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Opinion

Opinion

Opinion: After coup, can activists lead Egypt?

July 7, 2013

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The Arab Spring has come full circle.

Two years ago, huge crowds in Tahrir Square called for the removal of a military-backed dictator and for democratic elections. Today, opposition crowds in the same square are cheering the military’s ouster of an elected government. So much for the popular appeal of electoral democracy!

Opposition groups lay the blame for Egypt’s ongoing economic and state collapse at the feet of ousted President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood. The military has now put forward a road map for new elections, endorsed by the opposition.

But the failure, so far, of Egypt’s democratic experiment has causes that go beyond the mistakes of Morsi. Unless the opposition acts on these causes, and quickly, there will soon be new protests by disaffected Egyptians in Tahrir Square.

Let’s look first at Morsi’s errors. He never recognized that his narrow margin of victory made it essential for him to run an inclusive government. He won only a quarter of the votes in the first round of presidential elections, and only 50.7 percent in the final round. That slim victory had two causes: First — and this is crucial — the opposition couldn’t unite on a candidate in the first round, so its three different candidates split 75 percent of the ballots. Second, many non-Islamists voted for Morsi in the final round rather than cast a ballot for the military’s preferred candidate, Ahmed Shafiq.

Instead of recognizing the sharp division within the country — between Islamists and non-Islamists — Morsi acted as if he were entitled to ignore the wishes of the other half of the country. No doubt, the secretive and long-repressed Muslim Brotherhood movement saw its victory as ordained by God.

But, in its eagerness to do God’s will, the Brotherhood grabbed too fast at power, trying to gain control over every institution. It ran roughshod over Christian concerns about attacks by Islamists. It was so tone-deaf that it appointed as governor in Luxor a member of a former terrorist group-turned-political party that had once killed 60 tourists in that city.

Non-Islamists felt a whiff of a new authoritarianism. The government’s overeager effort to Islamicize society led to push-back; an inability to reform the economy, or provide security or jobs, led to widespread working-class anger. Newly empowered, thousands of frustrated Egyptians again headed for Tahrir Square.

But let’s look at the opposition, which also bears a large share of blame for Egypt’s troubles. The youth leaders who organized both Tahrir Square revolts have proven their talent at rallying millions. But they have been unable, or unwilling, to create a coherent political movement out of an opposition that includes liberals, leftists, former regime supporters, and some moderate and Salafi Islamist groups.

These disparate groups had little in common other than their opposition to Morsi. They undercut efforts by the Morsi government to reform the collapsing economy, while proposing no workable plan of their own.

Had the opposition united behind one candidate or political program, it might have defeated Morsi in presidential elections; it also might have bested Brotherhood candidates in parliamentary elections that Morsi had promised for this fall.

Instead, if new parliamentary elections were held tomorrow and the military allowed Islamist candidates to run, they might win again, because only they are politically organized. The splintered opposition has perfected the art of street politics, but hasn’t shown it can govern.

Nor is there any sign that the opposition contains leaders who could unite the country or fix its economy. The most popular opposition political figure, Hamdeen Sabahi, is an unreformed Nasserite socialist with economic ideas more appropriate to the 1960s. When I interviewed him in 2011, his rhetoric was much more anti-Western, anti-capitalist, and anti-Israeli than the Brotherhood’s.

As for the Nobel-winner and technocrat, Mohammed ElBaradei, who has been negotiating with the military, he is popular in the West but has little purchase on the Egyptian street.

Now that Morsi is gone, opposition groups can no longer hide behind anti-Islamism. They will have to up their game and prove that they have leaders with the ability to govern.

Those leaders will have to reach out to include Islamists in the political system, or risk bloody violence if they are excluded. Polls show that the non-Islamist opposition and Islamist parties each command around 30 percent of the electorate (while 40 percent are fed up with both sides).

And opposition activists will have to move beyond the politics of Tahrir Square and street protests, which won’t save Egypt from collapsing. Otherwise, demonstrators may be soon be demanding that they, too, leave the political scene.

—Trudy Rubin is a columnist and editorial-board member for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Comments

jhawkinsf 1 year, 5 months ago

Democracy is a process, something that takes years, even decades to develop. Look at the plight of women and minorities in our own democracy just a couple of years after it was implemented. Expecting Egypt's democracy to be the equal of western democracies after so short a time is expecting too much. Yes, the military coup was a step back, but there is still hope for the future. Give them some time while we support those who support democracy.

jafs 1 year, 5 months ago

I agree that we should support democracy, of course.

