Based on my four years in the Middle East -- two years in Turkey, two years in the United Arab Emirates, and one trip to Egypt, here are my observations on the coup or second revolution in Egypt and its implications for the region:
To a right-wing friend who claims the Obama Administration supported, and still supports, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, against the will of the majority of the Egyptian people, I wrote:
The ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt was unlikely to have happened without a green light from the Obama administration. The US has for more than 30 years given a billion+ dollars a year to Egypt, mainly so it will keep the peace with Israel. With that kind of $$$ leverage, it's not credible to assert that the Obama administration still supports the Muslim Brotherhood, and could not tell the Egyptian military the US would cut off aid if a coup ensued. The Egyptian military obviously had the US government's permission to topple Morsi. See this NYT article for details of the communication between Morsi, the Egyptian military and the Obama administration in the days leading up to Morsi's ouster.
To a left-wing friend who criticizes the US for supporting (he charges) the military coup in Egypt against a democratically-elected leader, I ask, "What choice did we have? Morsi was a disaster for Egypt in so many ways. Leaving him in power would have led to civil war." To the charge that we are now supporting military dictatorship in Egypt, I reply:
The $1.3B we give to Egypt, I believe, is a legacy of the 1979 Camp David Accords, an "incentive" to get Egypt to make peace with Israel. And a legacy of the Cold War, to "encourage" Egypt to look westward rather than to the USSR, which it flirted with for a time. Nowadays, Egypt depends on that money -- it is the country's single greatest source of income. Tourism is second, and that revenue is currently down the crapper. Yes, we may have created a monster by giving so much largesse to the Egyptian military, but was not the alternative to accept Egypt as perpetual enemy of Israel?
I agree one lesson some Islamists learn from Morsi's ouster may be that democracy will not work for them...although for the most part, it has worked for the Islamists in Turkey, who've been in power for 10 years and counting. To be successful, Islamists (like any other successful political faction) have to embrace a certain amount of moderation, compromise and commit to their country's economic growth.
Is Turkey a model for Egypt? Yes and no. The Turkish military's long history of intervention in politics -- protector of secularism when the political leadership moved too far in a sectarian direction -- three hard coups and two soft coups since 1960 -- did damage Turkey's body politic. It created long-term distrust, political paranoia, and widespread belief in conspiracy theories. But Prime Minister Erdogan and his AKP Party have finally reigned in the military and put a stop to the military coups. The remaining damage this history of military coups has done in Turkey has been to hobble or cripple the development of strong opposition parties, a fully free opposition press, and a liberal respect for dissent. Instead of pragmatically building majority coalitions to win the next election, the opposition in Turkey has too often until recently supported military intervention. This, in turn, causes the party in power to equate dissent with disloyalty and sedition.The challenge for Egypt in the foreseeable future is to rebuild the economy with a coalition government that wins support of a majority of the people. And to allow the free formation of opposition factions or parties that advocate for the interests of those who feel left out of the coalition.
To a right-wing friend who agrees with NYT columnist David Brooks' assertion that Egyptians lack the "cognitive abilities" and "basic mental ingredients" to participate in democracy, I wrote:
The Muslim Brotherhood base represents probably 20% of the Egyptian population. They may be ideologically opposed to coalition-based democracy and compromise, which explains why they failed at democracy. That doesn't mean that the remaining 80% of the Egyptian population is incapable of democracy. I quoted David Siroti who nailed Brooks' bigoted statement in a Salon column: "A country and culture of 82 million is having a difficult time transitioning to democracy not because it has been repressed for decades, and not because it has few well-established democratic institutions, but instead because the people inherently don’t possess the cognitive (“mental”) capacity for self-governance?
"To know this is some hardcore bigotry, just imagine saying the same thing about another demographic subgroup. Imagine, for instance, if Brooks said cities with large minority populations in the United States were facing corruption problems and blight because those minorities “lack even the basic mental ingredients” for better governance. It would be universally — and rightly — denounced as wildly racist by everyone other than white supremacists."
To a left-wing friend who asks what the consequences of Morsi's removal are, I reply:
Possibly positive: If elections are held within six months, and the Muslim Brotherhood is allowed to participate in the election, and they are fairly repudiated at the polls, they cannot claim that they had the support of the people of Egypt....The repudiation of the Muslim Brotherhood could have regional consequences. Fatah in Palestine is calling on the people of Gaza to repudiate Hamas in the same way that the Egyptians have repudiated the Muslim Brotherhood.
Possibly negative: The Muslim Brotherhood wins the propaganda war with its base, who permanently give up on democracy, become completely radicalized, and launch violent attacks throughout the region. Civil war ensues for years in Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Libya, and elsewhere.
- Egyptian Army Can Choose Turkish or Algerian Path by Omar Ashour, an Egyptian citizen, and senior lecturer in security studies and Middle East politics at the University of Exeter. He is also a nonresident fellow at the Brookings Doha Center and author of “The De-Radicalization of Jihadists: Transforming Armed Islamist Movements.”