Egypt: reads and reactions

Nothing much in the way of additional information on the situation in Egypt since I posted on it yesterday morning, although chief justice Adli Mansour has now apparently been sworn in as interim president. But as you’d expect there’s been an avalanche of commentary and analysis. Here are some that I found particularly worth reading.

Start with Juan Cole, usually a good guide to happenings in the Middle East. He coins the term “revocouption” to describe what’s happened, a cross between a military coup and a popular revolution. Like me, he sees the justification for it but is deeply concerned about the implications. Here’s his conclusion:

Egypt’s future stability and prosperity now depends on whether the officer corps and youth are mature enough to return to pluralist principals and cease persecuting the Muslim Brotherhood just because Morsi was high-handed. … And it depends on whether the Muslim Brotherhood is wise and mature enough to roll with this punch and to reform itself, giving up its cliquish and cult-like internal solidarity in favor of truly becoming a nation-wide, center-right, democratic opposition party. …

At the moment, neither of those two groups is demonstrating the maturity and high-mindedness that would reassure me about the prospects for a genuinely democratic transition.

Next turn to Fairfax’s Paul McGeough, who is a bit more sympathetic to Morsi and the Brotherhood. McGeough is a great reporter, but I’m not so sure about his analysis here. Like most pundits, he doesn’t explain what was really problematic about the 2012 presidential election. He says “there was a problem with the numbers – the Islamists did too well in the elections and in a part of the world where the winner takes all, it was too hard to share power.” True enough, but it overstates the support base that Morsi started with.

Then read the BBC’s Frank Gardner on what it means for political Islam. He’s very even-handed, but he sees the dangers clearly:

When the Arab Spring protest movement overthrew the corrupt and discredited government of Egypt’s President Mubarak in 2011, and elections replaced it with the Muslim Brotherhood, this was a serious blow to al-Qaeda and the jihadists. It showed the world there was a future for political Islam through peaceful, democratic means.

Events in Cairo this week now risk undermining that logic.

For a more trenchantly hostile view of the coup, check out Bloomberg’s Noah Feldman. His attitude to democracy seems a bit equivocal; on the one hand, he cites with approval “The framers of the U.S. Constitution” who “feared that democracy could devolve into rule of the mob.” One might draw from that the moral that Egyptian democracy needed some sort of institutional check, failing which the army had to provide one, but Feldman goes the other way:

What distinguishes constitutional democracy from mob rule is that orderly processes are followed. And what distinguishes it from autocracy is that the military doesn’t get to choose who rules. The Egyptian people as a whole are not getting rid of Mursi. The army is, with cover provided by the protesters who lost at the ballot box.

Again, the fact that “losing at the ballot box” was a function of a specific electoral system is not permitted to intrude.

A contrasting view, also claiming its liberal credentials, comes from Hans van Baalen, president of Liberal International. He expresses “support for the interim government” and says “The European Union and Member States should work closely with the interim government to ensure stability in the Mediterranean area.”

While the remainder of his statement was evidently written before the coup took place, it is implicitly a justification of it:

Democratic legitimacy is not only gained through the ballot box; it is won through the policies implemented. Legitimacy is drawn from good governance, too. … The Egyptian liberals and the people who demonstrate have more than a reason to question Morsi’s legitimacy.

That’s a dangerous argument, even if it might be a danger that we have to live with.

Finally, have some sympathy for other governments trying to calibrate their reactions to events in Europe. Here, for example, is Barack Obama:

[W]e are deeply concerned by the decision of the Egyptian Armed Forces to remove President Morsy and suspend the Egyptian constitution. I now call on the Egyptian military to move quickly and responsibly to return full authority back to a democratically elected civilian government as soon as possible through an inclusive and transparent process …

The United States continues to believe firmly that the best foundation for lasting stability in Egypt is a democratic political order with participation from all sides and all political parties — secular and religious, civilian and military. … Moreover, the goal of any political process should be a government that respects the rights of all people, majority and minority; that institutionalizes the checks and balances upon which democracy depends; and that places the interests of the people above party or faction.

He sounds a lot like a man desperately trying to have it both ways. But what else can you do?

Mark Mardell, the BBC’s Washington correspondent, gives a good analysis of Obama’s statement. He also helpfully provides a link to the actual text, so that readers can check for themselves – a move that other media organisations should learn to imitate.

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