While Morsi Falters, the Military Should Stay Out

by Emile Nakhleh

The massive demonstrations in Egypt and the growing calls for Morsi to step down indicate his democratic “sputtering start” has ground to a halt. It is equally disconcerting that many within the opposition—secularists, liberals, Christians, women, and even Salafis—who fought against the Mubarak military regime are now welcoming the possibility of a military intervention in Egyptian politics.

As President Barak Obama said recently, elections do not make a democracy. Military usurpation of this process, however, will not be good for Egypt. Such an act in the name of national security would take Egypt backward and would make a mockery of the principles of freedom, justice, and inclusion for which millions demonstrated thirty months ago.

President Morsi is the rightfully elected leader of Egypt and should not be thrown out of office lightly or under the threat of a military takeover. Yet, he has not governed well. Incompetence, insensitivity toward minorities and other groups that do not share the Muslim Brotherhood ideology, reticence to consult with his cabinet, and an inability to revive the economy have marred his rule.

In all fairness, he inherited a dictatorial, military top-heavy, corrupt regime, as well as an economy in steep decline. Furthermore, several groups have opposed his election and refused to be governed by a Muslim Brotherhood man. And they have worked feverishly to defeat him.

Ironically, this is not dissimilar to how some U.S. politicians have felt about President Barak Obama’s election. Those who were bent on defeating President Obama have used the courts, state legislatures, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, the threat of a filibuster in the Senate, and the ballot box to advance their agenda.

Egyptian oppositionists, by contrast, have gone to the streets despite their seeming initial acceptance of the results of last year’s election.

Elements from the old regime, members of the top brass in the military, radical Salafis, and some influential middle-class, self-described liberals and secularists seem to have one goal in common: to undo the Morsi presidency. They have refused to cooperate with him, hoping that a failed government would lead to the dismantling of the Muslim Brotherhood’s grip on post-Mubarak Egyptian politics.

They have also accused Washington of siding with the Muslim Brotherhood and coddling Morsi. The fact is, since the “Arab Spring” the Obama administration has been willing to work with incumbent Islamic political parties as long as they are tolerant, inclusive, pragmatic, and committed to compromise and peaceful resolution of disputes.

So far, the Obama administration has taken a correct course of action in calling on the Egyptian military not to scuttle the democratic process and urging Morsi to address his people’s demands tangibly, concretely, and immediately.

When he came to office, Morsi promised to be president of all of Egypt. Unfortunately, he failed to deliver. As a majority in the parliament, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, unlike their counterpart in Tunisia, has shown no inclination to form alliances with other parties and groups.

While he halted the downward spiral of the economy and successfully sought international loans, the daily life of the average Egyptian has worsened. In the past year, Egyptians have suffered from a lack of personal security and high unemployment.

Egyptian women under the new regime have been subjected to widespread personal attacks, sexual abuse, and humiliation. Morsi and his government have failed to combat the pervasive terror against women meaningfully and convincingly.

Lawlessness and joblessness are rampant. Thuggery and fear have replaced civility and hope.

Under Mubarak, state security agencies, the police, and the military were always ready to terrorize the opposition into submission. People were afraid, and the regime governed by fear.

People are no longer afraid and are willing to head to the streets to express their grievances.

In an IPS op-ed three months ago, I argued that in order to put Egypt on the right track, President Morsi should take several important steps immediately, including replacing the current constitution with one that is committed to tolerance, diversity, and social and political inclusion. But he failed to do so, and the situation deteriorated.

To save Egypt from total collapse and to prevent a possible civil war, Morsi should take a series of immediate actions. First, address the nation forcefully, clearly, and convincingly about the steps he intends to take.

Second, dissolve the government and appoint a new interim one that would represent all segments of the Egyptian people—gender, ideology, and religious affiliation.

Third, call for a national parliamentary election to be held within three months. That election should be much more simplified than the previous one. Parties would be allowed to offer slates of candidates for people to vote on. All political parties could compete in these elections; the party that garners a majority or a large plurality would be charged with forming a national coalition government.

Fourth, hold a presidential election no later than six months after the convening of the new parliament. Fifth, organize and lead a national conference of leaders representing the different segments of Egyptian society for the purpose of developing a comprehensive economic recovery, directed primarily at youth unemployment.

It might be too late for the opposition to be mollified by these actions or for the military to resist the temptation to take over the country. But the alternative of continued violence, instability, lawlessness, and joblessness will be catastrophic for the country. The U.S. and its European allies, together with international financial institutions, should work diligently to prevent Egypt’s descent into chaos.

Photo Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS 

Emile Nakhleh

Dr. Emile Nakhleh was a Senior Intelligence Service officer and Director of the Political Islam Strategic Analysis Program at the Central Intelligence Agency. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a Research Professor and Director of the Global and National Security Policy Institute at the University of New Mexico, and the author of A Necessary Engagement: Reinventing America’s Relations with the Muslim World and Bahrain: Political Development in a Modernizing State. He has written extensively on Middle East politics, political Islam, radical Sunni ideologies, and terrorism. Dr. Nakhleh received his BA from St. John’s University (MN), the MA from Georgetown University, and the Ph.D. from the American University. He and his wife live in Albuquerque, New Mexico.


One Comment

  1. Egypt is between a political rock and a hard place.

    While a military coup may sound like a “solution” compared to a Morsi government, that is not what Egypt needs for the long run. Military rule will bring Egypt back to where it was after the election when the military, under Tantawi, refused to hand power over to an interim civilian authority.

    May be through the military, the US may eventually be able to ensure another puppet regime that does not serve the interests of the Egyptian people.

    For western powers, it ultimately does not matter who rules Egypt—secular or Islamist—as long as the leadership allies with their economic and geo-political interests and agendas.

    It is likely that the US and Israel will eventually attempt to influence the policies and direction of the nation through the military, and beyond.

    In the face of this, Egypt needs a truly revolutionary, grass roots opposition; it requires a coalition of oppositional forces that can band together to address Egypt’s internal issues while avoiding the pitfalls of being Israel’s largest neighbour.

    What Egypt needs is an oppositional force that is truly revolutionary, is concerned with the poor, unemployed and the working class and is not beholden to, or a puppet of, western powers.

    Getting there will be no easy task but the people of Egypt have demonstrated and continue to demonstrate an unwillingness to go backwards. That is something to celebrate even if the immediate future is somewhat perilous.

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