Murder on the Democracy Express
An Egyptian mystery with no easy answers — and no heroes.


Clifford D. May

There are those who argue — as has columnist Eugene Robinson — that Morsi nevertheless “honored the terms of a peace treaty with Israel,” thereby setting “an extraordinary example for the rest of the Muslim world.” Bosh. At this point in time, Egypt’s military is in no position to fight another war. Had Morsi been so foolish as to order Egypt’s generals to attack the Jewish state, they would have laughed in his face — if he were lucky.

An Egyptian civil war, however, is suddenly not unimaginable. On Monday, Egyptian soldiers fired on a crowd of pro-Morsi protesters, killing more than 50. Also on Monday, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) posted a video showing Morsi supporters throwing opponents off a roof. Vengeance will be sought. The voices urging calm may prove unpersuasive.

The Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Reuel Marc Gerecht argues that it would have been much better — that Islamism would have been much more profoundly discredited — had voters rather than soldiers turned Morsi out of office. I agree — though I somehow doubt Morsi would have quietly packed his bags and waited for the taxi.

General Abdul Fatah al-Sisi, chief of Egypt’s armed forces, has announced a “roadmap” out of the crisis. It is to begin with the formation of a civilian, technocratic government and a committee drawn from a wide political/ideological spectrum — Islamists included — to rewrite the constitution. That would be followed by a referendum as well as parliamentary and presidential elections. Call it Egyptian Democracy 2.0.

Should the U.S. support this effort? What, realistically, is the alternative? President Obama appears to see it that way too, which is why he’s trying to circumvent a U.S. law banning funding to any country where a democratically elected government has been overthrown by a military coup or decree.

The Wall Street Journal agrees with Obama — not something you see every day — pointing out that America’s $1.3 billion in annual military assistance buys “access” to Egypt’s generals. I would only add that access should not be confused with influence. If it becomes clear that we don’t have the latter — not just on economic policies but also on guaranteeing human rights for Christians and other minorities — it may be time to stop paying for the former.

— Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on national security.


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