The pro-democracy crowd celebrating President Mohamed Morsi’s ouster in Cairo’s Tahrir Square unfurled a banner-a warning about Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) backing him. It read, “Wake up, America.” Hopefully, President Obama heeds it.
The road traveled to join the club of democratic nations is not always an easy one-sometimes involving detours, sometimes involving abandoning the journey altogether.
America has a responsibility to serve as a guiding light for such nations, but ineptness by the Obama Administration has dimmed its shine.
Five months after taking office in 2009, Obama was hit by a crisis in Honduras. Troops scaling the fence surrounding the presidential palace to take custody of its resident caused a rookie U.S. president quickly to call it a coup. It was not.
The Honduran president, overstaying his term in office, prompted both the legislature and judiciary, exercising their constitutional authority-a constitution the U.S. helped draft-declared the president’s actions unconstitutional. A judicial ruling authorized military force to seize the president and escort him out of the country.
Six months after being returned to office in 2013, Obama is hit with another crisis-this one in Egypt. Removed by the military, Morsi was replaced by a civilian judge until elections can be held. Quick to call the Honduran military’s actions a coup when it was not, Obama has yet to call the Egyptian military’s actions one, when it is.
A nation’s military, acting on its own initiative to topple its existing democratically elected government, is guilty of committing a “coup.” Club Democracy’s members are obligated to call it such. The African Union suspended Egypt’s membership within 24 hours of the coup, citing “unconstitutional government changes.”
Obama avoids the call due to the legal consequences of doing so.
If a coup, U.S. law requires financial aid be suspended. This impacts the $1.3 billion Egypt receives annually (most to the military wielding the power), absent a waiver of overriding U.S. national security interests. (Aid to Honduras was suspended in 2009.)
Morsi’s term in office lasted about as long as a one-year “Fruit-of-the-Month” subscription. With uncertainty playing out in Egyptian politics and the military’s role as king-maker/breaker, a similar moniker may soon attach to the office of president.
Who benefits most from Morsi’s fall? The disorganized pro-democracy crowds triggering Hosni Mubarak’s downfall two years earlier proved unable to unify in time to vote in their presidential candidate. Hopefully, they have learned from this, better understanding the art of compromise to present a united front in the next election. If so, they will be winners-although how big or how long will be determined by “Big Brother”—the military.
Morsi, while winning 51% of the vote, proved unable to compromise or get the message, “it is the economy, Stupid.” This, combined with diverting Egypt off the road to democracy and onto the road to autocracy, were contributors to his fall-ultimately triggered by the army’s concerns.
For decades, the military has been close to Egypt’s seat of power, gaining access to the country’s business sector. It is estimated its holdings are between 10%-30% of the economy. Public unrest over the past two years has sent the economy-and military profits-into a tailspin.
Egypt can ill afford war at this point. But recent comments by Morsi about jihad in Syria seemed to be leading there. His efforts to warm up to Iran-a leadership that successfully minimized its army’s role in favor of an armed force tethered to clerical control-was not viewed favorably. The Egyptian army decided Morsi-and his MB backers (whom Obama embraces although its leader remains banned from the U.S. for supporting violence against U.S. troops)-were loose cannons. The Egyptian people have come to realize this, although Obama has yet to do so.
The military is smart enough to recognize its inability to fix numerous domestic problems now facing Egypt. It prefers not to favor any particular presidential candidate for fear his subsequent failure to come up with a fix would reflect badly on it. This allows the people to elect their own president, thus playing a role in either his future success or failure. If the latter, there will be only themselves to blame.
The MB coalition and ultraconservative alliance of Islamists who won 70% of the Parliamentary seats last January proved inept at addressing the country’s economic woes. Time was wasted on outrageous issues such as how long after a wife’s death the husband could continue to have intercourse with the body. Introduced as the “farewell intercourse” law, it gave husbands a six hour “grace” period after her death!
Many factors will play into Egypt’s future, including whether the MB-having now been tossed aside-will resort back to violence to drive their agenda. Also, unexpected coalitions may arise to promote a surprise candidate. Initial indications are MB is not going down without a fight.
But as the economy worsens, it is clear Egyptians will have more sacrifices to make. It will be at least a year before a newly elected president and legislature can implement changes to try to improve conditions. It should be assumed, however, the people’s willingness to endure these sacrifices is short-fused. As such, the army may again be forced to step in, perhaps taking a more direct role in governing to quell public discord. After all, every day of instability is a day of business income lost by the military.
A video circulating of an Egyptian reporter’s interview with twelve-year old student Ali Ahmed is most telling. He gives an articulate, jaw-dropping condemnation of MB for its political Islam focus and lack of respect for women’s rights.
Listening to Ahmed, one can only ponder whether Obama is “smarter than a fifth grader?”
This article originally appeared at AIM.org and is reprinted here with permission.
Photo credit: terrellaftermath