A Second Chance for Egypt
What do Eliot Spitzer, Anthony Weiner, and the Egyptian people have in common? They all want a do-over. Of the three, the Egyptian people certainly deserve one.
Those who bemoan the end of a "democratically elected government" are seriously myopic. What was democratic about it? After decades without elections, free political parties, or a truly representative parliament, Egyptians, who at most "organized" street protests, were expected to organize an election almost overnight. No experience. No organization. No election-ready parties. And most important, there was no constitution setting the rules of the game. Everyone knew that the Muslim Brotherhood, with its grassroots social organization, would prevail.
Yes, everyone. The Obama administration, essentially President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton, with their demands that the elections "include all parties," is most responsible for bringing the Muslim Brotherhood to power. They succeeded in doing what no Egyptian government or ruler, not even Gamal Abdel Nasser, ever did, and allowed the Muslim Brotherhood to rule. Why should "all parties" be included? Has everyone forgotten the separation of religion and state? Why should religious parties be permitted? More time to prepare -- whether under Hosni Mubarak, as he proposed, or under an interim military government -- would have permitted a well-thought-out constitution to set the parameters for true democracy.
The administration might argue that the Muslim Brotherhood at the time said that it would not seek the presidency or compete in elections. But had anyone in the administration even cursorily read the history of Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood, they would have known that the Brotherhood had tried that ploy before and would not have confused a pledge to remain in the background with indifference to power.
Throughout its history, the Muslim Brotherhood did not organize a political party. But that did not mean it did not want power. Indeed, making Islamic law the law of the land required a state to enforce it. But the Brotherhood was content to let others do the political work and then sought appointments, policies and programs from sympathizers in government positions. And when it did not get its expected way, it employed threats and violence, including assassinations. It also had another tactic that bears our watching out for today. When, for example, the revolutionary leaders of 1952 rejected the Muslim Brotherhood's requests, the Brotherhood expressed its cooperation in public but covertly opposed the regime.
The Obama administration now is repeating its mistake, rushing elections and calling for an all-inclusive government. Yes, religious organizations could have a political place. But as interest groups, not as governing bodies.
And what is the knee-jerk reaction to military government? Actually, the military in Egypt, as in Turkey, is considered the guardian of the revolution, representing independence and republican government. The military led the Egyptian revolution in 1952. Mubarak, as Anwar al-Sadat and Nasser before him, was a military ruler. It is true that the military in Egypt has accrued outsize economic power, but it still could serve an important balancing function until civilian rule is democratically established. And important for the United States, the current military is in tune with our interests in the region and has cooperated with Israel in preserving Egypt's treaty with Israel.
Egyptians have realized their mistake and we should realize ours. Instead of pressing Egypt to hurry up and hold elections, we should be offering our expertise in writing constitutions (by the way, we, too, had a do-over, when we threw out the Articles of Confederation), organizing parties, and (only then) holding elections.
Marcia Drezon-Tepler is a freelance writer, specializing in politics and Middle East affairs.