The military coup in Egypt is a done deal, and with a measure of hindsight many of us could look back at June of 2013 and claim that we have seen in coming. Not many of us, though, can produce a satisfactory support for this claim. Even fewer can add some intriguing details about the interaction between the White House and Muslim Brotherhood's mouthpiece and soon to be ousted and jailed, democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi. Joshuapundit offers a report of touching attention to Morsi and MB and last ditch attempts to prevent the coup by the POTUS. Which act is difficult to explain, unless one believes that democracy as a supreme value is the only thing President Obama had in mind*.
This post, however, is triggered by another article, the one by Michael Totten: Getting the Muslim Brotherhood Wrong. In this article, Michael (totally unnecessary in my opinion) declares his mea culpa about not seeing the coming victory of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt 2012 elections.
I got a few things wrong, too. Like Egypt’s liberals and America’s conservatives, I understood all along that the Muslim Brotherhood was theocratic and authoritarian. But I did not think they would win. I knew they’d do well—Egypt is the most Islamicized place I’ve ever been, after all—but I assumed they’d have a hard time breaking fifty percent.I don't think anyone was clairvoyant enough to predict the outcome, although many good people in Egypt were concerned about the MB's strong roots in the rural parts of Egypt, its excellent organization and discipline that brought the high percentage of its supporters to vote. But this is neither here nor there. What concerns me more now is the future.
And it is regarding the future that the optimism shown by Michael bothers me. He is saying about the MB:
Yet in the long sweep of Egyptian history, it lasted about as long as a hiccup.I can't share this optimistic outlook, unfortunately. First of all, the coup was not about rejection of Muslim Brotherhood. It was not exactly a result of democracy in action, nor was it a popular rebellion against a political party. The former requires a fully formed democracy, the latter requires at least a popular understanding of the rights and wrongs perpetrated by an entity that in the West will be identified as a political party. The protests focused instead on one person - Mohamed Morsi, so typical for a country used to hail or to blame a single person at the top - be it a pharaoh, a dictator or a president. I agree that Morsi ended up more hated than Mubarak, but this fact doesn't reflect all that strongly on the standing of Muslim Brotherhood. Its roots are in place, its activists are out there and waiting for a signal.
I think it’s safe to say everyone, regardless of their political orientation and what they got right and wrong a year ago, was surprised by how quickly Egypt rejected the Brotherhood. The United States government has sound reasons for not describing what happened as a military coup, but that’s what it was. The rest of us shouldn’t kid ourselves. Yet it’s clear that the coup was a popular one. Morsi ended up more hated than Hosni Mubarak, and he achieved that dubious honor in one year instead of in thirty.
That ought to make American liberals rethink the notion that the Brotherhood is democratic and moderate. And it ought to show American conservatives that Muslims are perfectly capable of rejecting political Islam whether or not they’re secular Jeffersonian democrats. The Muslim Brotherhood might recover somewhat if the next government fails as badly as Morsi’s, but then again it might not.
Two main factors played a role in the timing of the coup: first, of course it's the economy, stupid! The inept rule of the new government, coupled with drying up of foreign donations and income from tourism, and (if you believe NYT) unwillingness of Egypt moneyed elite, its Mubarak-time bureaucracy, its police to cooperate with the new regime, exacerbated the habitual poverty of the already pretty bankrupt nation.
The second and no less important factor was the military. Nervously watching the Islamist government in Turkey slowly but surely putting its military in its place (or on its knees, depending on your point of view) for the last ten years, the Egyptian generals could easily forecast the fate expecting them in the hands of MB-managed government. I would dare say that riding the current wave of protest to cap it by the popular coup was an excellent example of finely timed opportunism in action. Nothing to do with ideology of any kind and everything to do with army's survival as the main force in the land.
So what would happen next in Egypt? As it looks now, Egypt is facing three equally unappetizing options:
- Continuation of the military rule. Riding the above mentioned wave of popularity, the military could ban any candidate from the extremist (MB and Salafi) ranks and push through a candidate who, while ostensibly civilian, will be in effect a puppet of the junta.
- A repeat of the 2012 elections, with military standing down and not involved. Yes, MB's popularity had suffered, but mainly by association with Morsi. In an year or so, when the new elections will come by, who knows? I wouldn't bet against another win for MB's candidate, especially if Salafis find it convenient to support him.
- MB and other extremist factions taking up arms to overthrow the military rule. As unlikely as it sounds, it sounded very unlikely in Syria a few year ago. Or in Libya... etc.
But, democracy in the true sense of the term will remain a mirage as long as the military is seen as the agent for political transition. For, the only transition that the military brass likes is the transition of power to itself. Everything else is but sound and fury, signifying nothing.Indeed, but was Egypt a "democracy in the true sense of the term" after the elections? Did it have (to take one example) free media? Nope, in never did and it doesn't have it now. But this is a minor point, compared to other revelations by prof Ayoob, who is not too shy to promote the case of "moderate and reformed" Muslim Brotherhood:
The Egyptian Brotherhood itself had undergone a remarkable transformation, with political pragmatism trumping ideological purity and leading to its internalization of the values of compromise and the political give and take that lies at the heart of democracy.Yes, exactly as shy and transformed as their best buddy in Ankara with his ever stiffening stranglehold on the remains of the secular Ataturk's state. And exactly as democratic as Vladimir Putin who is as slowly but as surely as Mr Erdogan burying the remaining vestiges of Russian democracy. You have to be a State Department know-nothing bozo** to believe this learned crapola.
Muslim Brotherhood had not changed a bit, since the times when their offshoot assassinated Anwar Sadat. Yes, they learned politicking, their representatives in the parliament wear suits (well, most of them) and they understand now that going slow and spilling less blood they will get easier, if not all that fast to accomplish their goals. Which remain the same from the day one: a misogynistic, repressive and xenophobic Sharia state, which will put a quick and final stop to the aspirations of some Egyptians for democracy and similar nonsense. And then there will be no more talks of democracy, I can assure you.
And when the learned professor talks about something ill-defined like "mainstream Islamists", you better don't ask him what he means. Because he doesn't know, too. Because there is only one kind. And you wouldn't like that kind up close and personal, I can assure you.
Otherwise, I can only repeat and totally agree with what Michael Totten says in his piece:
No one can predict the future anywhere in the world. It’s even harder in the Middle East than in other places. History doesn’t move in straight lines over there.The choices Egyptian people are looking at are stark. The only way to go for them will be to choose the lesser evil, and I think we all know which way the lesser evil waits.
(*) Or unless you go by this subtle hint from one of the administration's best and finest:
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper raised some eyebrows today at a House Intelligence Committee hearing when he called described the Muslim Brotherhood as a “largely secular” organization.If this one doesn't take the cake, it comes very close to snatching it from the table.
(**) Unless you are a Director of National Intelligence or some such VIP, of course.