Will Morsi's Overthrow Lead to Egyptian Civil War?
In the irony of ironies, the first democratically elected president of the Arab Republic of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi, was overthrown on July 3 by the Egyptian military, ostensibly to save Egypt's fledgling "democracy." Doubtlessly, Morsi's organization, the Muslim Brotherhood (al-Ikhwan al-Muslimin), was in the process of dismantling any vestiges of democracy and installing an Islamic dictatorship. Yet the intervention of Egypt's military has produced a situation in which the Ikhwan claim to be the victims of a coup. Simultaneously, the disparate -- and desperate -- secular opposition have aligned themselves with the very military that only two years ago they helped bring down. What follows if the Egyptian military does not give up power -- or even bans the Islamists in a future election -- may be a bloody civil war that will make the Algerian civil war of the 1990s look tame by comparison.
It is a painful fact for victims of a new pathogenesis that might rightly be diagnosed as "Arab Spring Fever" to recognize and acknowledge that the Brotherhood and their even more radical allies, the Salafis, won over 70% of the vote in the parliamentary elections of 2012. As for the presidential election, Morsi won by a narrow 51%. Regardless, a majority of Egyptian Muslims freely and democratically voted for a would-be sharia state, and polls show that Egypt's Muslims want more Islam in their lives. It is simply pure Western fantasy and mythology to think that any anger at Morsi means that Egyptian Muslims are somehow disillusioned with an Islamist state. Rather, the fault may very well deal with the character of Morsi and Egypt's poor economy inherited from the despotism and nepotism of the previous regimes, rather than Islamism and the Brotherhood per se.
Mohamed Morsi was nothing more than a last-minute substitute by the Brotherhood when their original candidate, Khairat el-Shater, was banned by Egypt's Electoral Commission from running for the presidency due to his past criminal conviction. No doubt, the Ikhwan have learned a lesson in regard to Morsi's non-charismatic and "fast-forward Islamist" ways. And like the slow but irrevocable Turkish tilt toward an Islamist state under Recep Tayipp Erdoğan, the Brotherhood will in all probability follow the same example in the next electoral go-around with whoever will be their candidate. And that is to "go slow, but go steady" in establishing an Islamic state. For Egypt, unlike non-Arab Turkey, the goal will be much more quickly accomplished, as Egypt never went through a Kemalist-like revolution as Turkey did in the early 20th century. Egypt, like the rest of the Arab world, has never known anything comparable to a Western-style democracy.
No doubt there are liberals in Egypt -- as well as other Muslim countries -- who would like to abolish both secular and Islamic dictatorships. However, that does not mean that these individuals will be amenable to Western-style democracy, and embrace America and Israel. Indeed, most Egyptians (like most Muslims) abhor and loathe the State of Israel, as well as America. If it wasn't so sad, it would be laughable how secularists and Islamists agree on this one issue.
But a monumental paradox -- call it the Islamic version of the "Riddle of the Sphinx" -- remains for pro-"Arab Spring" people to solve. What happens if Egypt's present rulers decide that the Islamists have a right to run in a new election, and happen to win -- once again -- a majority in the Parliament as well as the presidency? Will those who have been infected by the idée fixe of "Arab/Muslim democracy" again call for Egypt's military to overthrow a democratically elected government? If so, then the "Arab Spring" fantasists should ready themselves for an Algerian-style civil war.
In 1991, a barbaric civil war began in Algeria that left hundreds of thousands murdered from both Islamists and the military. Innocent civilians were butchered, slaughtered, and beheaded, with both sides blaming each other for the atrocities. The war became inevitable when the Islamic Salvation Front won the first round of elections and were poised to win the second and last round. This would have meant the first democratically elected Islamic state in the Arab world. However, the Algerian military canceled by fiat the last round of elections. This set off a bloody chain of events between the Islamists and the military. The Islamists were soon joined by even more radical Islamist groups that went on a killing spree almost indescribable in its brutality. While Algeria presently remains a de facto secular state, the Islamists remain a power only smothered by a military-backed government with a civilian façade. Will Algeria's past become Egypt's future?
Sadly, this may very well come to pass. Unlike the Egyptian opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood has had an 85-year-long presence in Egyptian society. Even with a military-backed government, 44% of Egyptians cannot even name the present interim president, Adly Mansour. Protests, clashes, and killings are a daily occurrence. If Egypt's labyrinthine political past is a foreshadowing of future events, then it can be confidently stated that a "democratic Egypt" is nowhere to be found. Gamal Abdel Nasser's Egypt was a military dictatorship, followed by his successors, Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak. And of course, Morsi's democratically elected government of 2012 was a resounding endorsement for Islamic totalitarianism. It is a conundrum for Westerners to comprehend that Islamists, who wish to do away with democracy, are democratically elected, while the secular opposition is forced to align with a military-installed government in order to ensure basic human rights.
Eventually, democratic romanticists who in paroxysms hail the "Arab Spring" will have to face reality. And the reality is that a plurality, if not a majority, of Arab and non-Arab Muslims dream of an Islamocracy and not a Western secular democracy. Bluntly stated, Islam is what Muslims love best -- or are at least most comfortable with.
To pontificate to Muslims that they would prefer a Jefferson/Madison democracy and constitution is nothing short of a patronizing attitude that seems to encompass the Western outlook regarding the Muslim mindset. It may very well take untold decades before Arabs and other Muslims decide that political Islam -- if not Islam itself -- will never be the solution to their political, religious, cultural, and economic morass. Until that time ever comes to fruition, the West will continue to dabble in the dangerous fantasy of "Arab/Muslim democracy." Unfortunately for secularist Westerners, this is nothing short of deadly illusions, if not deadly delusions.
Steven Simpson is a writer/researcher with a B.A. in political science and a master's degree in library science. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.