Egypt’s ongoing crisis has taken its latest turn with a dramatic showdown between the Morsi regime, beset by massive street protests, and the Egyptian military, which has given it an ultimatum to accommodate the protesters — or else.
The so-called Arab Spring has perpetually presented devilish choices between different sorts of malign actors, but this confrontation isn’t a hard call. We should encourage the military to act to end the dictatorial rule of Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood. Morsi has made Hosni Mubarak look like a paragon of good government, without his regime’s redeeming qualities of being relatively stable and allied with the United States.
At the beginning of the Egyptian revolution we called ourselves “cautiously pessimistic.” We noted that Egypt is a society “with basically illiberal values,” and argued that “simply throwing elections on top of such a society is not a formula for liberal democracy.” The Muslim Brotherhood has acted in accordance with this insight at every turn. It won elections but reneged on the assurances it had made about not competing for the presidency, forced through a sharia constitution, defied the courts, and did everything possible to consolidate its power and make itself unassailable.
As Middle East expert Barry Rubin points out, President Obama’s policy has perversely boosted the Brotherhood. His State Department wanted to support the continuation of the Mubarak government without Mubarak, but Obama balked. He pushed for hasty elections before more moderate parties had time to organize, and gave them no assistance. Even now, he lends the Morsi regime legitimacy by calling it democratically elected when its aims and means are clearly undemocratic and deeply illiberal. It’s no wonder that President Obama and our ambassador to Egypt, Anne Patterson, are objects of the protesters’ fury.
We should support a resolution forged by the military, ideally the appointment of a technocratic placeholder government and the calling of a constitutional convention. The Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists may well take up arms in response. They will then be waging their war on pluralism in Egypt more openly but — crucially — without the instruments of state power. Ending the misrule of the Morsi regime is the predicate for any progress in a country torn by a revolution that went disastrously wrong.