But, when a democratically elected president consolidates his power, and declares himself exempt from the checks and balances of his government, then what?

jhawkinsf 1 year, 5 months ago

Of course, we don't have to support every democratically elected regime. We may, at our choosing, exclude those that do not support the things we believe in.

I was listening to NPR today and they reported hundreds of assaults on women, some very severe, including gang rapes. These assaults were attributed to both the pro-Morsi crowds as well as the anti-Morsi crowds. I have no way of knowing to what extent each groups tolerates these types of assaults, but if we do make that determination, we are under no obligation to support either side, even if they happen to get more votes in any one election.

jafs 1 year, 5 months ago

Sure.

That's an easier example - our concern for human rights can trump our support of democratically elected governments, and doesn't mean we don't really support democracy.

What about a democratically elected socialist government, though? If we really support democracy, then we should support that choice, right? Or a government that doesn't like us much and doesn't want to trade with us. Etc.

I think that we actually don't support democracy so much as supporting governments that we find friendly - we don't seem to have any trouble with Saudi Arabia, which has a brutal dictatorial royal family, for example. But, we don't like those socialists and communists much, even if popularly elected.

jhawkinsf 1 year, 5 months ago

When I think of the subject of which countries we ought to be friendly with, which countries should we support, which countries should we trade with, and how we make that determination, I think of the serenity prayer. To paraphrase, it's to change the things we can, accept those that we cannot, and the wisdom to know the difference. Can we change (influence) Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Russia, China? The answers to each might be different, creating an inconsistent foreign policy. That might be because with one country, we have determined we can influence their decisions while with another, we might just be accepting the fact that we cannot change them. Hopefully, we're electing leaders with the wisdom needed make these determinations.

jafs 1 year, 5 months ago

What explains our friendly relationship with Saudi Arabia? The government isn't democratically elected, and it's brutal. And, not particularly open to our influence, as far as I can tell.

While I might also hope that, I see little evidence that it's the case.

If we were honest, I think we'd have to drop our "freedom and democracy" rhetoric, and admit that we support governments friendly to us, and oppose ones that aren't, regardless of democracy/human rights/etc.

jhawkinsf 1 year, 5 months ago

What explains our relationship with Saudi Arabia? Perhaps the assessment has been made that a withdrawal of support would lead to an even worse situation. Saudi Arabia presents a pretty unique situation, as home to significant oil reserves, but also as the religious center of Islam. A stable Saudi Arabia, even if it is brutal in some ways, prevents various Muslim groups from battling amongst themselves around the world. Maybe. That's just one possible explanation among many, and just a quick guess on my part.

What is more telling though is that many U.S. administrations representing some pretty different ideas have all come to the same assessment, that it's in our best interests to have friendly relations with Saudi Arabia, despite their flaws. When Obama comes to the same conclusion as Bush did, as did Clinton and Bush Sr., and Reagan and Carter, then at some point perhaps it's best to trust their collective wisdom.

jafs 1 year, 5 months ago

That's a pretty easy and glib acceptance of a brutal dictatorial government, and the violence it inflicts on people living there.

As far as "trusting the collective wisdom" of a bunch of politicians, I say "No thank you!"

It may be in our own best interests, if defined in certain ways, but that doesn't mean it's ethical or correct.

jhawkinsf 1 year, 5 months ago

Those politicians you're speaking of had the best and brightest advisors that could possibly be assembled. They have information I don't have and information I could spend a lifetime trying to assemble, yet still not have as much as they have. Experience, the same. Insight too.

Here's the deal, Jafs, if I could assemble in one room all those politicians and their advisors, and they determined a policy towards a country like Saudi Arabia, and they all had a pretty consistent policy, would I trust their collective wisdom or would I trust you, who I really know very little about your experience, education, insight, etc., whom would I trust? The answer is clearly them. Take no offense, though, I would trust their judgement over my own as well, specifically because I know they have more experience, insight, etc.

jafs 1 year, 5 months ago

That's fine.

I think you're much too willing to give up your own ability to make good judgements about the world we live in, and too trusting of politicians.

Remember, these are the same guys that did stuff like sex in the white house with an intern, etc. They're all just human beings, and fallible. In addition, those in politics have a certain agenda and worldview that I may not share.

