It’s not exactly news that democracy doesn’t work in Arab countries.
The overthrow of Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi, came just one year after he was voted into office. The country is now effectively back in the hands of the army, which has ruled it for over sixty years, since the overthrow of the king in 1952.
The change is not being called a coup, as that would look bad and cut it off from US aid. So, instead, the army is simply defending the constitution and has appointed a front man, in the form of the Chief Justice, to oversee a transitional government to restore the country to democracy. Senator John McCain commented that the new military leaders “must show they are making a rapid transition back to democracy.” Back to democracy? They only had one year of democracy after thousands of years of various forms of dictatorial rule.
There are 22 Arab countries – none is a democracy as we understand the term in the West. Democracy and Arab culture are mutually exclusive.
Genesis 16:12 is as good an explanation as any when it comes to understanding why. “And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him;”
This prophecy is about Ishmael, the ancestor of the Arabs.
But we still need to note what brought Morsi down.
The two biggest concerns in Egypt are preserving the peace and the economy.
Morsi, an Islamist, has been very supportive of Hamas, the militant Palestinian group that controls the Gaza Strip, an area that borders Egypt. Helping Hamas risked Israeli action, hence the concerns for peace.
But the economy was the biggest concern. The economy has deteriorated in the last two years as the turmoil has deterred tourists. After one year under Morsi, it is still deteriorating. As a BBC journalist reported from Cairo on July 4th, “The generals here have to come up with solutions quickly. Political honeymoons here are short.” A big improvement in the short term is not likely, so what’s going to happen? The turmoil is not over yet.
Egypt may be the focus of international attention right now but what’s happening there must be seen in a regional and global context.
The Economist magazine cover story the week of the Egyptian upheaval was titled “The march of protest” (June 29th). The leader highlighted rioting around the world. “Yet just as in 1848, 1968, and 1989, when people also found a collective voice, the demonstrators have much in common. Over the past few weeks, in one country after another, protestors have risen up with bewildering speed. They have been more active in democracies than dictatorships. They tend to be ordinary, middle-class people, not lobbies with lists of demands. Their mix of revelry and rage condemns the corruption, inefficiency and arrogance of the folk in charge.”
Written days before the Egyptians erupted in demands for Morsi to go, The Economist leader said the following (preceding the paragraph above):
“The protests have many different origins. In Brazil people rose up against bus fares. In Turkey against a building project. Indonesians have rejected higher fuel prices, Bulgarians the government’s cronyism. In the euro zone, they march against austerity, and the Arab spring has become a perma-protest against pretty much everything. Each angry demonstration is angry in its own way.”
Economic concerns amongst the people are the primary cause of the protests in Egypt but there was also the concern for peace (war would only make things worse).
The removal of President Morsi is also going to have a profound effect on the Muslim Brotherhood. Islamists won the Algerian election in 1992, but the army intervened to stop them from ruling the country. Hamas won the 2006 election to the Palestinian legislative council, but a combined effort by western countries and Israel put barriers in front of them. Now, Egypt’s democratically elected Islamist government has been overthrown by the military.
The lesson here for the Islamists is that they will not be allowed victory through the ballot box. They will have to consider alternatives.
Whatever the immediate outcome of Egypt’s current turmoil, Egypt’s problems are far from over. It is likely that foreign journalists will be returning to Tahrir Square for many years to come.