want to write this article, but I had to.
Egypt. I love the Egyptian people. I have spent some of the happiest days of my
heart bleeds when I think of Egypt. And these days I think about Egypt all the
cannot remain silent when I see what is happening there, an hour’s flight from
on the table right from the beginning what’s happening there now.
has fallen into the hands of a brutal, merciless military dictatorship, pure
the way to democracy. Not a temporary transition regime. Not anything like it.
the locusts of old, the military officers have fallen upon the land. They are
not likely ever to give it up voluntarily.
before, the Egyptian military had enormous assets and privileges. They control
vast corporations, are free of any oversight and live off the fat of a skinny
they control everything. Why should they give it up?
who believe that they will do so, of their own free will, should have their
enough to look at the pictures. What do they remind us of?
row of over-decorated, beribboned, well-fed generals who have never fought a
war, with their gold-braided, ostentatious peaked hats – where have we seen
Greece of the colonels? The Chile of Pinochet? The Argentina of the torturers?
Any of a dozen other South-American states? The Congo of Mobutu?
these generals look the same. The frozen faces. The self-confidence. The total
belief that they are the only guardians of the nation. The total belief that
all their opponents are traitors who must be caught, imprisoned, tortured,
this come about? How did a glorious revolution turn into this disgusting
the millions of happy people, who had liberated themselves from a brutal
dictatorship, who had breathed the first heady whiffs of liberty, who had
turned Liberation Square (that’s what Tahrir means) into a beacon of hope for
all mankind, slide into this dismal situation?
beginning, it seemed that they did all the right things. It was easy to embrace
the Arab Spring. They reached out to each other, secular and religious stood
together and dared the forces of the aging dictator. The army seemed to support
and protect them.
fatal faults were already obvious, as we pointed out at the time. Faults that
were not particularly Egyptian. They were common to all the recent popular
movements for democracy, liberty and social justice throughout the world,
are the faults of a generation brought up on the “social media”, the immediacy
of the internet, the effortlessness of instant mass communication. These
fostered a sense of empowerment without effort, of the ability to change things
without the arduous process of mass-organization, political power-building, of
ideology, of leadership, of parties. A happy and anarchistic attitude that,
alas, cannot stand up against real power.
democracy came for a glorious moment and fair elections were in the offing,
this whole amorphous mass of young people were faced with a force that had all
they themselves lacked: organization, discipline, ideology, leadership,
and its Islamist allies easily won the free, fair and democratic elections
against the motley anarchic field of secular and liberal groups and
personalities. This has happened before in other Arab countries, such as
Algeria and Palestine.
Islamic Arab masses are not fanatical, but basically religious (as are the Jews
who came to Israel from Arab countries.) Voting for the first time in free
elections, they tend to vote for religious parties, though they are by no means
wise thing for the brotherhood to do was to reach out to other parties,
including secular and liberal ones, and lay the foundation for a robust,
inclusive democratic regime. This would have been to their own advantage in the
beginning it seemed that Mohamed Morsi, the freely elected president, would do
so. But he soon changed course, using his democratic powers to change the
constitution, exclude everybody else and start to establish the sole domination
of his movement.
was unwise, but understandable. After many decades of suffering from state
persecution, including imprisonment, systematic torture and even executions,
the movement was thirsty for power. Once it got hold of it, it could not
restrain itself. It tried to gobble up everything.
especially unwise, because the brotherhood regime was sitting next to a
crocodile, which only seemed to be asleep, as crocodiles often do.
beginning of his reign, Morsi drove out the old generals, who had served under
Hosni Mubarak. He was applauded. But this just replaced the old, tired
crocodile with a young and very hungry one.
difficult to guess what was going on in the military mind at the time. The
generals sacrificed Mubarak, who was one of them, in order to protect
themselves. They became the darling of the people, especially the young,
secular, liberal people. “The army and the people are one!” – How nice. How
naïve. How utterly inane.
quite clear now that during the Morsi months, the generals were waiting for
their opportunity. When Morsi made his fatal mistakes and announced that he was
going to change the constitution – they pounced.
military juntas like to pose, in the beginning, as the saviors of democracy.
al-Sisi does not have an exciting ideology, as did Gamal Abd-al-Nasser
(pan-Arabism) when he carried out his bloodless coup in 1952. He has no vision
like Anwar al-Sadat (peace), the dictator who inherited power. He was not the
anointed heir of his predecessor, sworn to continue his vision, as was Hosni
Mubarak. He is a military dictator, pure and simple (or rather, not so pure and
not so simple).
Israelis to blame? The Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, says so.