It's in my own best interests to steal somebody else's money, if I can get away with it. But, that doesn't make it right. The question for me is the moral underpinning of our foreign policy, and I have to conclude that there isn't much of one at all.

Do you similarly trust our own city commission to make the best/right decisions? How about the state government at this time?

jhawkinsf 1 year, 5 months ago

Let me ask you this, Jafs. Suppose you went to a doctor, say his name was Dr. Obama. He tells you that you have inoperable cancer and that you're unlikely to live longer than six months. Certainly not news you'd like to hear. A responsible person would likely seek a second opinion, which you do. So you go to Dr. Bush and he tells you essentially the same thing. Again, this is a big deal, so you seek out the advice of Dr. Clinton. Again, the same prognosis. Desperate, you seek the advice of doctors Bush, Reagan and Carter. The same prognosis. Now you seek out doctors Ford, Nixon, Johnson and Kennedy. All give you the same prognosis.

I understand you may not like what they say, but what was once a healthy dose of skepticism, something that leads you to a second opinion has become a rather unhealthy case of denial. These doctors know more about medicine than you'll ever know.

We were discussing Saudi Arabia, a country led by a monarchy that has had the support of the U.S. for ... how long? Which President's administration didn't support the Saudi regime? If it was just Obama, maybe. If it was just Democrats or just Republicans, maybe. But the reality, Jafs is that Saudi Arabia has received widespread support from doctors Obama, Bush, Clinton .... er, I mean Presidents. Your healthy skepticism has become unhealthy denial.

jafs 1 year, 5 months ago

It's not a good analogy - politicians aren't doctors.

And, you don't address my point at all, which is that supporting brutal regimes isn't morally justifiable, even if it's in our own "best interests", as defined by politicians.

It also isn't in our own best interests in that it provides fuel for anti-American sentiment and activity around the world.

And, it's clearly inconsistent, and makes our claimed concern with "human rights" hypocritical, since we only seem to care about that when it's convenient or useful for us.

But, keep trusting those politicians - I'm sure that will lead to good things.

Are you aware of the study that was done about authority figures in which people were told to inflict pain on subjects, and did even though the subjects were openly suffering? It was done twice with consistent results, separated by a number of years. The tendency to trust and obey authority figures is disturbing to me, especially when one's own experience/values would tell you not to do it.

I bet you were raised to "respect" authority.

jhawkinsf 1 year, 5 months ago

You keep saying "politician" while I keep saying entire teams of foreign policy experts. Why are you completely ignoring that obvious difference? And when I compared several doctors, it was to several teams of foreign policy experts, each brought into Washington by different administrations with very different agendas, yet they all came to the same conclusion?

I once had a teacher tell me that 2+2=4. Then I had another tell me the same thing. Then another and another. Then ten more. Whether I respect authority figures or not, 2+2=4, no matter what. O.K. so foreign policy makers isn't like math, where the answer is clear and obvious. If one expert, or one team of experts said something, they may be wrong. They may have a hidden agenda. But multiple teams, representing multiple perspectives, over multiple decades and a pattern emerges that becomes undeniable.

jafs 1 year, 5 months ago

It's another terrible analogy - math, as you say, has clear and obvious answers.

And, it's internally consistent, and once one knows the relevant rules, one can find out the answer by oneself, without having to rely on authority figures or faith.

By the way, 2+2 doesn't equal 4 in some number systems, for example base 3, in which it equals 11. I know that because I can use the rules and get the correct answer, not because somebody told me so.

How is it morally justifiable to support brutal regimes that violate their citizens' basic human rights?

Another analogy - let's say that the SC voted unanimously that it was perfectly acceptable for the federal government to come into any citizen's house and kill them. Would you defer to their greater knowledge/expertise or form your own opinion?

jhawkinsf 1 year, 5 months ago

You consistently ignore the obvious, Jafs, because you simply don't like the conclusion. If one expert says something, he may or may not be correct, though he's more likely to be correct than a non-expert. When two experts agree, it's even more likely to be correct. As the numbers of experts agree, the probability of them being correct goes higher and higher. Let's not forget, that during all these years of support, with each successive administration coming to the same conclusions, Congress was granting aid, trade benefits, etc., again, based partially with the assistance of armies of their own experts, spanning decades. On the other side of that equation, we have you. What exactly is your expertise?

