Friday, May 25, 2018
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S. Amjad Hussain

Egyptian democracy’s future murky

The ouster of Egypt’s president, Mohammed Morsi, by the country’s military raises disturbing questions about the future of democracy in the Middle East and about the response of the U.S. government to the coup. One wonders whether the Arab Spring is turning into an Arab freeze.

The Muslim Brotherhood won a decisive victory in Egypt’s 2012 elections. It was with much anticipation that Mr. Morsi became the first popularly elected president in Egyptian history.

To his credit, Mr. Morsi tried to mend fences with Egypt’s neighbors. He said he was committed to abide by his country’s peace treaty with Israel. He promised to end corruption and put Egypt on a sound financial footing.

What he did not know was that in Egypt, the military still calls the shots and is loath to accept any change. The security establishment is commonly referred to as the Deep State.

So the Deep State — with the tacit approval of Washington — engineered massive demonstrations against Mr. Morsi. Using the flimsy pretext of public discontentment with Mr. Morsi, the Deep State removed him.

A coup by any other name is still a coup. But the Obama Administration decided not to call it a coup. The army brass dismissed an elected government, and we are still trying to gloss over the act.

One reason for this soft-pedaling is that after a coup, U.S. aid is supposed to be cut off. In Egypt’s case, that’s $1.5 billion a year.

The coup is hailed by some as a democratic achievement, in which the power of the people forced the army to dismiss the government. It seems that street demonstrations have replaced the ballot box.

When President George W. Bush and his western allies were planning to attack Iraq in 2002, there were massive demonstrations against the pending war, in the United States and across Europe. Mr. Bush was unfazed and committed the biggest folly of his presidency. It cost more than $1 trillion, 4,500 American lives, and more than a half million Iraqi lives.

The transition from autocratic rule to democracy is difficult. Nascent democracies struggle with keeping a balance between the entrenched bureaucracy — including armed forces — and the urgency of bringing relief to the people. But it can be done.

Most of South America, once the domain of military dictatorships, has made the transition to democracy. Turkey’s government has successfully removed the army’s stranglehold on the democratic process. Indonesia, a majority Muslim country, also has moved successfully from military dictatorship to democracy.

But the United States loves dictators. Pakistan’s democratic process was set back 10 years when Pervez Musharraf toppled the democratically elected government of Nawaz Sharif in 1999.

Mr. Sharif wanted to replace Mr. Musharraf with a general to his liking. Mr. Sharif is now back in the saddle, and Mr. Musharraf is charged with treason for suspending the constitution in 1999.

We don’t know the real reasons behind Mr. Morsi’s ouster. Secular and liberal Egyptians always have disliked the Muslim Brotherhood for its religious overtones.

Since the Muslim Brotherhood’s creation in 1928 by a religious scholar and schoolteacher, Hasan al-Banna, as a religious, social, and political movement, successive Egyptian governments have been suspicious of and at odds with the group. But despite official repression, it continued to grow.

In time, it became a model of political activism and Islamic charity work. Though Egyptian in origin, the movement has members and sympathizers across the Arab world.

The movement has been brutally suppressed by successive Egyptian governments since 1948. In recent decades, the party was banned from political activity. The ban was lifted three years ago, at the end of Hosni Mubarak’s presidency.

The Egyptian secular and liberal establishments, including the security services, have been hostile to the Brotherhood. They feared that the Brotherhood would usher in a repressive religious government, similar to the Taliban in Afghanistan. But during the Brotherhood’s yearlong rule, no such thing happened.

As with other such parties in the Islamic world, this party has changed with the passage of time. Economic realities, international relations, and protection of minorities and women are things they have come to accept.

For democracy to take root in the Middle East, grass-roots parties have to play their part in the transition. Pre-emptive strikes against democracy, as in Algeria in 1990 by a U.S.-and French-backed military coup that plunged the country into a nine-year civil war, are not the way to nourish democracy.

Dr. S. Amjad Hussain is a retired Toledo surgeon whose column appears every other week in The Blade.

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