If Egypt ever really did have democracy, it was born and died with the election
of Mohamed Morsi in June. The election was free and fair according to
international observers, but that appears to have been both the beginning and
end of the experiment.
Since taking office Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood
and its Freedom and Justice Party have taken control of the presidency, the
military and the parliament, and are sidelining the judiciary. Morsi followed
the example of Hosni Mubarak and tried to arrest his defeated opponent, but
Ahmed Shafik saw it coming and fled the country.
The president then moved
quickly to purge the army of Mubarak holdovers with close ties to the United
States and install his own loyalists. The generals so far appear willing to
accept the new Islamist order so long as they are allowed to retain their vast
Morsi wasted little time doing what many feared most:
instituting Islamist government. Brotherhood followers were placed in government
posts across the spectrum, including governors, ministers and presidential
His boldest move to date came on November 22 with a power grab
that gave him near-dictatorial powers and created a rift with the country’s
judiciary as well as the secularists who helped push Mubarak from
He declared his rulings could not be overruled by the judiciary
nor could the courts dissolve the Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly, which
was drafting a new national constitution. The judges called the move an
“assault” on their independence and went on strike.
accelerated publication of the constitution before the courts to head off an
Secularists, women, Christians and other non- Muslims and
other opposition leaders were excluded from the drafting process.
edicts had come one day after he won widespread praise for his role in brokering
a Hamas-Israel cease-fire. The constitutional power grab probably had been in
the works for a while as Morsi waited for an opportune moment to spring it,
perhaps hoping his new international stature would give him the political
capital for his power grab.
If that was his plan, it failed. Protests
grew as hundreds of thousands went back to Cairo’s Tahrir Square, where the
revolution had begun nearly two years earlier.
He went on national
television Saturday to say the new constitution would bring “a new day of
democracy in Egypt.” That promise had a hollow ring.
constitution, which erases any line between religion and state, declares Egypt
will be governed by the “principles” of Shari’a law and gives clerics a role in
approving legislation. Morsi, who shares that goal, called for a referendum on
December 15. The judiciary is supposed to oversee all voting but the strike will
undermine the authenticity of any vote. If the draft passes, parliamentary
elections are supposed to be called for two months later, but those would
similarly be questionable, for the same reasons.
Morsi has tried to
reassure people that his emergency powers are only temporary, but Egyptians
recall that Mubarak ruled by “temporary” emergency decree for decades, as did
his predecessors. Morsi has no desire to become he Egyptian Thomas Jefferson; he
is driven by the decidedly anti-democratic Muslim Brotherhood
THE ANTI-ISLAMIST forces are disorganized, depressed and angry;
they have no direction, no plan and no idea how to deal with politics and the
challenges of the Brotherhood, according to a report issued by the Washington
Institute for Near East Policy.
The authors of the report, former
Republican Congressman Vin Weber and former Obama White House counsel Greg
Craig, said the United States should use its $2 billion-plus in annual aid to
push for reform.
The authors, who recently visited Egypt and met with
leaders of the government, opposition, military and other factions, said it
would be a mistake to listen to those in the Congress who want to cut off all
aid and support. Instead the new government should be presented with “a set of
choices” to show they are responsible national leaders and not “religiously
inspired ideologues,” Craig said. Continuation of unconditional US aid is “too
risky” and “would free its leaders from taking the necessary decision to repair
the economy and pursue responsible policies,” he added.
should be required to certify to the Congress that Egypt is meeting well-defined
commitments on regional peace and bilateral strategic cooperation, primarily
adherence to the Israeli- Egyptian treaty and the fight against terrorism, as
conditions for continued American aid and political backing. In addition they
said the administration should press for political reform and respect for the
rights of women and religious minorities.
“This is not an ultimatum, but
necessary to satisfy Congress and the American public that our support serves US
interests,” Craig said.
Weber recommended earmarking about $100 million
of US military aid to finance more aggressive counterterrorism efforts in Sinai.
A Congressional foreign policy expert recently in the region agreed, adding that
stabilizing Sinai and dealing with lawlessness there isn’t getting enough
attention from the administration or the Egyptians.
The Pentagon’s top
concerns are maintaining good relations with the Egyptian military and keeping
the Suez Canal open, and the State Department seems more focused on rebuilding
the Egyptian economy than building a civil society, he said.
So far the
Egyptian revolution has replaced a secular dictator with an Islamist dictator,
and the outlook is gloomy.
As often happens in the Muslim world,
political change too often begins with the mosque, and all the exits are
blocked. Islamists came to power in Egypt through democratic election but
quickly showed their contempt for the concept. The new constitution puts Islamic
law above democratic government.
It’s a familiar pattern: one man, one
vote, one time.
© 2012 Douglas M. Bloomfield