How is it morally justifiable to support brutal regimes? You mean like supporting Stalin's Soviet forces as they helped us fight the Nazis? In a perfect world, we wouldn't support brutal regimes. We don't live in that perfect world. Sometimes, we support brutality because the alternative is worse. And as a result of that lack of perfection, we even make mistakes and miscalculations. We've got to be willing to take that chance because if we don't, even worse things might happen, like even more Americans dying in WW II if we don't support Stalin.

Richard Heckler 1 year, 5 months ago

The return to a military dictator will produce the same results as before.......

Democracy is not truly available in the USA yet the USA government claims that is the USA objective in Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan,Yemen,Pakistan,Iran and all of the other locations our government has sent troops.

In reality this seems like the objective.

"Rebuilding America's Defences," openly advocates for total global military domination” (Very dangerous position which threatens OUR freedoms and the nations security) http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Project_for_the_New_American_Century

jafs 1 year, 5 months ago

I notice you didn't answer the question, so I'll have to assume that you'd defer to the SC, and their "expertise", in such a case.

Personally, I wouldn't do that - I'm confident in my own ability to think about these issues.

But hey, it doesn't matter - it's not like deferring to "experts" and politicians has any real world consequences - oh wait a minute, it does.

What evidence do you have that the Saudi regime is analogous to Stalin's army in WWII and that we're preventing more American deaths by supporting them? And, there's a clear difference between joining forces in war to fight against a common enemy, and supporting a brutal dictatorial government for years on end without any justification.

Also, of course, the "enemy of my enemy is my friend" thinking is clearly flawed, since shortly after WWII, Russia became our new enemy.

Here's an interesting moral dilemma for you - what if reducing our support for brutal regimes did in fact decrease our security in some sort of intangible way? Does that justify supporting regimes that torture and kill their citizens? Is it that American security is more important than the lives of people in other countries? Is an American life worth more than a Saudi Arabian one?

Finally, if we're going to make those sorts of determinations, and simply act in whatever way we think is in our own best interests, then we should drop the pretense, and admit it, instead of pretending we actually care about human rights, democracy, etc.

jhawkinsf 1 year, 5 months ago

Under what theory in law would the Supreme Court make such a ruling?

You say the Saudi regime has been brutal. How so? And to what extent?

The Saudi regime sits in a unique place in the Muslim world. It's not just a monarchy of a land. It's the caretakers of some of the most holy sites of Islam, the cities of Mecca and Medina. As such, they are charged with keeping the peace in those lands when various Muslim groups fight against each other throughout the world. We've seen a war between Iraq and Iran that had a million casualties. In many ways, that war was between Sunni and Shiite, secular Islam and religious Islam. How does that compare with what is going on in Saudi Arabia. Currently factions in Syria are fighting with large scale casualties. How does that compare with the brutality happening in Saudi Arabia.

Suppose I said that if the monarchy fell, and the resulting power grab by various factions caused violence from North Africa to Indonesia would result in tens of millions of deaths but suppose I said the chances of that were relatively small, say 10%. Suppose violence did break out with fighting for Mecca and Medina, and that violence spread to another Muslim holy city, Jerusalem, what are the consequences of such a spread. While the chances of it happening are small, the consequences are so severe, we really need to guard against such an occurrence.

You mention one dead Saudi and one dead American. Jafs, our policy experts have had to deal with situations where millions died. They deal with the possibility of millions more dying in some worst case scenarios. I recall during the Cuban missile crisis, an American pilot was shot down. Our forces were staring eye to eye with the Soviets. Millions of lives hung in the balance. Neither JFK nor Khrushchev launched their huge arsenals of weapons. The reason you are alive today is because they saw the bigger picture and not the one pilot. Maybe the reason millions are alive throughout the Muslim world is because the Saudi regime has kept a lid on the brewing hatred the factions feel for each other. And if their brutality has been the cost, it was an assessment made by thousands of American foreign policy experts made.

Again, if the world were perfect, none of this conversation would be necessary. But our world has never been perfect and one guy in Lawrence dreaming of such perfection ain't gonna make it so.

jafs 1 year, 5 months ago

What difference does that make? They're the experts, right?

You can either trust the consensus of experts, or question it - I prefer the latter course. When you say we have a consensus of experts in foreign policy, and that we should trust them, that leads logically to trusting the SC, especially in a unanimous decision. So I bring up a unanimous SC decision for you, and ask the question.

I'll answer your question if you answer mine - what's your evidence?