It’s all the making of Israel. We engineered the Egyptian coup.
flattering, But, I’m afraid, slightly exaggerated.
the Israeli establishment is afraid of an Islamic Arab world. It detests the
Muslim Brotherhood, the mother of Hamas and other Islamic movements which are
committed to fighting Israel. It enjoys a cosy relationship with the Egyptian
Egyptian generals had asked their Israeli colleagues and friends for advice on
the coup, the Israelis would have promised them their enthusiastic support. But
there is nothing much they could have done about it.
one thing. It is Israel that has assured the Egyptian military for decades its
annual big US aid package. Using its control of the US Congress, Israel has
prevented the termination of this grant through all these years. At this
moment, the huge Israeli power-machine in the US is busy ensuring the
continuation of the 1.3 billion or so of US aid to the generals. But this is
not crucial, since the Arab Gulf oligarchies are ready to finance the generals
to the hilt.
crucial for the generals is American political and military support. There
cannot be the slightest doubt that before acting, the generals asked for
American permission, and that this support was readily given.
president does not really direct American policy. He can make beautiful
speeches, elevating democracy to divine status, but he cannot do much about it.
Policy is made by a political-economic-military complex, for which he is just
complex does not care a damn for “American Values”. It serves American (and its
own) interests. A military dictatorship in Egypt serves these interests – as it
does the perceived interests of Israel.
really serve them? Perhaps in the short run. But an enduring civil war - on the
ground or underground – will ruin Egypt’s shaky economy and drive away crucial
investors and tourists. Military dictatorships are notably incompetent
administrations. In a few months or years this dictatorship will crumble – as
have all other military dictatorships in the world.
today is a zero-sum game. We’d have preferred there to be a democratic
alternative; unfortunately, there is none. The choice is binary: The country will
be ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood or by the military.
the U.S. to do? Any response demands two considerations: (a) moral, i.e., which
outcome offers the better future for Egypt, and (b) strategic, i.e., which
outcome offers the better future for U.S. interests and those of the free
Egypt’s future, the Brotherhood offered nothing but incompetent, intolerant,
increasingly dictatorial rule. In one year, Morsi managed to squander 85 years of Brotherhood prestige garnered in opposition — a place from which one can
promise the Moon — by persecuting journalists and activists, granting himself
the unchallenged power to rule by decree, enshrining a sectarian Islamist constitution, and systematically trying to seize the instruments of state
power. As if that weren’t enough, after its overthrow the Brotherhood showed
itself to be the party that, when angry, burns churches.
military, brutal and bloody, is not a very appealing alternative. But it does
matter what the Egyptian people think. The anti-Morsi demonstrations were the
largest in recorded Egyptian history. Revolted by Morsi’s betrayal of a
revolution intended as a new opening for individual dignity and democracy, the
protesters explicitly demanded his overthrow. And the vast majority seem to welcome the military repression aimed at abolishing the Islamist threat. It’s
their only hope, however problematic, for an eventual democratic transition.
which alternative better helps secure U.S. strategic interests? The list of
considerations is long: (1) a secure Suez Canal, (2) friendly relations with
the U.S., (3) continued alliance with the pro-American Gulf Arabs and
Jordanians, (4) retention of the Israel-Egypt peace treaty, and (5) cooperation
with the U.S. on terrorism, which in part involves (6) isolating
one of which is jeopardized by Brotherhood rule.
then, should be our policy? The Obama administration is right to deplore excessive violence and urge reconciliation. But let’s not fool ourselves into
believing this is possible in any near future. Sissi crossed his Rubicon with
the coup. It will either succeed or not. To advocate a middle way is to invite
endless civil strife.
best outcome would be a victorious military magnanimously offering, at some
later date, to reintegrate the more moderate elements of what’s left of the
now, we should not be cutting off aid, civilian or military, as many in
Congress are demanding. It will have no effect, buy no influence, and win no
friends on either side of the Egyptian divide. We should instead be urging the
quick establishment of a new cabinet of technocrats, rapidly increasing its
authority as the soldiers gradually return to their barracks.
are very bad at governance. Give the reins to people who actually know
something, and charge them with reviving the economy and preparing the
foundations for a democratic transition — most important, drafting a secular
constitution that protects the rights of women and minorities. The final step
on that long democratic path should be elections.
all, we’ve been here before. Through a half-century of Cold War, we repeatedly
faced precisely the same dilemma: choosing the lesser evil between totalitarian
(in that case, Communist) and authoritarian (usually military) rule.
generally supported the various militaries in suppressing the Communists. That
was routinely pilloried as a hypocritical and immoral betrayal of our alleged
allegiance to liberty. But in the end, it proved the prudent, if troubled, path
authoritarian regimes we supported — in South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines,
Chile, Brazil, even Spain and Portugal (ruled by fascists until the mid 1970s!)
— in time yielded democratic outcomes. General Augusto Pinochet, after 16 years
of iron rule, bowed to U.S. pressure and allowed a free election — which he
lost, ushering in Chile’s current era of democratic flourishing. How many times
have Communists or Islamists allowed that to happen?
Egypt, rather than emoting, we should be thinking about what’s best for Egypt,
for us, and for the possibility of some eventual democratic future.
the Brotherhood, such a possibility is zero. Under the generals, it’s slim.