Past is Present: A Return to Blogging… and Protests in Egypt

Many things have come and gone since I last posted here, but the sad situation in Egypt cries out for a counterpoint to the crazed reporting in the media.

Any reader will be familiar with the Arab Spring and how Egypt chose to open itself up to democracy. Democracy is a terrifying thing. One cannot blame one man or group of leaders for the failures of a democracy; ultimately all citizens are responsible, and the power that accompanies that responsibility can certainly be used in ways that are inamicable to the future of the nation. That has happened in Egypt since Morsi took control of the government, and the corrective action of the Egyptian military draws far too much criticism that focuses on the human cost of that action while missing the future that Egypt can again strive for.

President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood won the election in Egypt. Barely and not well, but he did win it. That was followed by a long string of incompetent government and attempting to use the electoral results as a platform to bludgeon all opposition to the Brotherhood’s march to create their vision of an Islamist Egypt. A vision that most Egyptians do not endorse. A vision that leaves little room for Egypt’s eight million Coptic Christians or the individual dignity that Egyptians protested Hosni Mubarak out of office for is not a vision that is good for the nation.

I have to personally admit feeling a good bit of buyer’s remorse after my support for democracy in Egypt was succeeded by watching the Brotherhood mismanage the nation and trample across the dream of a secular, democratic Egypt of laws and personal liberty. I hoped that Egypt would save itself from continuing upon the path the Brotherhood set, but I did not see how that would happen without another uprising. Then July came and the military, responding to and backed by the Egyptian people, removed Morsi and the Brotherhood from power. I was as pleased as anyone. However, nothing in politics is simple.

The military should never have been put in the position it has been. Opposition to the Brotherhood version of Egypt should have managed to organize itself politically and remove Morsi through the ballot box. However, they did not and the military stepped in. Departing from the democratic process is never good, but I am prepared to admit that it may occasionally be necessary. What happened happened. Egypt needs to move on to Democracy in Egypt 2.0, preferably without the rest of the world spending its time decrying the departure from the democratic process to the exclusion of what was actually accomplished.

The problem now is that the Brotherhood is being the Brotherhood and the military is being the military. There is a good reason that militaries in established democracies concern themselves with the duties of the military and leave politics to politicians. They are, by and large, not especially good at it. They have ready access to a lot of force and are trained in the direction of using it. Not a good combination for governing. They also need public support to win wars. Therefore, they need to avoid activities that cost them the support they need.

The condemnation of bloodshed in Egypt is understandable. It is not a good situation. Many people are dying. However, as long as the situation is Brotherhood vs Egyptian Army, the dying will continue. The Brotherhood has been cast from its coveted position of power and legitimacy, and feels it has little to lose. The Army is defending Egypt and its people from the Brotherhood’s intentions for the nation. The continued deaths are proof enough of the Brotherhood’s sincerity; the support of the Egyptian people backs the Army. Each will be true to itself; these are not people fighting and protesting and dying without cause.

Condemnation in the situation is foolish; what is needed is to change the situation. That may have already happened with the Army and police’s bloody clearing of Brotherhood protest encampments.

If it has, the future of Egypt is again up to its people. The Muslim Brotherhood has certainly taken a beating from its actions and the actions of the military. Now we need reform-minded leaders to step up and give the people of Egypt a vision worth voting for, a vision that Egyptians from all factions can at least regard as tolerable. Perhaps this experience will have taught the Brotherhood the value of compromise. That will be revealed in the coming years, in the form of terrorist attacks or, hopefully, the lack of therefore. Much will depend on how the next elected government treats the Brotherhood; Morsi may also be able to defuse some tension.

The Egyptian Army needs to redeploy from politics and governing to return its own duties. The longer it stays in government, the more vulnerable it becomes to criticism and given the challenges facing Egypt, the best target for that is an elected government that can be voted out of office when voters are unhappy with the pace of economic growth.  However, if Egypt gets this far it will have many willing partners, the US included. That and avoiding the incompetent mistakes of the Brotherhood will help greatly.

Finally, I will note that I do not mean to dismiss the many deaths from the terrorist attacks by the Brotherhood and the bloodshed resulting from the clearing of the protest camps. However, fixating on those deaths is harmful and shortsighted. Cutting aid to Egypt is an emotional response to the sadness and horror of seeing the death toll, and it forgets something that America of all nations should never forget: Freedom is paid for in blood. That’s how it works. Willing or not, the dead have died.

Everyone should now work to ensure that their deaths are not followed by more in a repeating cycle, by making Democracy in Egypt 2.0 work. Civilian leaders need to step up and the military needs to finish its role and return to its bases. Hopefully the situation will go from death and destruction to normal levels of maddeningly slow reform. Or perhaps better. If a reasonably inclusive civilian government with popular leaders can form and continue economic reforms that the military should initiate, it will be. As the great Red Green said, “Remember, I’m pulling for you; we’re all in this together.”