Democracy and Egypt


The massacre of protestors in Egypt the other day was a terribly sad event, not just for the people involved but for the whole idea of Arab democracy. I’ve always thought that true democracy happens not when a leader is popularly elected, but when that leader voluntarily and peacefully steps aside for his or her successor. This has yet to happen in most (any?) of the Arab Spring revolutions. And it is perhaps the greatest gift that George Washington gave the world. He could easily have been President for life.

I don’t know Egyptian politics very well. I was lucky enough to have a relative there during the first dramatic wave of protests that ousted Mubarak. From what I can see, it seems like the only possibility for any peaceful transition back to democratic civilian rule is a parliamentary system with significant checks and balances. The military coup – and, diplomatic weasel-words aside, that’s what it was – was perhaps brought about by Morsi’s over-reaching his mandate to push a Muslim Brotherhood agenda that a lot of the public disliked, and that the Army clearly thought was intolerable.

Then, ham-handed attempts to disperse protestors (why was that thought necessary?) were poorly done. If Mubarak had been as repressive, we might have had a much more violent revolution. Surely there must be people in the military who had more experience or training with civilian riot control?

It’s hard to see how this can be resolved. If the US threatens to cut off financial aid because of the coup, they risk alienating both the military rulers and the general public. Worse, the aid might be replaced by money from groups that are hostile to the US – perhaps the Arabian peninsula fundamentalists. Not sure if Iran would support Sunni groups, but they might just to make mischief.

The best hope might be for the military to open some quiet, back-channel talks with all political parties, with perhaps a few US or European (Japanese? No colonial resentments there) moderators to help. The goal would be to build a new constitution that would allow political participation by all groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, but with strong limits on executive power.

UPDATE on 8/16/13 (the next morning)
The NYT has published an opinion piece by a former official in the Morsi government. His position is for a return to status quo ante – a restoration of the Morsi government.
I doubt that is likely to happen, but it’s a good starting point for negotiation.
One interesting tidbit – he writes that “Gulf sheikdoms” financed the coup. Perhaps not wanting the example of a popularly elected Islamic party? Like I said before, I don’t know much about Egyptian or middle eastern politics.

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