Posted on 15-08-2013
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Last year I commented that the Egyptian alliance appeared to have run its course.  Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood have since been toppled in the coup that we dare not call a coup, but the same sentiment holds true.  Once again in the Middle East we are faced with the ugly reality that elections do not constitute democracy.

Morsi was popularly elected and the Muslim Brotherhood in large part because of Pharoah Mubarak’s policies was the largest political grouping in Egypt.  But he was a thin skinned leader who was intolerant of dissent and like other majoritarian ballot box despots like Hugo Chavez had little regard for the minority groupings.  Worse he mismanaged Egypt’s economy (though conspiracy theories about the role of Mubarak supporters abound).  By the time he was toppled the public mood had changed.

Yet the coup in all but its name left America in a precarious situation.  Having belatedly supported the Democratic transition from Mubarak, the Obama administration twisted itself in loops trying to support an elected if authoritarian and incompetent government but trying not to trigger the ban on American aid required by law after a coup.  The result satisfied nobody on the Egyptian street.  The anti-Brotherhood supporters were outraged that Obama appeared to support Morsi.  The Brotherhood who did not believe in democracy to begin with was outraged that the rules of electoral legitimacy don’t apply to them and took to the street.

The result has been violence and distressing signs of early 1990s Algeria (where the army voided an Islamist election victory resulting in years of turmoil and violence).  The Egyptian army which never cared for the Brotherhood to begin with has been extremely hamfisted and brutal in clearing the street.  Hundreds were killed in yesterday’s assault on the protestors camps.  Nobel Laureate and Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei resigned in protest after the crackdown.

The army’s actions highlight once again just how little leverage the United States has in the region and how absurd it is for the United States to twist itself into knots over trying to preserve an aid package it appears the Egyptian establishment does not care about.  Trying to have it both ways once again leaves America exposed to charges of hypocrisy – i.e. we don’t care about bloodshed as long as it is our guys doing the shooting.

At this point it is time to stop the ridiculous tap dance about the coup and acknowledge it as such.  Egypt’s army may have a point that the Brotherhood is not willing for talks, but that is no justification for the bloodbath it unleashed.  The Arab Spring continues its bloody turn and once again highlights the importance in institutions and respect for the rule of law (even by the rulers) in keeping a democracy functional.  Just as important is time and patience to get these established.  On all these points, Egypt has failed.  And so Egypt bleeds.

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