Friday, August 16, 2013

Egypt's Non-Revolution

By staging a coup the military in Egypt crushed any hope of a democratic Egypt, a democratic Middle East.

There are many commentators in the West, both professional and amateur, who have put forth the opinion that the coup was necessary.  Their argument goes something like this.  Mr. Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, although they won a reasonably free and fair election, were not pursuing a democratic agenda.  Indeed, their actions were leading to a dictatorship and that Mr. Morsi would make certain that the election that made him president would be the last election Egypt would ever have.  Some even trotted out the old chestnut that Hitler was elected in free elections and we all know how that turned out.

This would have been a legitimate concern if Mr. Morsi had come to power after an actual revolution in Egypt.  However, no revolution took place.  A revolution always results in the old political order being destroyed to be replaced by a new political order.  That is, the old ruling class loses all or most of its political power and the power vacuum that creates is filled by a new ruling class.  That did not happen in Egypt.  The mass peaceful uprising of 2012 did not result in the replacement of the old and current Egyptian ruling class.  It did convince them that a change had to be made so they threw Hosni Mubarak and his son under a bus and held free elections to actually prevent a real revolution and to preserve themselves as the ruling elite in Egypt, not to have themselves replaced. 

They were successful.  We only need to see how the coup unfolded to see that.  In most revolutions the old ruling class tends to make one final attempt, a last gasp, to hang onto power but it always fails miserably and often spectacularly.  That did not happen in Egypt.  When the military moved they were so successful that the removal of Mr. Morsi and the installation of a new government was seamless.  It was only the aftermath that become messy.  The old ruling class still held all of the important levers of power and when they decided to use them Mr. Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood were helpless to stop them.

So the argument that Mr. Morsi was setting himself up as a new dictator is flat wrong.  He never had that power and he would never have achieved the power necessary to do it.  He could have nibbled around the edges but the fundamental power structure of Egypt would not have changed.  Any attempt by him to prevent further elections would have been thwarted if he would have tried.

Oh yes, Hitler did win free elections in 1933.  However, the Germany of the 1930s was what was left over after a revolution that swept the old guard of the Kaiser and his ministers from political power and replaced it with not much.  There was a virtual power vacuum in that country when Hitler won his election so there was no state apparatus to prevent him from seizing absolute power a few years later.  There is no parallel between Germany in the 1930s and Egypt in 2013 so any comparison of them is specious.

It is true that Mr. Morsi was pursuing an agenda that was not very liberal or democratic but as the duly elected president of the country that was his right.  Just because many disagreed with it does not justify his forcible removal.  If that was a valid criteria for forcibly removing a duly elected government there would be no democracy on the planet let alone Egypt. 

Unfortunately for Mr. Morsi he was very inept at pursuing his agenda because he managed to alienate every ally that the Muslim Brotherhood had gained over the years in its struggle against the current ruling elite.  It is a tragic irony that if the Egyptian ruling class would have let things progress as they were progressing Mr. Morsi would have probably lost his job to an internal Muslim Brotherhood revolt as many in that party would have realized just what kind of damage he was doing to their political movement.  Democracy might have been preserved.  But then again, the current ruling elite in Egypt has much less interest in preserving democracy in that country than that which Mr. Morsi is accused of so they moved to crush it when the opportunity presented itself.

That is all a moot point now.  The Muslim Brotherhood feels that it has been betrayed.  Not just by the ruling class of Egypt but by the democrats and Coptic Christians that allied with them to bring down Hosni Mubarak.  They probably feel that those groups were more than happy to piggy back on the organizational strength of their movement but then quickly abandoned them when the military moved to replace them in government.

And there in lies the real tragedy of all of this.  Those that would bring democracy to Egypt are not of sufficient number and organization to do it themselves.  They need a partner.  The only other two sectors of Egyptian society with sufficient muscle they can partner with are the current ruling class or the Muslim Brotherhood.  Now neither will have any incentive to work with them.  The ruling class because they have no interest in changing a system that grants them great privilege and the Muslim Brotherhood because they will believe the liberal democrats cannot be trusted.

Indeed, in all likelihood the Muslim Brotherhood will probably resort of increased violence, not just against the rulers of Egypt but against those they believe betrayed them, which is going to force the liberal democrats into the sphere of the ruling class just to find protection from the Muslim Brotherhood. 

We are already seeing this.  If anybody really believes that the attacks on the Coptic Churches are just about religion they are mistaken.  That is one reason but the main reason is probably vengeance at the perceived betrayal by them of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The dream of a democratic Egypt is dead and it takes the dream of democracy spreading through the Arab world with it.  The fate of the Morsi government will not be lost on other Islamists in the broader Middle East so they will continue to try to gain power by other means.

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