Saturday, July 06, 2013

Nobody's Winning Egypt

It's pretty harsh to say it, but so far this has been a no-win scenario for all parties concerned.

For Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood party, it's a clear loss because he's been kicked out of office.  There were valid reasons for it: there were no check/balance mechanisms in place to make Morsi more responsive to the needs of the people; Morsi had done nothing to clean up the corruption that existed under Mubarak and in fact it was getting worse; the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) may have been better organized than any other coalition in the nation, but they simply weren't designed to make decisions and compromises that high office requires.  And consider the origins of the MB as a radical, occasionally violent opposition: by ousting them like this, they won't see any incentive in taking democracy seriously as a means to power.  They may well fall back into their old bad (and violent) habits, as demonstrated by the outbreak of violence between the pro-Morsi forces and the protesters last night.

The Army may look like the winners (again), but in truth this coup has hurt their position as well.  Rather than being unbiased players in the game, they've re-inserted themselves into the democratic process in a way that weakens said democratic process.

The foreign policy wonks pushing for democracy aren't happy: while Morsi was a terrible President he was democratically elected.  This coup discredits the validity of elected leadership across the Middle East, especially at a time when nations shrugging off decades of dictatorship - Algeria, Libya, Iraq - are struggling to forge new governments.  Tossing him out in a coup merely sets up the possibility of any future Egyptian President getting tossed out even if said President is actually doing his job.

The people protesting in the streets may have gained their primary objective - ousting Morsi - but there's no guarantee his replacement will fare any better.  Egypt's economy is in the tank alongside half the planet thanks to this global recession: tourism is also suffering, and being an unstable nation two steps away from open rioting doesn't market well at the AAA travel agency.  The corruption hurting Egypt's ability to provide even basic services like trash pick-up is deep rot: it will take years to flush it out even for a principled reformist.  The protesters may just be back out in the streets within another year.

The more liberal and moderate parties in Egypt may benefit from this, but there was a good reason why the MB won elections: the liberal and moderate groups in Egypt are not that well organized and in some cases unwelcome to a populace that may benefit from liberal reforms but in practice aren't fond of liberal ideas.  There's no sign of anyone in any position to step up and provide a moderate alternative.

There is a chance this could all still work out.  The Army has set up for emergency elections, and depending on the results a sensible moderate leader could be found.  But then the Army has to step back to let that President do his job.  There has to be serious reform efforts in both service and in the legal system (and in local law enforcement) to crack down on the corruption (and provide security against any violent reaction from the far right).  And whoever gets elected President has to make good-faith efforts to keep the Brotherhood engaged... and the Brotherhood has to make good-faith efforts to learn from this and change their methods to be more compromising and amenable to criticism.

It's a very thin needle eye to thread.

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