Forget About Democracy in Egypt

The Egyptian people have shown they prefer military rule. It's time we in the United States honored their preference and stopped trying to remake Egypt in our own image.
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Egypt's military backed government, led by the charismatic General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, declared that the recent referendum to amend the constitution was an endorsement of its legitimacy.

The voting was relatively calm and trouble free. The vote indicates that some stability has returned to Egypt after the turmoil, chaos, and lawlessness of the last couple of years. That result should have been applauded in the United States.

But it is not. Many are heaping criticism upon Sisi and calling the referendum a sham. They point to the fact that while the referendum passed with 98.1% of the votes, only 38.6% of the eligible voters turned out. (Wall Street. Journal, Jan. 21, 2014, p. A9.)

However, what this criticism overlooks is that the Muslim Brotherhood political movement decided to boycott the vote. At first, this seemed to me like a foolish position. The Brotherhood should have tried to get out the vote in opposition to the military and its referendum. Thinking about it some more, I concluded that the Brotherhood, having made such a mess of running the country under Morsi when they were in control, feared its opposition votes would have been small. A majority of the Egyptian people are simply fed up with the Brotherhood.

Another factor explaining the low voter turnout is apathy. Many Egyptians are simply weary of all the political maneuvering. They recognize that Sisi and his military colleagues are firmly in control. Political uncertainty is over. So instead of voting, they go back to sofas, as the Egyptians say.

Conveniently overlooked by many who contend there was a low voter turnout, is that it was greater than the 33% who participated in the 2012 referendum on Morsi's Islamist backed constitution. (Wall Street Journal, Jan. 16, 2014, p. A8.)

This vote backing Sisi and the military is a harbinger of future political developments in Egypt. It seems virtually certain that Sisi will run for president now that the new constitution provides a structure for his rule. He seems to be immensely popular and is widely viewed as a leader who can bring stability to the country.

"Of course, I will vote for Sisi as president," said Sana Abdelhafez, a retired bank manager who voted for the referendum on the military backed constitution in the Giza suburb of Talbeyya. "That's why we're all out. This period requires a strong man like him." (Wall Street Journal, Jan. 16, 2014, p. A8.)

This doesn't mean there won't be terrorist bombings and other violence under Sisi. In fact, on January 26, Islamist militants shot down an Egyptian helicopter over the Sinai Peninsula, killing five soldiers. On the same day, Islamic protests in Cairo turned violent leading to at least 62 deaths and more than 1,000 arrests. The violence did not slow the government's brisk transition plan to solidify Sisi's control. (New York Times, Jan. 27,2 014, p. A5.)

With Sisi now emerging as the next Egyptian president, the Obama administration, which was once sharply critical of the general and the military rulers is now hedging its bets. Secretary of State John Kerry pronounced himself, "Hopeful though not yet certain that the military's regime promised transition to democracy is on track."

This evoked a sharp retort from some commentators. In a Washington Post column entitled "On the Wrong Side in Egypt," Jackson Diehl tore into both Kerry and Sisi. Diehl did not praise Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. Rather, he discussed four Egyptians, now in jail, who favor free speech, free elections, and religious tolerance. In short, real democracy. Then he added that "If they and their followers ever come to power, Egypt might come to resemble India or Brazil: a somehow difficult partner but a democratic one." (Washington Post, A15, Jan. 19, 2014.)

The flaw in this statement is that it holds out the possibility that true democracy could come to power in Egypt. This is beyond wishful thinking. It falls into the category of: if pigs could fly.

Let's take a moment to review what happened after the fall of Mubarak. It appeared as if there could be free elections and democracy. However, the Islamists, in the form of the Muslim Brotherhood, hijacked the process just as they did in Iran and Gaza. Once they gained control of the government through this election, their primary imperative was converting the nation into a theocracy.

Moreover, the handwriting on the wall was clear. The Islamists would solidify their grip on power. This initial free election would be the last one. This prompted a rebellion by the secularists and the military who refused to sit by and watch Egypt converted into another Iran.

This is a sad tale. Blame Morsi for derailing Egyptian democracy. That's what happened.

As a result, the choice for the Egyptian people comes down to an Islamic dominated nonfunctioning government which wrecks the economy and fails to provide security for the people; or rule by the military which provides greater law and order while curtailing some human rights. It would be nice if there were a third way. But there isn't.

The Egyptian people have shown they prefer military rule. It's time we in the United States honored their preference and stopped trying to remake Egypt in our own image.

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