For me, there's a very clear difference between warring factions, and brutal dictatorships that violate human rights of citizens. If people want to fight, that's their business. But, when a government routinely harms their citizens, that's a different story.

Ah, of course - there's an Israel connection. I should have known. You'd justify just about anything in your quest to protect Israel.

I didn't mean "one" life, I was using it as an example. Are 1 million American lives more valuable than 1 million Saudi lives?

I don't think that America should be in the business of justifying brutality around the world, and it's pretty clear to me that it doesn't actually make us safer.

But, I get it now - this is a continuation of your "control" policies regarding Israel and various threats. We have a fundamental disagreement about that. I am much less interested in America controlling various things around the world, and especially not interested in justifying brutality while doing that.

And, again, if we're going to do that, we ought to drop our pretense of caring about human rights/etc. and own up to it - say honestly that we really are just pursuing our own interests without regard for those concerns.

jhawkinsf 1 year, 5 months ago

The Israel connection, Hmmm. Things have a way of spiraling out of control in unanticipated ways. Think WW I. Some Archduke gets shot by some anarchist and the next thing you know, tens of millions are dead. Think Syria. Lebanon has been drawn in. Turkey also. Jordan, too. Iran supports one faction. Will a nuclear power be drawn in, leading to tens of millions of deaths? Is it in our interest to avoid that? Think Kuwait. Iraq invades. We, along with others respond. Iraq tries to draw into the fight a hated enemy, despite them being a nuclear power. Again, is it in our best interests to limit the conflict or should we roll the dice and allow that nuclear power a right of retaliation, again, with tens of millions of dead. Whether you support Israel or not, we have an interest in seeing that things don't spiral out of control, as they have in the past. Tens of millions of lives depend on it. We have an interest in China not renewing hostilities with India, India with Pakistan, Pakistan with whomever. We have an interest in things not spiraling out of control. In that region, the region you chose to discuss, Israel is a part of that. Pick another region if you choose and I will tell you substantially the same thing, that we have an interest in keeping things from spiraling out of control resulting in millions of deaths. We've already seen that and I'd rather not see it again. You seem somewhat uninterested in those extreme possibilities. Let them fight? Really. When the nuclear fallout comes, it won't respect our border. When the violence spills over, and it will, it won't respect our border. Heck, no one respects our borders now. What makes you think they will in the future?

You've said the city should hire more inspectors (experts) to inspect rental units. Yes, Jafs, you do defer to experts. Social Services, yes. Law enforcement, no. Health Dept., yes. Defense Dept., no. IRS, yes if they're delaying Tea Party applications, no if they're allowing businesses though major loopholes. The fact is, if the experts support your preconceived notions, then we should listen to them. If they don't support your preconceived notions, then they should be looked at with suspicion. Isn't that closer to the truth?

jafs 1 year, 5 months ago

I'll stop here, since I now understand your view, and we've had this conversation before.

I use my own judgement, and don't generally "defer" to experts, both in my own life and in my political views. There are those with more information than I have, in specific areas, like auto mechanics, plumbers, doctors, etc. I try to find professionals that are good, competent and fairly priced - that takes a lot of research. And, then, once I find them, I have good relationships with them that involve using their expertise. But, I also make sure to understand what they're recommending and why, and if it doesn't make sense to me, I won't just go along with it.

I never willingly give up my ability to think about things, and make good decisions. Well, almost never - I was frightened by a specialist once into having an MRI, and then taking steroids, both of which were extremely unpleasant and, I believe in retrospect, possibly unnecessary. I won't make that mistake again.

If city inspectors said that a landlord needed to do major cosmetic renovations in order to provide a safe living environment for tenants, I would seriously question that. Or, if they said it was fine to have faulty electrical wiring near water in the basement, I would also seriously question it.

You can do whatever you like in this regard - I'm nobody special, and have little to no influence on others. But, I am concerned about the amount of deference to authority most people seem to exhibit. And, it's particularly troubling when combined with a lot of secrecy and "national security" claims that average citizens aren't allowed to evaluate, because of classified information.

And, my ideas aren't "preconceived notions", they're conclusions I've come to over years of thinking about these issues and analyzing arguments from many different sides, as well as using my own experience as a guide.

But, I will agree that the possibility of nuclear wars is very frightening - it's been that way for many years now, since we developed those weapons, and it's not any less frightening now than before, perhaps more so. And, we all react to things like this in different ways.

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