With Morsi ouster, Egypt fails democracy test
In Egypt, former President Mohamed Morsi should have served until the next elections. Forced removal defeats the democratic gains made two years ago. If Morsi and Islamists are not allowed to feature somewhat prominently in a new government, they could be a dangerous element.
As the government of the Muslim Brotherhood faced rioting, chaos, and military intervention, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi must have asked himself, “Do I really want this job?” In some sense, the presidency was the political golden apple sought by the Brotherhood for nearly a century. Indeed, President Morsi had the distinction of being Egypt’s first democratically elected president ever. Now that prize has turned to ashes.Skip to next paragraph
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Many in the West might say “good riddance.” But you can’t dismiss the event that glibly. The arrival of the Brotherhood into top positions of power in Egypt was not a fluke, not an accident of history. Like it or not, Islamists of various stripes – moderate, radical, violent, peaceful, flexible, doctrinaire – have been at the heart of political opposition to entrenched, often Western-supported dictatorships across the Arab world. Their vision of political values is homegrown, stemming organically out of Islamic culture, not borrowed and grafted wholesale from the European Enlightenment.
In Islamic political thought, the quest for social justice as a reflection of God’s will ranks at the top of political values, along with the need for the ruler to consult with the people, and the requirement to enforce Islamic law. That latter stipulation, however, has been variously understood and applied in quite diverse ways over different times and places in Islamic history – and even today. Islamists have generally been respected as grassroots elements fighting against dictatorship; they have been jailed, tortured and killed for the cause. We should never be surprised when Islamists win elections after the fall of hated dictatorships. Islamists have long had moral authority on their side.
But in Cairo in 2012, they suddenly came to power, quite unprepared for the tasks of daily administration and without a cadre of experienced government bureaucrats. “Islam is the solution” had been their chief slogan over the decades. OK, that’s maybe a nice thought, but of course people demand to know more. What specific policies do you propose to meet a broad range of challenges? How will you implement them? In fairness to Mr. Morsi, the situation he inherited might have overwhelmed almost any possible president, particularly when urgent tasks could no longer be dealt with by mere fiat. In one sense he had ended up being the “accidental candidate” among Brotherhood leaders.
Sadly, in the first transition in Egyptian history in 2011 from dictatorship to democratic practice, the rules of the game were written as they went, and the learning curve – for the president, parliament, bureaucrats, political parties, the political opposition, police, army, and voters – is steep. Demonstrations and rioting cannot serve as the chief mechanism for transmitting the public’s policy preferences. Regrettably, this time, the entire spectrum of the Egyptian political opposition seemed happy to revert to extra-legal measures to bring change rather than work, for sure more slowly, through specified legitimate electoral channels.
And all parties to the game in the initial rush to power had cut deals and bargains and bent regulations and procedures in their own interests, inventing rules as they went along. Of course, opportunism is a familiar scene in all governance, even in the United States. But rarely have the stakes been so high, the public expectations so unrealistic, the tasks so urgent, the needs of the long-suffering public so pressing, as in Egypt. And what’s more, Morsi and his government, while hardly extreme or radical, could not bring convincing competence to his job.