the military
and the Brotherhood. A particularly bleak forecast holds that Egypt will descend
into a civil war similar to the one that ravaged Algeria starting in the early
1990s and continuing through 2002. The circumstances are similar.
December 1991, a Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated party, the Islamic Salvation
Party, buoyed by public support, performed well in the first round of national
elections in Algeria. Fearful it would lose its hold on the leadership, the
ruling National Liberation Front canceled elections.
The military took
control. The clashes between Islamists and forces loyal to the military in the
10 years that followed resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands.
Egypt, too, there is real concern that the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafist
parties will refuse to back down. From their point of view the ouster of Mohamed
Morsi was unlawful and the Muslim Brotherhood was voted into power in fair,
democratic elections. Technically speaking, they are right. The Brotherhood
might even enlist Hamas in its struggle.
Still, while the deposition of
an elected leadership with the help of the military is hardly a promising start
for Egypt’s post-Morsi era, the speedy intervention of the military on behalf of
a coalition of opposition forces with little in common besides the desire to
depose Morsi probably prevented a lot of bloodshed, at least in the short
Much hinges on how the Obama administration interprets developments.
US law requires the White House to suspend its aid to any country whose elected
leader is ousted in a military coup. Obama has requested more than $1.5 billion
in military and economic assistance to Egypt for the US federal fiscal year that
starts in October.
It would be unfortunate if Washington decides to back
Morsi’s right to continue to rule, a step the US failed to take in 2011 after
the military staged a coup to depose Hosni Mubarak. Indeed, a strong argument
can be made that what happened this week in Egypt was not strictly speaking a
military coup, because the military did not take control. Rather, it backed a
popular uprising against Morsi. After facilitating his ouster, the military then
created a civilian council to govern the country headed by the head of the
Supreme Constitutional Court.
Though Washington’s influence on Egypt has
been greatly compromised, the Obama administration still can have a critical
impact. The US could make its continued economic support conditional upon
concrete headway toward building a more democratic, pluralistic government that
does more to defend embattled minorities such as the Coptic Christian community
and the smaller Baha’i and Shi’ite populations. More thought should be given to
saving Egypt’s catatonic economy. And aid in the form of both funding and
political know-how should be provided to help harness the energies expended on
the streets of Cairo and channel them into political parties and
Unrest in Egypt has generated much unpredictability and the
potential for instability and even disaster.
Morsi’s fall, however, also
presents new opportunities and can lead to positive developments in the Middle
East’s most populous country, and in the region in general.
depends, at least in part, on the US’s response.