- By Dov ZakheimDov Zakheim is a senior fellow at the CNA Corporation, senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, vice chairman of the Foreign Policy Research Institute.
So it was a coup. What of it? The Western media and hand-wringing liberals were perfectly comfortable with the military coup that ousted Hosni Mubarak, whose government was internationally recognized as the legitimate government of Egypt. They praised the very same young liberals when they brought Mubarak down that they now condemn for doing the same to Mohamed Morsy. They vaunted the upheavals in the Arab world as a new "Arab Spring," with democracy around the corner, and reviled the traditional monarchies for not responding to the "will of the people."
The fact that the Islamist government of Morsy was "democratically" elected proves little. Morsy won with barely a majority, thanks to the well-organized Muslim brotherhood. He and his Muslim Brothers hypnotized Western observers and analysts with platitudes about democracy and good governance. But Morsy was not the people’s choice; the millions who demonstrated against him made that abundantly clear.
Morsy’s downfall was not a Latin American style, or even a Turkish-style military intervention. The people wanted him and his Islamist henchmen out because the Brotherhood had abused its power. The military, who had been prepared to work with him, concurred. The generals saw their country falling apart, with basic services, such as electricity, no longer available to all, as they had been under Mubarak. In the end, the generals, the people, the churchmen — even the moderate imams — recognized that the Egyptian elections were little different from those in Gaza, with the same outcome and the same lesson. Islamic democracy is an attainable goal; Islamist democracy is an oxymoron.
The popular Egyptian uprising, for that is what it was, also proved that the West cannot impose democracy on other societies, whether by force, as in Iraq, or by economic pressure, as was the case for the past eighteen months in Egypt and is now being mooted again. Democracy is a luxury that many in the Third World aspire to, but that does not rank among their highest priorities. Most people, in the Third World and indeed everywhere, assign a higher priority to stability, safety, the ability to earn one’s living and provide for one’s family, education and a better future for one’s children, and, not least, the right to worship as one pleases. The West, which has pretty much afforded all of these needs to its citizens, has as a result raised democracy to a higher priority. So too have secular, educated, English-speaking Third World liberals, who tend to be better off than most of their countrymen. Even in their case, however, as Africa’s sorry post-independence history makes clear, those who preach democracy while in opposition often suppress it when they come to power.
It should also be noted that most Western nations, including the United States, had well-developed civil societies before they afforded universal suffrage to their citizens. Why expect more from states with poorly developed civil societies and little if any democratic traditions? Surely states with well-developed civil societies, anxious to preserve their rights and obtain new freedoms, would reject autocratic Islamist parties in free elections; the fact that Egypt did not do so, nor did the citizens of Gaza, either indicates that those who voted for Hamas and the Brotherhood were not interested in democracy, or, lacking civil institutions, had an incomplete understanding of what democracy is really all about. In either case, elections caused more problems than they solved.
The generals who overthrew Morsy have no desire to govern. Hopefully, the Brotherhood’s year of misrule will serve as a fillip both to those civil institutions that do exist in Egypt and to citizens who will now understand that Islamism, as opposed to Islam, is simply not compatible with good governance, much less democracy. And they will vote accordingly when they next have an opportunity to register their preferences at the Egyptian ballot box.