Thursday, 4 July 2013

One thing in Egypt is sure - it will not be the secular liberals taking power

When President Mubarak was forced from power, after 30 years, in February 2011, many of the ecstatic and brave crowd of revolutionaries in Tahrir Square thought that the future of Egypt looked bright for the kind of Western secular liberal values that they championed. Many foreign observers thought so too.

However, the lack of broad electoral support for the views of those revolutionaries was very clearly demonstrated in the presidential election in 2012. Only the top two candidates from the 1st round in May went through to the 2nd round in June. No candidate who was attractive to secular liberal voters came close to making it to the 2nd round which was contested between Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood and Ahmed Shafik who was the last prime minister appointed by Mubarak and was closely identified with his regime. 

Given the influence of Islam, centuries of authoritarian rule and the conduct of Western foreign policy in the region it should be no surprise that Egyptian political culture is not particularly receptive to liberal views identified with the West.

It is not only their lack of electoral support that makes power a distant prospect for Egyptian liberals. It is also the part they have played in the events of recent days. They were the prime movers in the demonstrations which led to the army deposing the elected president Mohammed Morsi – an event they are celebrating enthusiastically. They have thereby undermined one of the fundamental tenets of their own professed beliefs. 

In democracies elected governments should not be changed by military coups. The fact that the liberals have supported this happening may prove disastrous for their credibility. In the New York Times, for example, there is an interview with Mohamed ElBaradei, who is described as “Egypt’s most prominent liberal”. ElBaradei defends the coup, the large scale arrests of leading members of the Muslim Brotherhood and the closing down of certain TV stations.
Of course, the argument is made that Morsi was somehow “not legitimate, not democratic”. It is undoubtedly true that serious criticisms can be made of Morsi. Democracy is about more than simply voting. It is not a clear-cut issue, all countries sit on a continuum – the Scandinavian countries are all more democratic than Italyor the USA, for example. However, to justify a military coup against a president properly elected only 12 months previously would need crystal clear and compelling grounds which have not been produced by Morsi’s opponents.

Many Egyptians and particularly those of the 51.7% who voted in 2012 for their first democratically elected leader in their country’s 5,000 year history, will see the removal of Morsi as revealing as a sham the democracy championed by liberals and the West.

The most likely scenario for Egypt now looks like a return to military or authoritarian civilian rule. It can hardly be expected that the millions who voted for Morsi and still supported him will simply accept his removal. The nightmare for Egypt is that it suffers the terrible bloodshed that befell Algeria when Civil Warbroke out after the army there carried out a coup to stop an election in 1991 that an Islamist movement was poised to win.

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