The pursuit of democracy is messy. Sorting out a society when all you’ve had since you can remember is tyrannical dictatorships is going to take some time. Many of my colleagues in Egypt believed that they had achieved freedom and democracy on February 11, 2011, when President Mubarak was ousted. Not true.
Removing Mubarak was not a democratic act. Removing Morsi was not a democratic act either – not in the traditional sense. But both needed to happen. People will continue to debate whether or not Egypt had a couple of revolutions or two military coups. Traditionally, an action is defined as a coup “when the military or a section of the military, turns its coercive power against the apex of the state, establishes itself there, and the rest of the state takes its orders from the new regime.” I won’t take the time to debate this issue, because words have lost their established definitions and people put more emphasis on “intention” than on process and actions. But if your army – who has controlled everything for more than 60 years – is still in charge, I don’t think you’ve had a full revolution yet. Perhaps we need a new term to define what happened in Egypt. I submit “people-inspired-military-takeover.”
But it doesn’t have to stay that way. The journey towards democracy can continue. More than anything, Egyptians need leaders who understand the importance of a constitution that provides the framework for shaping society, protecting freedoms and protecting the rights of ALL Egyptians.
But why should you care if you’re not an Egyptian? I can’t answer that for every nation, but as an American, I can discuss why I think the average American should be concerned about 85 million people in the heart of the Middle East. Here are at least five reasons:
- Your tax dollars go there. About 1.3 billion dollars per year is given to Egypt from the US. You should care about where your tax dollars are going and to whom they are going. Perhaps you think that our foreign aid should be withdrawn? OK, no problem, the Russians will offer to help. They seem to be keen on influence in that region anyway, and that should work out really well for us. It always does…
- The Suez Canal. Egypt doesn’t produce a lot of oil. But a lot of it passes through the Egyptian-controlled Suez Canal. And until the US gets it together and takes advantage of our own oil reserves, we sort of need oil. Preferably at under $5.00 a gallon, please.
- Israel. Egypt has upheld a peace treaty with Israel for more than 30 years. Egypt has helped with regional stability. No, most Egyptians don’t like Israel. No, the media isn’t exactly unbiased regarding its coverage of Israel. No, Israel doesn’t get the benefit of many doubts. But regardless, the treaty has stuck. And Egyptians know that’s better than it not sticking. It’s better to complain about your perceived enemy than to go to war with him.
- Democracy as the example. The fact that someone from the Muslim Brotherhood got elected in a free election is a big deal. It was a signal that democracy might just work in the Middle East – and it was a great opportunity for the Brotherhood to be inclusive of other groups – and represent everyone. They didn’t. Now that Morsi has been ousted, a big message has been sent to fundamentalists in the Muslim world that says, “democracy doesn’t work – we played by the rules and we got kicked out anyway.” So my guess is that they won’t try democracy again. They will either go underground and wait for another opportunity, or more violence will be justified on the grounds that certain kinds of freedom and “democracy” are anti-Islamic, therefore, they are entitled to defend their faith by any means. Everyone in the world should care about this development. Radicalism – not a fan.
- American leadership and consistency. If America’s core values include the belief that humans have God-given rights and deserve the protection of life and liberty, then we should care about what’s happening in Egypt. Almost 1000 people have been killed – on all sides of the conflict. Eighty churches have been burned. Christians are being killed. Muslims are being killed. Twenty-five police officers were executed in the Sinai by militants.
But the US is having trouble with consistent leadership regarding our foreign policy. We supported Mubarak, then we didn’t. Then we supported democracy that resulted in President Morsi and Muslim Brotherhood influence. Then we didn’t. Then we supported the coup with the understanding that Morsi was not following the principles of democracy. And then we consider pulling our foreign aid because of the military. So, who and what will we support next?
At some point, leadership chooses an intelligent direction and sticks with it within reason. Very few situations are ideal – so you lead based on priorities. I would say human life, freedom of speech and freedom of worship are pretty good places to start.