Monday, July 8, 2013

Egypt Coup Was Necessary to Preserve Democracy


This article originally appeared on PolicyMic on 8 July 2013.

Mohamed Morsi has been removed as the elected President of Egypt following a military coup d'etat widely supported by the Egyptian public. Violent clashes continue between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood, as Egyptians — and not America or the West — are control their own fate. Independence and stability must come before democracy can take root.

The military takeover has given rise to cries from some among the media intelligentsia. For example, The Independent's Robert Fisk blames President Barack Obama for not denouncing the coup, and claims it shows Egypt is not on the path to democracy (as claimed). Whether called a coup or not, history shows that the road to democracy begins with such violent events, and the military may be the only stable national institution to turn to in times of crisis.

The history of every major democracy in the world starts with a violent war or revolution or even several of them. From Britain's Magna Carta to the American and French revolutions, it has become a rule of history that those asked to give up absolute power won't give it up without a fight. It is wrong to think things are any different in the 21st century. This is a lesson of America and Britain's misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan —democracy doesn't grow on trees.

Though the West claims to believe in democracy above all else, the truth is that democracy doesn't work overnight or on its own. The proper groundwork must be laid. This includes, among others, the trust and confidence of the people, rule of law, freedom of speech and press, a stable economic system and a system safeguarding the physical security and order of the citizenry.

Egypt under President Morsi had none of these things. His refusal to negotiate, failure to commit to improving the economy and assertion that his policy was supreme law brought the people into the streets, eventually leading the military to depose him. In Morsi's defense, he was only in office for a year. But we should expect the people of Egypt, hungry for change after Mubarak, to keep coming back to the streets until someone gets it right. It will be violent and bloody.

The French Revolution would have sent Morsi and his Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood to the guillotine — fortunately the Egyptian military has only arrested them, giving several days advanced warning. It may take years of struggles before Egypt stabilizes. America struggled with violent uprisings throughout the first years of its independence. The struggle for sustainable democracy will take longer. Britain's oft-violent struggle for democracy took place over centuries and the UK still has no written constitution. Just because we have 24-hour television and Twitter coverage of the events today doesn't mean that things are any different.

It is a mistake to categorically reject this Egyptian coup as an assertion of military rule and a rejection of democracy. It is a misunderstanding of how revolutions often work. There are many recent historical precedents, particularly in Southwest Asia, which show that the military can act as a national safeguard, providing stability until civilian institutions can get it right in the eyes of the people.

Throughout the modern history of Turkey, the military has acted as a national safeguard. In 1960, 1971 and again in 1980, the Turkish military deposed the civil government. In each case the country had been gripped with economic, social and political turmoil and in each case the military quickly returned the country to civilian rule. Ethnic and political strife has made Pakistan hard for anyone to rule, leading it to be called a "compromise state." The Pakistani military has been the only institution with the strength to rule, supporting coups in 1958, 1977 and 1999, though it has not always been as quick to return to civil rule. The military has also played a vital role in the stability of Thailand, stepping in when the government was deadlocked, most recently in 2006 over the allegedly corrupt rule of millionaire Thaksin Shinawatra.

One only need look at the conduct of the Egyptian military itself during the initial stages of the uprising against the Mubarak government. While the military was brutally suppressing protests in other regional states such as Bahrain, Libya, Syria and Yemen, Egyptian troops generally remained calm observers. Though there were complaints following the fall of Mubarak, rule was quickly returned to civil hands. Now, again following the deposition of President Morsi, the country is nominally in the hands of a civilian interim government, headed by Supreme Court judge Adly Mansour and international diplomat Mohamed ElBaradei.

To denounce this coup as an attack on democracy in Egypt paints a false picture, as does depicting it as a return to military dictatorship. The fact that the overwhelming majority of Egyptians support the action should not be brushed aside. States in turmoil often turn to stable institutions such as the military to safeguard the national interest in times of crisis. The Egyptian military is already taking steps to turn the country back over to civil, democratic rule. Those who are sending up cries of foul had better return to their history books and look at events on the ground. Independence and stability first—then comes democracy.