A new dawn on the Nile?

The official as well as the unofficial American reaction to the third Egyptian revolution in a bit more than 60 years (and the second in less than two years) was mixed.

egypt Republican Guards stand in line 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
egypt Republican Guards stand in line 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
At the time of writing, the battle for Egypt’s hearts and minds is not over, indeed it may yet deteriorate into fully fledged civil war, but if the millions of Egyptians who demonstrated in the streets demanding the ouster of the Morsi regime triumph, it could herald normalcy for their country and perhaps also for major parts of the entire region.
The role played by the army in the upheaval, though much criticized abroad, may actually have paved the road toward eventually establishing in the country on the Nile, for the first time in its history, democratic rule, representing the will of the majority of its people.
The official as well as the unofficial American reaction to the third Egyptian revolution in a bit more than 60 years (and the second in less than two years) was mixed. On the one hand there was the natural reflex, weaned on the political culture of liberal democracy and the electoral process, opposing regime change by force of arms, but on the other hand there was a growing realization not only that the regime that had been forced out was, after all, of questionable legitimacy in democratic terms, but that from a practical point of view, including US strategic and diplomatic interests in the area, accommodation was a wiser policy than opposition – plus the fact that the Egyptian military was the only body which could guarantee a measure of stability as well as adherence to the peace treaty with Israel.
In most cases the active involvement of the armed forces in the political life of a country is indeed reprehensible, but there are exceptions; wouldn’t the world and Germany have been a better place (and the Jewish people’s history less tragic) if in 1933-4 and then again in 1939 and 1944 those among the higher echelons of the Wehrmacht who were eager to topple Hitler had been successful? Morsi, of course, is no Hitler, but he was (is) the leader, or at least the figurehead, of a movement which negates the very essence of democracy, freedom of expression, women’s rights (it is no accident that so many women were at the forefront of the rebellion against Morsi) and most other values cherished by enlightened humanity.
Hitler too claimed legitimacy because he had first been elected in democratic elections – and in the 1930s there were quite a few American and British politicians and journalists who agreed with him – but legitimacy means more than elections. It cannot be separated from the essence and values on which democracy is based.
In fact, though nothing can be taken for granted, the repercussions of Egypt’s third revolution may yet go much further, spelling trouble also for the region’s other Islamist movements. America and most of the West naively cheered the “Arab Spring” as a harbinger of freedom, while in effect it turned out to be a boost for political Islam which by its very nature is the reverse of liberal democracy.
Repressive and corrupt reigns of one sort were replaced by sometimes more repressive and corrupt reigns of another sort, under the mantle of religion. As Mohamed ElBaradei, who for a time was a candidate for Egyptian prime minister and one of the principal spokespersons of the revolution wrote in an article in Foreign Policy (quoted by Roger Cohen in The New York Times): “What we see.... [I]s just a change of faces, with the same mode of thinking as in Mubarak’s era – only now with a religious icing on the cake” (actually some would argue that under Mubarak Egyptians had more freedom and individual rights than under Morsi).
On top of that, the Morsi regime also was extraordinarily inefficient in even trying to solve the problems which affect most Egyptians on a daily basis – lack of food, lack of jobs, lack of a future – thus it will be up to the new leaders of Egypt, with the help of the US, to see to it that they won’t be once again disappointed in their hopes for a better life. Of course, in the Middle East nothing should be taken for granted, and the most unexpected and supposedly illogical is often the most plausible (which is one of the reasons for the many intelligence failures of the West in the region).
But as Liz Sly, The Washington Post’s foreign correspondent put it: “There can be little doubt that the spectre of the Arab world’s most populous nation rising up in seemingly unprecedented numbers against an Islamic leader has tainted the [Muslim] Brotherhood’s long effort to present itself as a viable alternative to the region’s mostly repressive regimes, in ways that it may find hard to redress.”
Official Israel has kept mum about the developments south of it – and rightly so.
We value our relationship with Egypt as a state, whatever its regime. The day-to-day relationship with the Morsi government was, on the whole, fairly sound. Nor should one look at the alternative through too rosetinted glasses – after all, it was the Egyptian army, not the Brotherhood that we faced on the battlefield in four wars (five if you add the War of Attrition), and the Morsi government did not contravene the terms of the peace treaty with Israel.
All things considered, the possible demise of Islamism as the major political force in at least parts of the Arab world could eventually lead to a more secular, down-to-earth and less dogmatic and intolerant attitude on the part of our neighbors also to peace and to the Jewish state – and also on the plus side, it could weaken Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood’s local kid brother.
The author is a former ambassador to the US.