By Jay Holmes
On July 3, 2013, as Americans were preparing to celebrate the 4th of July Independence Day, the Egyptian military acted on its threat to remove Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi from office. While it seems clear that a majority of Egyptians are happy to have Morsi gone, it’s less clear what the future holds for the Egyptian government.
After the fall of the ineffective Mubarak dictatorship in 2011, the Muslim Brotherhood supported Morsi as their candidate under their newer and more marketable “Freedom and Justice Party” label. They were victorious in Egypt’s first attempt at democratic elections in 2012. Though Morsi may not have had an actual majority, the various nascent opposing political parties were far less organized than the 83-year-old Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, and they were simply unable to organize in time to succeed.
When Morsi came to office, he understood the frailty of his power and acted accordingly. The Muslim Brotherhood owned Morsi completely, but held little influence over the police and military. Nevertheless, Morsi temporarily held the police and military at bay by convincing them that they would keep their positions of privilege in Egypt, and that he was operating with democratic intent.
With the police and military acquiescing, Morsi forced through legislation that gave him and the Muslim Brotherhood broad power and seemed to guarantee them dictatorial control over Egyptian political might for the foreseeable future. It was clear for the world to see that Morsi and his “Justice and Freedom Party” were acting unjustly in pursuit of an anti-freedom political agenda.
Morsi always understood that he could easily be replaced with a new puppet by the Muslim Brotherhood at its convenience. He also understood that the growing opposition to his newer, shinier post-Mubarak dictatorship had to be repressed by the police and military in order for him and the Muslim Brotherhood to remain in power. To achieve this, Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood needed to gain effective control of the Egyptian police system, courts, and military.
As scored by events of July 3, Morsi lost the crucial battle to take control of the Egyptian military and courts. Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood-controlled Parliament managed to install new laws that satisfied the impatient radical elements of the Brotherhood, but in doing so, he lost any semblance of majority backing.
Once the frail, but fast-growing pro-democracy movement mustered more protestors and demonstrated their support from the majority of Egyptians, the Egyptian military decided that they had had enough of Morsi. They tossed him off of his throne and suspended the Egyptian constitution.
The US White House miscalculated and expressed concern that the military coup in Egypt that removed Morsi was an attempt by the Egyptian military to seize political power for themselves. The US’s failure to support the removal of Morsi has left President Obama wildly unpopular with the Egyptian public.
For the moment, Constitutional Judge Adly Mansour is acting as Interim President, and Nobel Peace Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei has been appointed Interim Prime Minister. Mansour is known to oppose Sharia Law and support democracy. Though known for his work as the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, ElBaradei is a New York University School of Law graduate and a respected legal scholar. As an educated scholar with a reputation for openness and pragmatism, ElBaradei is not popular with the Muslim Brotherhood. Given his reputation for integrity and honesty, he will likely be, at least momentarily, popular with the majority of Egyptians and Western observers.
At the moment, the average Egyptian voter might not be overly concerned with what Westerners think about their government, but they should be. While the US White House seems to lack a coherent policy toward Egypt, the West on the whole matters to that country.
At least some of Morsi’s inability to remain in office stems from his and the Muslim Brotherhood’s failure to understand the Egyptian economy. Morsi’s unpopularity is primarily rooted in the fact that the majority of Egyptians do not wish to live under a Sharia dictatorship. The Egyptian public’s willingness to stand up against Morsi and his government was accelerated by the economic crisis in Egypt. With each passing day of high unemployment, low foreign investment, and declining economic indicators, the willingness to openly oppose Morsi increased.
ElBaradei and Mansour must quickly build a coalition government that the Egyptian people find acceptable. If they succeed, they will be celebrated in Egypt and the West, but that celebration will be short-lived. In order to jump-start the Egyptian economy, they will need to convince the international community to invest in Egypt. If they fail to do so, then they will face renewed discontent.
From the US point of view, the current situation in Egypt constitutes an improvement. Hopefully the White House will get over its blatant miscalculations and move on to pragmatism. Though the popular anti-Obama protests in Egypt might obscure the fact, the best interests of the Egyptian people and the people of the US are not at cross purposes. Avoiding an Iranian-style dictatorship in Egypt is good news for Egyptians and for the world at large.
While our own lack of employment opportunities and stagnant economy in the US limit what the White House can do to help Egypt, President Obama could do a lot by simply staying out of the way and allowing the private sector to invest as they see fit in that country.
Some of the White House’s seemingly odd response to events in Egypt may be influenced by the US’s complicated relationship with the Turkish government. While Obama is being cursed in Egypt for his support of Egyptian President and Aspiring Dictator Morsi, the Turkish Prime Minister and Fledgling Dictator Recep Erdogan is all but publicly cursing Obama and the US for—in his view—failing to support Morsi.
With the international media focused on the fast-changing events in Egypt, it’s easy to forget that Dictator-in-Training Erdogan has lost his popularity in Turkey. Erdogan has the advantage of having had a full decade to conduct purges and bogus trials to gain a degree of control of the Turkish military, police, and courts that Morsi could only dream of. But Erdogan is showing signs of panic. Last week he was lame enough to play the “jew conspiracy” card to explain the growing protests in Turkey. Erdogan has also been angry at “blacks” lately. How that fits into his persecution conspiracy passion play is yet to be explained. Perhaps a black rap singer did something to destroy Turkey this week. I’ll have to check. But with so many of Turkey’s journalists in prison and a large military on Erdogan’s side, who needs to explain anything? The less obvious foreign policy factor in our relationship with Erdogan is the promise that Kurdish oil will flow through Turkey to the West. Though he had the availability of the Suez Canal to offer the West, Morsi had little oil to offer.
While Erdogan is wildly demanding and openly insulting to the US government, and although he is transparently a creepy despot with little regard for the Turkish people, he is becoming a creepy despot with oil, and that changes everything. But we’ll leave that particular turkey to roast another day.
In Syria, the view of Egypt varies yet again. Dictator Assad is enthusiastically pointing to Morsi’s ouster as “the end of Islamist political forces.” Given that Islamic terrorists have co-opted the Syrian revolution, Assad can enjoy that view of events. Unfortunately for him, nobody has explained this “new reality” to the various Islamic terrorist groups that are hunting for his head.
My best guess is that if the Egyptian military and police can keep foreign terrorists at bay with moderate economic investment by the West, Egypt can indeed grow a workable democracy.