Egypt

July 5, 2013

Great. A coup in the largest Arab country.

I have to say something about this. T. M. Luhrmann will have to wait till next week.

In general I am opposed to the overthrow of elected governments by armed force. I do not make exceptions for governments that happen to adhere to belief systems that I dislike, religious or secular. I never liked it when the U. S. tolerated or (more probably, in some cases at least) instigated the overthrow of governments to save this or that country from Communism (Arbenz Guzman, Mossadegh, Allende). And I don’t want us tolerating (much less instigating) the overthrow of governments to save this or that country from whatever happens to be the religion of the majority of the people there, even if it’s our current bugbear Islam.

I will make an exception if there is a credible showing that the government in question, however lawfully elected, has begun behaving in a way that threatens to subvert the political process and indicates an unwillingness to be voted out of office in turn if the people so choose.

I am not at all sure that Morsi had crossed that line. It is clear though that large numbers of Egyptians had come to believe that he had or would. And in a nascent democracy, a country where the idea (a fortiori the actual habit) of government by consent and consultation has had only a year or so to take root, I am sympathetic to the idea that the people are entitled to decide a wrong turn has been taken, and demand a reboot.

What is not clear is whether this sentiment represents the majority, and the only way to tell is to have a new round of honest elections in which the party that was overthrown is allowed to compete fairly.

If the new regime keeps its word, arranges for transparent elections in the very near future, lets civilians run the country in the interim and is prepared to accept the outcome of the elections even if the Brotherhood gets back in, then all may be well. Reported arrests of Brotherhood leaders however are a bad sign. The danger is that the country will slip back into the dynamic that has plagued the region for decades, in which military dictatorship and religious fundamentalism are seen as the only alternatives, and well-meaning reasonable people feel compelled to support the atrocities of one side or the other.

As of now, I am cautiously optimistic. At least the number of people willing to go out into the streets and demand a third way, a liberal democratic alternative, is heartening. If the military is willing to trust this new movement, and the more moderate (or at least realistic) of the Islamists are willing to continue trying to develop a way of participating honestly in such a system, all may be well.

(Then there’s the question of how whatever happens in Egypt will impact Turkey, where competitive elections have been around for a while but the military has often shown a hair-trigger response to the threat of Islamic reaction…)

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