There is too much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth about Egypt. Obviously bloodshed is regrettable but neither surprising in the circumstances nor likely to escalate or even continue. The Muslim Brotherhood is a vile organization; and Egypt, the West, and everyone with an interest except the Islamist extremists and those secularists who skulk forward hiding under their piously flowing raiment can all be grateful that the Brotherhood’s plan to execute an incremental coup in Allende-like fashion, construing a 51.7 per cent mandate as a license to sectarianize the country and translate democracy into dictatorship, has failed. Clearly, a large number of Brotherhood supporters peeled off in the one year of the spectacular failure of Mohamed Morsi’s presidency. Unemployment reached stratospheric levels, and he confirmed the wildest expectations of those of us who predicted, on this site and elsewhere, that the Brotherhood would be even more economically inept than the generals had been.
At the end of the Korean War, 60 years ago, Egypt had a higher standard of living than war-ravaged South Korea. At the local manifestation of the Arab Spring two years ago, after military rule in Egypt for almost all the intervening years, by Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak, South Korea’s per capita annual income was five times that of Egypt, $30,000 to $6,000. Now, after one year of the shrill tinkering and posturing of the unprepossessing immediate past president, the ratio has expanded to more than six to one, as the Muslim Brotherhood’s economic miracle generated a 17 percent vertically descending camel ride for the 84 million people of Egypt. Whether it is widely touted as a cause of instability or not, this is the primary reason for Egyptian national discontent. There is absolutely no excuse for one-third of Egypt’s textile industry to be shut down and for a complete absence of investment and job creation, and scores of millions of Egyptians got the message that the Brotherhood leadership were dogmatic and authoritarian windbags who, although they may not have had the time to develop the self-indulgent habits of the entrenched military rulers of the preceding 57 years, were even less capable than the military of generating economic growth, were preoccupied with the devious and illegitimate imposition of their theocratic absolutism on a secular society, and were engaged in the unabashed rape of the democracy that elevated them. It was a swift and providential disillusionment.
The Egyptian army is the most respected institution in the country (as almost the only one that possesses any coherence or discipline), and it did enable Sadat to make an honorable peace with Israel, by crossing the Suez Canal and piercing the Bar Lev Line in the Yom Kippur War of 1973, (although President Nixon and Henry Kissinger had to intervene to prevent Ariel Sharon from forcing the surrender of the Egyptian Sinai army, an under-emphasized fact in Egyptian lore). The army dented, but did not fracture, its prestige by the bungling tug-of-war it conducted with the Brotherhood for over a year following the ouster of Mubarak (who was in fact one of the better rulers in Egyptian history, which is proverbially long but not thickly forested with enlightened rulers). This time around, the army took no chances, awaited a vast public demonstration of discontent, gave the hapless imposter Morsi an ultimatum (when has a revolution produced a more implausible national redeemer? Charlie Chaplin could not have portrayed this poltroon), acted almost bloodlessly with the support of a coalition of civilian interests, has installed a neutral government of technocrats, and is promising constitutional reform and new elections. It is a legitimate coup: a response to popular unrest, supported by the leader of the secular democrats, the principal clerical intellectual, and the leader of the long-suffering sectarian minority (the Coptic Christians).