By: Christopher Linnan Americans tend to have a rather idealized view of the world and how other people think. We often believe that other nations are composed of good and bad guys, with the former fighting for democracy and the latter fighting for totalitarian rule. This type of thinking landed us in futile wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and until very recently Iraq. Unfortunately, we don’t seem to have learned our lesson as many of our political leaders have called for us to help spread democracy in the Middle East. We see easily identifiable antagonists in President Assad’s regime in Syria, President Ahmadinejad in Iran, and until a short time ago President Mubarak in Egypt (who was an American ally until global popular opinion turned against him). As American citizens most, if not all of us will declare that we strongly believe in democracy, and that we should spare no cost to ensure it is implemented all around the globe. Alas, this is much more difficult in practice than many of our political leaders openly admit.
It is rather telling that Egypt, the face of the Arab Spring, has gradually become less democratic. One would think this would be a bigger issue to Americans since Egypt and the Arab Spring have dominated the headlines of our media for some time. Unfortunately, Egypt’s move away from democracy appears to have been lost in our 24 hour news cycle. Ashraf Khalil described the most recent Election Day in Egypt as “a thoroughly depressing affair -- one whose tone was seemingly set by a court ruling days before the vote that dissolved parliament on technical grounds and reverted legislative authority back to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).”[i] The original goal of SCAF was to be the transitional caretaker government after President Mubarak was ousted, but its close relationship to the former regime and desire to impose a more secular government on Egypt has led to the adoption of an aggressive political agenda. SCAF has undermined democracy by seizing control of the process of creating the constitution, attempting to regulate who can run for political office in Egypt, and in other ways as shown below.
The Egyptian presidential election had already been tainted by the Egyptian Supreme Court blocking multiple candidates from running. These candidates include hard-line Islamic candidates such as Hazem Abou Ismail who proposed turning Egypt into an Islamic society based on Sharia law. Ismail has also criticized the $1.6 billion dollars in aid that America sends to Egypt, which he sees as evidence of Western, read Israel’s and America’s, nefarious control of the Egyptian political process.[ii] Another prominent would-be presidential candidate, Khairat el-Shater, was banned from running for the presidency on the grounds that he had a criminal record. El-Shater’s criminal record consisted of a political arrest by the Mubarak regime,[iii] which must be judged as a very thin excuse for excluding someone from the democratic process.
Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, scored a narrow victory in the presidential elections, but he has already been undermined by further moves that have subverted Egyptian democracy. The Egyptian Supreme Court’s recent decision to dissolve parliament has been criticized by Foreign Policy’s Marc Lynch as “absurd, destructive, and essentially voids Egypt’s last year of politics of meaning.”[iv] Lynch points out that Egypt’s judiciary has essentially become part of the ruling military coalition and is doing everything in its power to preserve the type of state, read secular, that it would like to see.[v] Almost all major political decisions are made by SCAF which has “become a state within a state, with oversight of the political system and the constitutional process.”[vi]
The military and the courts are obviously afraid that true democracy will result in an Islamic state, and are doing everything in their power to subvert Islamists, most notably the Muslim Brotherhood. By definition, democracy means accepting the will of the majority, even if we find their vision of government to be repulsive. America’s responses to challenges to democracy in Egypt have been tentative at best, which is due to US anxiety about an Islamist government, and the potential threat it could pose to Israel.[vii] After the Egyptian Supreme Court ruled that new parliamentary elections had to be held on very dubious grounds our government timidly responded that these elections should be held as soon as possible.[viii] One should not forget that America’s initial response to the Egyptian uprising was fairly muted, and was most concerned with trying to find a caretaker government.[ix] President Mubarak largely played on American fears by responding to calls for him to resign by emphasizing that his dismissal would lead to the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood.[x] America eventually did step up its rhetoric on Mubarak to resign, but this was more of a product of domestic and global pressure. This article is not trying to argue that voting for the Muslim Brotherhood is a good idea. Frankly, if I were living in Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood rose to power I would strongly consider immigrating immediately. However, if we as Americans truly believe in democracy we have to recognize the will of the people, and we should avoid trying to impose our will, directly or indirectly on other people. The election of President Morsi is a step in the right direction, but we must remain vigilant to ensure true democracy is implemented in Egypt.
Christopher Linnan is a rising senior majoring in history. His chief interests are contemporary European and American politics. He is currently interning with the South Carolina Democratic Party in Columbia, South Carolina.
[i] Khalil, Ashraf. “Out with a Whimper.” Foreign Policy 18 June 2012, http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/06/18/out_with_a_whimper. Accessed 22 June 2012.
[ii] Feldman, Noah. “Egypt’s Shameful Election Bans May Save its Democracy.” Bloomberg 22 April 2012, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-04-22/egypt-s-shameful-election-bans-may-save-its-democracy.html . Accessed 24 June 2012.
[iv] Lynch, Marc. “That’s it for Egypt’s So-Called Transition.” Foreign Policy 14 June 2012, http://lynch.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/06/14/egypts_so_called_transition_canceled. Accessed 24 June 2012.
[vi] Bohn, Lauren, and Lister, Time. “How Egypt’s Generals Cut the Revolution Down to Size.” CNN World 20 June 2012, http://www.cnn.com/2012/06/19/world/egypt-revolution-election/index.html?iref=allsearch. Accessed 24 June 2012.
[vii] “Use Free Markets to Win Over Egypt’s Muslim Brothers.” Bloomberg 4 April 2012, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-04-04/use-free-markets-to-win-over-egypt-s-muslim-brothers.html. Accessed 24 June 2012.
[viii] “Mixed Message from US Aids Egyptian Coup.” Bloomberg 25 June 2012, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-06-19/mixed-message-from-u-s-aids-egyptian-coup.html, Accessed 25 June 2012.
[ix] Lizza, Ryan, “The Consequentionalist.” The New Yorker 2 May 2011, http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/05/02/110502fa_fact_lizza?currentPage=7, Accessed 25 June 2012.