A return to the bad old days


Supporters of Egypt's army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi holds a poster of Sisi in Tahrir square in Cairo, on the third anniversary of Egypt's uprising, January 25, 2014.

By any standard, last July’s military takeover in Egypt was a coup d’etat, with security forces unseating a legitimately elected government. That both the Egyptians and the Obama administration insist it was not a coup is a self-serving exercise in semantic jujitsu and does not alter the facts. Better to have called it a deserved coup, or popular regime change; Morsi had managed to marry the worst elements of intolerant Islamism with the hoary tradition of Egyptian incompetence, and in so doing allowed Al Qaeda onto Egyptian territory, rekindled sectarian animosity, denied Egyptians the security they had come to expect and failed to deliver on promised economic reforms.

Now Egypt has returned to status quo ante, the very recipe that began this manic swing from military strongman to Islamists and back. And it’s a mistake. Field Marshal Abdul Fattah el-Sisi, who Monday earned the endorsement of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to run for president in as yet unscheduled elections, fashions himself a Nasser-like figure, a latter-day savior. But the post-coup evidence thus far is of a regression to the Mubarak era and worse: A constitution that allows for little dissent, a military veto on “security” matters, little latitude for nongovernment organizations and none of the freedoms that brought the Egyptian masses into Tahrir Square.

The Muslim Brotherhood has given democracy a bad name; Mubarak did the same for authoritarianism. Is there no freedom in Egypt’s future? If the Middle East is ever to emerge from the dark ages of dictatorship, there must be a transition -- a first step away from the kings, ayatollahs, emirs and presidents-for-life that have tyrannized hundreds of millions of Arabs and Persians. What is that transition? Some believed a chastened Muslim Brotherhood would embrace a new pragmatism. Others hoped that the liberals who fueled so much of the Arab Spring could translate their protest movements into political leadership. Neither was right. And so Egypt will lead the return to the bad old days. Unfortunately, we are well aware how they ended, and will end again. And next time, whoever takes power will not be so easily ousted.

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About the Author



  • As a long-time Senate Committee on Foreign Relation senior professional staff member for the Near East and South Asia, Danielle Pletka was the point person on Middle East, Pakistan, India and Afghanistan issues. As the vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at AEI, Pletka writes on national security matters with a focus on Iran and weapons proliferation, the Middle East, Syria, Israel and the Arab Spring. She also studies and writes about South Asia: Pakistan, India and Afghanistan.

    Pletka is the co-editor of “Dissent and Reform in the Arab World: Empowering Democrats” (AEI Press, 2008) and the co-author of “Containing and Deterring a Nuclear Iran” (AEI Press, 2011) and “Iranian influence in the Levant, Egypt, Iraq, and Afghanistan” (AEI Press, 2012). Her most recent study, “America vs. Iran: The competition for the future of the Middle East,” was published in January 2014.


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