Dilemma of Egypt: Islamists or Generals ?
By Cagri Cobanoglu – a foreign news editor of Akşam – a national Turkish daily.
When the army overthrew Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi, it was not denounced by the West as it would be if it had happened in a country which is less critical of foreign powers.
Some tried to justify the military intervention because of Morsi’s new constitution which is seen as a step to impose a shariah state by secular parts of the society.
Seculars were worried that women would be put in a secondary class citizen position as a consequence of law which refers to Islamic rules.
From that point, secular, liberal and leftists groups had every right to fight against Morsi. Protests against Muslim Brotherhood were taken for months. Many said this would be the second Egyptian revolution following the overthrown of Husnu Mubarek.
However, the army benefited from protests and used it as an opportunity to expel Morsi and to get power.
Some still maintain that Morsi’s actions gave an excuse to the army to make the coup. Morsi’s misktakes are obvious. However, anti-Morsi groups missed the point that the Egyptian army was the biggest threat to Egyptian progressive forces.
Egypt’s army is not a pro-democracy institution. During almost 30 years of Mubarak era, it was the same army who helped the dictator to oppress its people and today it is killing peaceful protesters again.
Building democracy cannot be achieved by military intervention. Egypt is on the beginning of democratisation process and it is not reasonable to expect Egypt to reach a Western-style democracy in a day.
The West has walked a long path before building a democracy. In this long path, there had been massacres, genocides, religion wars, world wars. The Islamic world has not experienced what the West has and, in comparison with the democratic system in Western world, Egypt is like a baby who tries to take his or her first steps; you can’t expect her to start running.
Gay rights and coup
Democracy itself is a way of ruling that needs to adapt itself to new standards. Britain and France recognised gay marriage lately but there are many European countries who do not yet accept it. Probably, a hundred years later from today, people would see the ban on gay marriage as similar to the ban on women’s right to vote which existed until almost first half of 20th century in Europe.
I haven’t heard any comment which defends a military intervention in a European country to improve gay rights. Then how can anyone hope that a military intervention in Egypt will improve Egyptian democracy? Democracy should be earned by people not forcibly implemented by an upper hand.
The West has been reluctant to openly stand against the coup in Egypt. The UN Security Council has not condemned it. USA and the EU has accused both sides of causing violence.
While examining the approach of the West, Egypt’s geo-strategic position should not be forgotten. The Egyptian army has been funded by USA for decades and it is still. Egypt is one of the countries with the biggest military aid from USA. It is not hard to tell that Egyptian army is dependent on USA.
US government refrained from calling the military intervention ‘a coup’. If they define it so, they have to end military aid of $1.5 billion to Egypt. The only reaction US President Barack Obama showed was to cancel a joint drill with Egyptian army.
Not only USA but also some of its biggest partners in the Middle East, like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait and United Arab Emirates (UAE) are openly supporting military rule of Egypt.
Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait have pledged more than $12 billion in aid to Egypt following the ouster of Morsi. Bahrain has voiced support for the deadly assault on Morsi’s supporters, saying it was the state’s duty to restore order. These three countries are oppressive regimes. In Saudi Arabia, women are not even allowed to drive. Bahrain, which is ruled by same family since 1783, crushed its own citizens who protested for rights and freedom. They want to keep the status quo in the region and are against any sign of change. As oppressive regimes, the Gulf monarchies’ support for Egyptian junta is in harmony with their own regimes, and far removed from the approach of Western democracies.
Egypt is also neighbouring Gaza. Hamas rule in Gaza derives from the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Israel would not want an Egypt which is ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood. Israel is the biggest strategic asset for USA in the Middle East so this is another factor explaining Washington’s reluctance to denounce the coup.
Neither Morsi nor Sisi
In the middle of all these power games, it is not easy to foresee Egypt’s future. Foreign powers look after their own interests. The Muslim Brotherhood’s aim is to get power back, and it is Egypt’s secular, liberal and leftist people that have the hardest decision to make. They are not happy with Muslim Brotherhood but they would not want a puppet government imposed by foreign actors.
Secular-liberal-left wing Egyptians’ new slogan in their latest protests is ‘neither sharia nor coup, neither Morsi, nor Sisi.’ However, to make this choice, they have to return to the streets against the junta in large crowds as they did against Mubarak. Following the coup, they were in Tahrir Square to celebrate the fall of Morsi. Now they need to show their opposition to the military rule if they have a disagreement with the junta.
Their silence against the junta would be understandable to a point before the junta government started massacring peaceful protesters but now there is no excuse not to chant ‘No to the coup’ in Tahrir.
Lessons for Islamists
This process Egypt has experienced has brought some lessons for the Muslim Brotherhood specifically and Islamist groups generally. Islamists have to understand their way of life is not for everyone.
If you impose it on people, you can get reactions which would take the country to a bloodshed. The Egyptian army’s wrongdoings do not make Muslim Brotherhood’s policies right.
The article is a personal opinion.