COLUMN: The Egypt Crisis
Published: Thursday, September 26, 2013
Updated: Thursday, September 26, 2013 00:09
Each month there seems to be a new center of overseas violence—it was Syria last month, now it seems to be Kenya, and before both of those, the violence was centered in Egypt. Egypt’s violence, as is common in the Middle East since Arab Spring, is the result of attempts to establish democratic reform. The rest of the world watched the violence that occurred in Egypt with not just concern, but impatience.
The 2011 Egyptian Revolution was inspired by the neighboring democratic protests of Arab Spring, and it was a reaction to the poor living conditions and perpetually restricted civil rights under the Mubarak regime. Since the beginning of Hosni Mubarak’s rule in 1981, wages were stagnant, unemployment rising, and civil unrest growing. It was technically a semi-presidential republic, but it had been under Mubarak’s authoritarian rule for 30 years. It was made possible in large part by the perpetual state of emergency he had declared in Egypt. Under the law, police powers were extended, constitutional rights were suspended, censorship was legalized, and the government could imprison individuals indefinitely and without reason. The law sharply limited basic civil freedoms. Finally in January of 2011, the Egyptian people began a nationwide series of protests and even engaged in violent clashes with Mubarak police forces. After less than a month, Mubarak announced he would resign. One month later, a constitutional referendum passed limiting the future powers of the president, and set up guidelines for the judiciary to prevent election law violations. It seemed that Egypt was on the way to becoming the iconic democracy in the region.
But when Mohammad Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood was elected president on May 24, 2012, the international community grew uneasy. The Muslim Brotherhood is not a group synonymous with liberty and prosperous democracy, and is reputed to have worked to install Hamas influence into governments in the Middle East. It did not take long for their fears to become a reality. Morsi tried to restore some of the president’s former power and prohibited political protest in major public areas. Claims of police brutality began to circulate and suspicions that Morsi was trying to become an Islamic version of Mubarak were aroused.
By April of 2013 there were calls for his removal from office. In June 2013 the largest protests and demonstrations in Egyptian history broke out. Clashes between pro-Morsi groups that hoped to see their democratically- elected president remain lawfully in office, and anti-Morsi groups, who wished for a more liberal government, broke out. These clashes only intensified after the military stepped in on behalf of the Egyptians asking for relief from Morsi’s reign. On July 3, 2013 the military removed Morsi from the office of presidency and appointed Adly Mansour the interim president. The military then set to work putting down the pro-Morsi demonstrations and riots that were ongoing across Egypt, using deadly force to do so. And the entire world was left watching the carnage, wondering: what happened?
My response is: we don’t know yet. We have not given Egypt nearly enough time to figure out democracy. Instantaneous international news media has let us watch the crisis in Egypt in real time, but we have not let them discover how to be democratic. When viewed in historical terms, it would be unrealistic for Egypt to go from an authoritarian rule to a flawless liberal democracy in just a year. Not even the U.S., widely accepted as the most pro-democracy nation in the world, could get democracy right initially. After the Revolutionary War, many forget that the U.S. operated under the Articles of Confederation from 1781-89, when the Constitution was finally ratified and implemented. The Articles were an earnest attempt to create a functioning democracy, written by men who had read Locke, Montesquieu, and Rousseau. The reason the Articles failed is not that the Founders didn’t understand the concept of democracy, but because they could not visualize what an American democracy would look like. The time with the Articles let them experience failure in government. America under the Articles suffered from disunity, disorganization, a suffering economy, and an inability to defend itself from threats, either domestic or foreign. The government under the Articles struggled in 1786 to put down Shay’s rebellion in Massachusetts. And once America did have the Constitution, it had clauses allowing for human rights violations (slavery) and had very limited suffrage. America, not having the intense factionalism present in Egypt, took 80 years to achieve the kind of democracy we expect Egypt to achieve in only 18 months.
Wanting immediate democracy in Egypt is a laudable desire. We want people to experience the kind of liberal freedoms that Americans hold so dear to their own hearts. But not America, the EU, or any constitutional scholar can prescribe what a good government for Egypt will be. Egypt must deal with geographic tensions, inherently illiberal democratic parties, and a long history of totalitarianism dating back to the times of the Pharaohs, all the way up to Mubarak. And I am confident they can. It may take 10 years, but I have faith. It is not that they will invent Egyptian democracy—they will discover it. They will invent their own political fingerprint so to speak, and are in the midst of writing a new Constitution. Egypt itself must learn to be patient and have faith that democracy is a better way of governing than bi-annual coup d’etats. Arab Spring has come and gone and it is time to proclaim it over. Spring marks the time to begin the work of planting the seeds of prosperity. Egypt is now tilling the fields of freedom. All we need to do is be patient, and wait for the blooming.
Editor’s Note: The views presented in this column are those of the author alone and do not represent the views of The Heights.