Washington Watch: The death of Egyptian democracy

The draft constitution, which erases any line between religion and state, declares Egypt will be governed by the "principles" of Shari’a law.

Anti-Morsi protests in Cairo 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Anti-Morsi protests in Cairo 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
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 economic empire.
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 advisers.
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 power.
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.
MORSI QUICKLY accelerated publication of the constitution before the courts to head off an adverse ruling.
Secularists, women, Christians and other non- Muslims and other opposition leaders were excluded from the drafting process.
Morsi’s 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.
The draft 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 ideology.
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.
The president 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 www.thejewishweek.com/blogs/douglas_bloomfield