7/5/13

If it was not so tragic, it would be comic:

  • Military dictatorship (Mubarak)—demonstration,
  • Military dictatorship (committee)—demonstrations,
  • Authoritarian president (Morsi)—demonstrations,
  • Military dictatorship…what next?

Sounds like a soap opera. Except that we are dealing with human lives and with an important ingredient of the powder keg known as the Middle East—and that is tragic.

If you listen to the news coverage, especially that of CNN, you would miss some of the important elements of the story, as it does not really serve their line to be unbiased:

Legitimate Elections

According to the media Morsi was elected by free AND legitimate elections. They may have been free but they were NOT legitimate:

  • The elections were won by Morsi in a 51.7% to 48.3% margin. In established democracies that is a convincing and clear win. In the U.S., sometime the winner of the popular vote LOSES the elections. Egypt, however, is NOT an established democracy; it lacks the checks and balances and all the other trappings necessary for democracy and as such, a narrow margin does not convey strong legitimacy. It is not ILLEGITIMATE but certainly not very convincing.
  • More importantly, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) reneged on their commitment to NOT present a candidate for the presidential elections. That commitment was a significant one. It was well known that the MB was the only organized body, party, entity in Egypt, and it was clear that if the elections took place quickly before any other of the nascent parties could get their acts together, they would overwhelm them all and sweep the elections. That is why they made this commitment, following which it was agreed by all relevant sides that the elections could take place quickly. As the MB was out, everyone would be on the same footing and the elections would be fair. Except that once this was agreed upon, they reneged and put up Morsi as their candidate. That makes the presidential elections NOT legitimate. In fact, given their advantage, the shock was how small the winning margin was.

Post Elections

Democracy is NOT only about elections as I recently wrote (in reference to Turkey). Democracy is about many other elements and institutions, of which Egypt had very little tradition of and Morsi abused them all:

  • Freedom of speech: Morsi unleashed a hostile environment against any person, reporter, or media outlet that dared criticize him. The number of convictions for the “crime” of offending the presidency escalated during his one year in office and exceeded such convictions during Mubarak’s entire thirty years in power!
  • Rule of law and independent judiciary: Morsi acted to weaken the courts, removed secular judges, and appointed many religious MB judges in order to ensure that the court system will do as it is told by him.
  • Checks & balances: Morsi rode roughshod on all other parties and elements of the government, and appointed his followers and adherents to more and more positions in Egypt’s bureaucracy and government. There was no one to keep any checks or balances on his power. Indeed he tried to officially declare Emergency Law to give himself dictatorial powers. He stepped back following strong objection, but he got the same result by less overt and more elaborate means.
  • Minority protections and rights: The constitution was pushed through against wide objections by many using an illegitimate process and lacked basic rules of democracy such as human rights, minority protections, etc. Specifically the Coptic Christian minority was harassed, persecuted, and in many cases people of that faith were murdered without any suitable response from the police.

The Obama Administration

The Obama administration’s view of the world and foreign affairs is warped, naïve, wrong, and dangerous. The lack of intervention by the sole superpower, a benign superpower that could AND should provide benign intervention, is leaving its mark all over the world:

  • Libya, where the U.S. did provide a modicum of intervention (I am still not sure why. Why there and not anywhere else?), is an example of what a real intervention can produce. Even with a very limited intervention, the U.S. assured a relatively quick resolution of what otherwise would have been a long bloody fight AND if the U.S. had not completely abandoned the scene, they could have ensured a democratic secular governance there. Even given this unexplained and ill-advised total disappearance of the U.S., the Libyan government is still struggling by, inching forward with democratic governance.
  • Syria is where the U.S.’s dithering and ultimately lack of intervention created one of the most cruel human disasters of modern times AND provided the enemies of the free world with a strong strategic position and likely victory. It also brought about a situation where to intervene now is next to impossible. There are no good options left. Intervening two years ago would have been relatively easy and would have brought victory at a relatively cheap cost, providing a huge strategic win.
  • Egypt: I wrote two years ago that the U.S. MUST intervene and GUIDE Egypt’s process and progress to democracy. You cannot expect a country that was under a dictatorship for sixty years to suddenly become democratic. I would like to think that the U.S. administration has learned from their mistakes. I fear they did not. Napoleon is rumored to have said that he prefers “lucky generals.” This president has an enormous amount of luck in everything. In the case of Egypt, luck played, yet again, in his favor and offered him a chance for a redo. Unfortunately, it does not seem likely from what one hears from the president and other pundits that they understand what needs to be done.

What Now? The WRONG Solution

The LAST thing that Egypt needs to do right now is go back to elections too fast and fail again in establishing a government able to govern democratically. Why would it be any different than what happened only twelve months ago? Doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result is INSANITY according to Einstein. The same applies here. This is exactly the WRONG thing to do.

What Now? The RIGHT Solution

What Egypt needs now is a period of stability and strong economic support. Egypt will not be stable unless ALL parties in Egypt are assured that it is on the road, even if it is a long road, to democracy. It must be a road that runs along a clear and agreed-upon roadmap with distinct interim goals. Such assurances together with economic progress will allow Egypt the time it needs to develop the necessary democratic institutions and culture.

To achieve such stability, the Obama administration MUST get HEAVILY involved in this process in Egypt. Guide it, support it, and INTERVENE. Lead from the front, get off their behinds, and do something! In spite of its reputation being in tatters, it is still the one and only element/body/organization that can lend credibility to such a prolonged effort. The process has to be SLOW. You need three to five years to build proper democratic institutions and culture before you can have real free and representative elections. The U.S. needs to help create this roadmap and be the body to guarantee and referee its implementation. It needs to help establish a technocratic government in the meantime that will ensure to all parties that it is implementing the process according to clear roadmap and help give it credibility.

What Now? The Most IMPORTANT Element

More than anything else, the U.S. needs to lead a huge effort supported by and paid for the entire world to bring Egypt back from the brink of economic collapse. That will give the U.S. the leverage that it needs to be credible in leading the longer democratic process. It will give Egyptians the chance that they need in order to calm down, to get working, to be productive, and to be sure that they are on the right track. Such a move by the U.S. will enter the pages of history as an example of how to really do democratization and nation-building and will justify, belatedly, the Nobel Peace Prize that Obama won four years ago for nothing. The shocking thing is that this was done before. That is exactly how the U.S. won the aftermath of WWII in both theaters. Why do they need me to remind them of that? Do they not recall the Marshall Plan?

What Now? The Likely and Unfortunate Outcome

The above is simply a dream. There is ZERO chance that the U.S. under Obama will undertake such a bold and inspiring action. The likelihood is that the U.S. will simply do nothing. Maybe give some nice speeches using the eloquence that is the hallmark of this president, but nothing practical. Worse, they are likely to push, as the president already started, for a “quick” handover to a “freely” elected government. How can you do that in the current situation? The result will probably be terrible violence. I suspect that as I write these words, the MB or sections of it are planning their first terror attacks and unless something is done quickly, Egypt will become a blood bath.

The Obama administration is responsible for the explosive powder that the lack of stability in Egypt has spread around the Middle East in the last two years. They are responsible for allowing this powder to start burning in Syria. And they are probably going to allow this keg to explode by doing nothing about Iran.

This exploding Middle East will be bad, it will burn high, and the flames of such explosion will hurt the U.S. and the world. It will be worse than the twentieth-century “shot heard around the world.” That will be Obama’s legacy.