6 questions (and some answers) about Egypt

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Article Highlights

  • When the military comes in, ousts the elected leader, and takes out his political party, that’s what we call a coup, folks.

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  • Is Mohamad ElBaradei a good, democratic, liberal sort of fellow?

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  • Morsi was an incompetent who managed to deny those who entrusted him with power the two things they wanted most: prosperity and security.

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1) Was this a coup?

  • When the military comes in, ousts the elected leader, takes out his political party, closes down its HQ, shuts down its media, and announces that it is in control, that’s what we call a coup, folks. Just because some people (Tom Friedman, David Brooks) like it, doesn’t mean it’s not. And the Obama administration/Egyptian military notion that it’s ok as long as the military is facilitating the “will of the people” is just claptrap.


2) Should US assistance be cut off?

  • Section 508 of the Foreign Assistance Act is clear in its language: “None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available pursuant to this Act shall be obligated or expended to finance directly any assistance to any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup or decree.
  • Here’s the problem: the president has to determine that there has been a coup. Sometimes (ahem, hypocrites of the Obama administration), that seems easy (Honduras), sometimes, not (Egypt).


3) Is Mohamad ElBaradei a good, democratic, liberal sort of fellow?

  • No. Egypt could use a technocrat at this moment.


4) OK, so it’s a coup. But shouldn’t we be sorta happy? Isn’t Morsi dreadful?

  • Let’s organize our thinking here. Yes, Morsi is a bad fellow who appeared intent upon subverting the very democracy that brought him to power. More troubling, apparently, to the Egyptian people: he was an incompetent who managed to deny those who entrusted him with power the two things they wanted most: prosperity and security.
  • Is he worse than Chavez was? How about Qadhafi? Assad? The straight answer is no.
  • So is Morsi’s ouster worth subverting our principles of democracy (for those of us who still believe in them) and the clear intent of US law in order to enjoy a more convenient outcome? The answer to that question should be no.


5) Does Egypt matter? What will happen with Israel? What about Iran?

  • Egypt doesn’t matter as much as it used to. It is no longer a great player on the Middle Eastern stage. Decision-making has moved to the Gulf. Insofar as Mubarak had a will to power, it was his own, and any greatness the country once had has been frittered away.
  • Does that mean we can ignore Egypt? No way. It’s still enormous, and while a maelstrom there is of little immediate moment, its collapse would have serious implications for the entire Middle East.
  • As long as there is stability in Egypt, Israel doesn’t care.
  • Some are wondering if this is good or bad news for Iran. On balance, despite Mohamad ElBaradei’s — and others’ — conflicted support for Iran’s nuclear program (because he hates Israel), hatred of Islamists tips the balance. Bad news.


6) What about the Obama administration? What should they do?

  • An unmitigated disgrace. The place this story should have begun was years ago with support for the liberals throughout the region – not Islamists or militarists. Instead, it defaulted to the “love the one you’re with” foreign policy that got us in trouble pre-Arab Spring, and will continue to get us in trouble. We provide billions to the region; that alone should help the United States to influence a slow and genuine opening to political and economic liberalism. Instead, it’s elections and business as usual — an exercise in abdication from Obama, Kerry et al that has been well-documented in every major newspaper of record.
  • Cut off aid. Slowly give it back if a transition to genuine democracy begins. What is genuine democracy? One where we support groups consonant with our values and our interests. One where parties that subscribe to those values earn our support and others are denied a stamp of approval from the US ambassador. One where there are real battles of ideas, and real parties, not simply ethnic and secular tribes at war.
  • How long does that take? Decades.

 

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