Egypt's Stillborn Democracy
While all eyes in Washington have been directed as to whether or not we will be going off the "fiscal cliff", there is a civilizational cliff that much of the Muslim and Arab world are rapidly plunging across. Much of the West had thought we had been providing them with a parachute, cut out of the soft, gentle fabric, imported from America and England, of respect for human rights, the little "give" provided by tolerance, and a foundation of democratic institutions upon which to fall.
Instead, we are looking at a Middle East that is descending in an inchoate free fall back down onto the familiar ground of religious fundamentalism, primordial, primitive tribal society, and internecine warfare which that region of the world is so accustomed to.
Take Egypt, for example. The over 50 billion dollars in U.S. aid that we have given the Egyptians in the 34 years since they had signed the Camp David Treaty with Israel had deceptively assured many of us that we would have our hand on the parachute strings to help direct the trajectory of the fall. Instead we have just provided them with the reassurance that our hard earned tax payers dollars will forever provide a soft cushion on which to land, irrespective of how they value human rights and democracy, or treat America and her one sole democratic ally in the Middle East, the state of Israel.
While many of us were enjoying our winter holidays, Egyptians went to the polls and voted for a Shariah based, Islamist constitution, which passed by 63.8 per cent. Egypt, the largest populated country in the Arab world with a population of 82.5 million people, has been left badly polarized. Coptic Christians, seculars, liberals, and leftists have been rendered powerless as they have watched the march of Islamist ascendency and the slow steady erosion of the liberties.
Morsi's critics have complained that this constitution does not represent all Egyptians, and that it allows imams to interfere in legislation, while it offers little or no protection to women and minorities.
This is just one of many freedoms that the Egyptians have been watching erode. The secular tyranny of Hosni Mubarak has simply been replaced by the Islamist tyranny of Mohammad Morsi.
As soon as Mohammad Morsi came into power, he took over the media, the fourth estate, sacking the secular communications director and replacing him with a Muslim Brotherhood member. He then proceeded to purge scores of newspaper publishers and editors.
In August, when Islamists attacked Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai -- which as some have taken as a pretense to force Egypt into a confrontation with Israel -- Morsi used this instance as a smokescreen to replace Mohamad Hussein Tantawi, the secular head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, (SCAF), and Army Chief of Staff Sami Enan, to replace them with Muslim Brothergood member, Abdal Kahlil Fatah a- Sisi. (So much for the popular argument in Washington that we have to support the Egyptian military because it is the "most western of institutions").
When Morsi sacked Tantawi and Enan, he used that occasion to grab control of all the legislative authorities, promising that this was only going to be until a new, draft constitution could be voted upon. This constitution, which was voted upon on December 25th, makes Islamist clerics the arbiters of human rights and sets up Saudi style "religious police".
The constitution allows for Muslim clerics to segregate the sexes, much as they do in Saudi Arabia, and to impose strict Islamic codes of dress and Sharia punishment for theft, (amputation of the hand), and for adultery, (the stoning or whipping to death of women).
As Sheik Yasser Borhami, an ultraconservative Egyptian cleric, gleefully boasted, "This constitution has more constraints on rights than ever existed before in any Egyptian constitution. This will not be a constitution that allows what God forbids, or forbid what God allows."
Borhani also added that by using the political system of "democracy and the Shura, (Islamic religious consultation), the constitution prevents what he refers to as an "American or European democracy", that "gives the power of legislation to people and not to God."
Although the fig leaf of democracy should have totally been dropped by now, there are still many in Washington who fervently cling to the belief that because Mohammad Morsi came in through a process of democratic elections, this "Arab Spring" has summoned the birth of democracy in the Arab world.
Just as the Nazis came into power claiming to clean up the corruption of the Weimar Republic, and Hamas came into power in Gaza claiming to clean up the corruption of Fatah, Mohammad Morsi came into power cleaning up the corruption of Hosni Mubarak.
Democracy in the Arab world has been stillborn. If you have any doubt about that, just ask the Coptic Christians and the scores of other people who have been detained without trial, tortured and murdered for protesting the new constitution in Egypt.
Sarah N. Stern is Founder and President of EMET, The Endowment for Middle East Truth, an unabashedly pro-Israel and pro-American think tank and policy shop in Washington, DC.