Well, If it Worked in Egypt...
There is a real uproar in Congress at the present time over whether we should continue providing foreign aid to Egypt following the recent changes in their government. Senators and representatives on both sides of the aisle are frothing at the mouth over the actions of the Egyptian military to essentially void the result of the election a year ago that brought Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood into power following the ouster of Hosni Mubarak.
Since I don't get to vote on the matter (or even more importantly, if you're a politician, be held accountable for that vote), I feel entitled to look at it without fear that I might be less than objective.
While I hear people like John McCain whining "It's a coup! It's a coup!" I don't hear anyone asking what justification the Egyptian military felt it had to replace Morsi. It's almost as if our elected politicians think that there is something sacred about the idea of elections. If it wasn't so dangerous to America's security, such protestations would almost be amusing. I don't recall McCain, or any other member of Congress, whining "But Saddam Hussein was elected as President of Iraq!" or "But Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected President of Iran!" or even "But Hugo Chavez was elected as President of Venezuela!"
In the United States, they may be right about the idea that elections are sacrosanct -- but ONLY in the United States. In other countries, other assumptions might prevail. In America, religion has become merely a label that might bring you a block of voters. Of course it might also lose you a block of voters. But in Muslim majority societies, religion is itself a force seeking to dominate every decision and policy. And once you join religion and politics, you have a very volatile mix.
Morsi soft-pedaled his radical Islamist views when running for election. Naturally the Muslim Brotherhood knew the truth of the matter (as subsequent events have demonstrated) but non-Brotherhood Muslims were taking Morsi at his word and envisioned a more secular, westernized nation where the strict interpretation of Sharia would not hold sway.
Sadly for them, Morsi's view of his "mandate" to provide a fundamental change in Egyptian society was somewhat different from his rhetoric. He apparently thought Egypt could be made perfect under the strictest of Sharia law. Sort of a Taliban-style government, but with a few pyramids tossed in.
When you have a quarter of the total population taking to the streets, what that really demonstrates that you have lost legitimacy as a government. Keep in mind, though, that while the raw numbers suggest that the total number of protesters was about a quarter of Egypt's total population, the protesters were nearly all men. Since even the most "liberal" Islamic countries don't really count women, what that really means that about half of the total male population was up in arms about Morsi's power grab, even if he claimed it was really only on behalf of the Prophet (Blessing and Peace be upon...etc., etc., etc).
American politicians, for all their claims of intellectual superiority and their condescending air when speaking to the citizenry, fail to grasp one stunningly simple truth: democracy is NOT natural. It is a pretty new idea, after all. And even in strong, liberal democracies, not all elections are irreversible. Look at Great Britain, for example. In their democracy, the legislature, Parliament, can call a vote of no confidence, and force a new election for prime minister. Does anyone think that John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Chuck Schumer, or Diane Feinstein are going to be fainting with the vapors should that happen? After all, if David Cameron were to be ousted as Britain's prime minister, would any American do more than note it in passing?At most the State Department might send a note of condolence, but not much beyond that.
Another point they've overlooked is the fact that Kemal Ataturk, arguably the most capable Islamic national leader of the modern period, deliberately arranged for the army to take over in the event of a failure of Turkish government. While we might find this interpretation of checks and balances a little extreme, it worked in Turkey until just recently.
The American system of democracy, which is from the Greek meaning "governance by common people", has been worked on for a while now. Quite a while, actually. Like nearly 400 years! And I think most people would agree that we're still having problems getting it to work.
Now along comes the Second Egyptian Arab Spring. And those canny Egyptians will even throw in not only a coup but, as an added bonus, a revolution for free. Well, there is a small matter of $1.3 billion in continued foreign aid, but never mind.
Exactly what part of this amazing deal upsets McCain and Company?
Well, as mentioned above, America has been trying to get democracy to work well for nearly 400 years, since the original Mayflower Compact. And there are always (to quote the president) bumps in the road. Now suppose, just suppose, mind you, that this time the Egyptians get their second bite at the apple to actually work. Especially after all the hand wringing about how Morsi was elected. If we think of the military's actions in Egypt as a sort of "recall" on the Turkish model, could it be that American's might think:
"Well gee, if the Egyptians can make it work, we should be able to do it even better. If one of our politicians, to get elected, lied like a rug, why can't we just toss him or her out? Or even toss them all out?"
Could it be that our politicians, of both parties and every fringe subgroup of both parties are worried that this whole coup thing could be contagious? Could it be that the Senate is afraid that preparing for an "American Spring", the 17th Amendment might be repealed? Could recall elections have a prime spot in America's political future?
But just having Americans entertain those kinds of thoughts is enough to make politicians sort of nervous while they once again demonstrate their failure to remember the words of our founders:
"Where the people fear the government, there is tyranny, Where the government fears the people, there is liberty."
-- Thomas Jefferson
Perhaps Americans will benefit more from this Egyptian upheaval even more than the Egyptians will. But only if we keep our politicians nervous.
Jim Yardley is a retired financial controller, a two-tour Vietnam veteran and writes frequently about political idiocy, business and economic idiocy and American cultural idiocy. Jim also blogs at http://jimyardley.wordpress.com/, and can be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org