Archive for July, 2013

Originally published in Rural Ruminations

Current events in Egypt represent a perfect example of contemporary Middle East reality.  Irrespective of these dynamics in Egypt, the practical question for us Americans is whether or not the White House and the Congress are able to understand those realities and create viable foreign policy for the region.  This is extremely important because, with both minor and major differences, events in Egypt are likely to repeat throughout the Middle East in the post Arab Spring era.

The root issue here is that there is virtually no practical experience in the Middle East with the conduct of democracy.  Our media currently rant and rave about the fact that Egypt’s President Morsi is “the first democratically elected President of Egypt”, implying that that designation is somehow vitally important.

And so he is the first.

The problem for Morsi and Eqypt is that “democratic elections” have little if anything to do with the ultimate pursuit of democracy in any given country.  For democratic elections to result in democratic practices, any given country has to already have the critical underpinnings of democracy which are: the active, unfettered participation of the people, as citizens in political and civic life; national and regional tolerance of pluralism; free and fair elections; the general and equal right to vote (one person, one vote); the rule of law – unbiased courts; a guarantee of basic human rights to every individual person vis a vis the state and its authorities as well as any social groups (especially religious institutions) and other persons; separation of powers: Executive, Legislative and Judicial; freedom of speech, opinion, press and religion; and, finally, good governance (focus on public interest and absence of corruption).

When those critical preconditions do not exist, there is no reason to expect a successful transition to liberal democracy.  How many such preconditions do you think exist in the Middle East?

In post-Mubarak Egypt there are only two entities that have any experience with leadership and governance – the Egyptian military and the Muslim Brotherhood.  Neither of those organizations represents anything “democratic”.  Further, today’s events indicate that there are vast numbers of Egyptians who support neither. They are the good folks on Tahrir Square.  The only thing they support is the fact that without the ongoing intervention of the military, they would have no hope of deposing Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.  A poll on July 3 indicated that 83% of Egyptians approved of the intervention of their military in the domestic affairs of their country!

Despite that, they know that they do not like governance by the Egyptian military – they tossed them out when the military assumed power after the downfall of Mubarak.  And they are perhaps even more nervous about the Muslim Brotherhood who seem to them not to have sufficiently taken into account their (democratic/secular?) goals in the process of governing Egypt for the past year.

The problem is that there is no cohesion within this “Tahrir” group.  What do they stand for?  Who are their leaders?  Do they agree on anything?  Just what do they want for the future of Egypt, of the Middle East and Islam?

And the fact is that we have no answer to those questions.  If Egypt is to move forward toward Democracy, they will have to find a way to democratic, secular coalitions that spring from the “Tahrir” movement.  So far, there has been no indication of cohesion other than that they oppose the only two groups that represent the theoretical ability to govern that country – the Brotherhood and the military.

And that’s not good enough.  Successful democratic governance cannot successfully rely on opposition to familiar former repressive governments.  It has to have positive motivation from its own ideals.  Without that, any so-called democratic movement is bound to fail.

So, where does that leave us?  You could say we are up a creek without a paddle. The fact is that there is almost nothing we can do to alter the dynamics of politics in Egypt and most of the rest of the Middle East. What will happen there will happen there.  There will almost certainly be a longish period of instability, but there will be little we can do to alter that.

Given our precarious economic situation and our discontent with our own foreign military interventions, it seems unlikely that we will successfully change anything.

Perhaps the best thing for us is to sit back and see where the Egyptians decide to go.  Ultimately, there will be self-determination.  It won’t be pretty, but there won’t be much we can do to change things.


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