The last few days of mass protests in Egypt show that broad swaths of Egypt’s population reject the Islamic dominated government of President Mohammed Morsi – a former politician with the Muslim Brotherhood party. That’s good news. The unsettling news is the U.S. has largely vanished with respect to efforts to engage Egypt’s liberal and secular opposition.
Morsi’s alarming track record over the last year reveals a government of severe economic incompetence coupled with a disdain for secular parties, women, and Coptic Christians. Egypt’s dwindling foreign reserves have dropped from $36 billion to $13 billion over a little more than two years.
Morsi and his fellow Islamists have demonstrated that they cannot internalize a system of checks and balances to impede abuses of power.
The rising anger directed at Morsi was captured by Shady el-Ghazaly Harb. “We are in a new,theocratic dictatorship,” said Ghazaly Harb, who helped launch protests against the authoritarian rule of former president Hosni Mubarak.
The showdown between Morsi and the powerful Egyptian military is unfolding. Morsi rejected a military ultimatum to end the crisis within 48 hours. With biting sarcasm and irony, Amir Taheri, the veteran Middle East commentator, tweeted, “Morsi seems to have achieved the impossible: making Egyptians miss the government of the military and intelligence service.”
My Foundation for Defense of Democracies colleague Khairi Abaza – who is currently in Egypt – summed up the pressing point of the current protests: “This crisis has taught many Egyptians that democracy is a process, not an event. Egypt’s new mass protests make it clear that this process is far from complete.”
Inherent in Egypt’s crisis are possibilities. Secular democracy remains an unrealized potential. Death notices are being issued to Egypt. Take the example of today’s article in the UK Times declaring: “The Arab Spring has failed.” The obituary writing is extremely premature and ignores the rough contours of history.
What is noticeably absent from the Egyptian demonstrations is the U.S. The New York Times declared “Chaos Grows in the Middle East as the U.S. Focuses on Israel.” The U.S. and European Union fixation on Israel at a time of massive upheaval and conflict in Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Libya, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Iraq, and Tunisia is a reminder of the bizarre priorities of contemporary Western foreign policies.
The Israel-Palestinian conflict is a kind of Mideast footnote in contrast with the Arab revolts and Syrian war unfolding across the region. Writing over at Bloomberg, Jeffrey Goldberg cogently argued that “John Kerry’s Bid for Mideast Peace is Doomed.”
All of this amounts to a call for the U.S. and its allies in Europe to move away from their intense fixation with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (at this stage at least) and start the process to engage liberal and secular groups in Egypt. The other crucial homework assignments entail the need for a no-flight zone to stop Syrian president Bashar Assad’s ongoing campaign of air strikes against his population; a credible military-threat and beefed-up sanctions plan to stop Iran’s nuclear-weapons program; and, lastly, the need to decimate the Iranian-sponsored terror entity Hezbollah’s funding in Europe and its criminal and terror networks in Africa and Central and Latin America.
— Benjamin Weinthal is a Berlin-based fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow Benjamin on Twitter @BenWeinthal