MIDDLE EAST: by Jeffry Babb News Weekly
Egyptian army ousts Morsi in show of force
, July 20, 2013
A dictator is no less of a dictator because he is placed in power by a majority of voters.
If a political leader believes that his party’s control of a majority of parliamentary seats means he can do what he pleases, regardless of the interests of minorities, then this is no longer a liberal democracy, but something called majoritarian democracy, because there are no constraints on the exercise of power.
A liberal democracy is governed by the rule of law, and the rights of minorities are protected by a constitution or similar statute. The government cannot banish people merely because they are Jews or Catholics or have brown eyes.
It was becoming clear that Egypt’s recently ousted president, Mohamed Morsi, saw government as a means of institutionalising the program of the Muslim Brotherhood, with the eventual aim of imposing Islamic religious law on all Egyptians — religious, secular and Christian.
This is clearly not democratic; but in the eyes of the Muslim Brotherhood it is logical, because in Islam there is no separation of religion and state. All you need to know about governing is contained in the Koran, which is the word of the Allah, as dictated to the prophet Mohamed, and the Hadith, the sayings of Mohamed, as recorded by his followers.
This accounts for idiosyncrasies in the Muslim religion, such as the prohibition of most breeds of dogs because Mohamed reportedly disliked dogs. Hunting dogs, on the other hand, are not prohibited, because they are useful. Thus, according to the strict followers of the Muslim Brotherhood, there can be no separation between religious edicts and state, as there is none.
To say, then, that the Egyptian army overthrew a democratic government is not correct. Morsi’s government was elected, but it was not democratic. The people of Egypt gave the Morsi government a fair go and, when it started to run off the rails, they established the preconditions for its overthrow.
To say that this will cause the Muslim Brotherhood and other similar organisations to assume that they cannot gain power by legitimate means is like saying to their opponents, “Would you prefer to be hanged or guillotined?”, because the end result will be the same. No matter the means by which the Muslim Brotherhood gains power, the end result will be the same. Of course, factions exist within the Muslim Brotherhood, as with any political or cultural organisation.
The chief ideologist of the Muslim Brotherhood was Sayyid Qutb, who was hanged by the Egyptian government in 1966. Qutb challenged the prevalent Arab nationalism of his chief adversary, Egypt’s then president, Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser, who was essentially a secularist. Strangely, for an organisation that promotes the persecution of homosexuals, Qutb either had an extreme distaste for women or was an outright homosexual.
Why has the Egyptian army’s intervention been greeted with such joy? If the army is “extinguishing democracy”, why are the secularists, the intellectuals and Christians — in other words, people like us — celebrating?
First, Morsi was governing on borrowed time. The opposition made clear that if he did not adhere to democratic norms, they would throw him out.
Second, while there has always been a steady trickle of Copts (the Egyptian Christians) seeking new homes overseas, there has by no means been a flood. They have remained confident of the eventual emergence of a decent government that will respect the rights of minorities.
Third, the army will be a ringmaster rather than a dictator. The United States, which spends billions each year propping up the Egyptian armed forces, wants a number of things from them, especially domestic peace, control of the Sinai Peninsula and keeping the Suez Canal open for shipping. From the US viewpoint, it is not necessary for the army to directly exercise power to achieve these aims.
The Arab Spring, for what it’s worth, means that the old dictatorial regimes have been discredited. Egypt desperately needs money to feed its people. Tourism, its major foreign exchange earner, has collapsed.
It’s not in anyone’s interests for starving Egyptians to be rioting in the streets. But those who hold the purse strings, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), will extract a price.
Food and fuel in Egypt are massively subsidised by the Cairo government, causing billions of dollars in budget blowouts and what economists call “distortions in the market”, or what we would call rorts. Winding back these subsidies will exacerbate political tensions, especially as half the wheat used to make the bread is imported.
Egypt, with its more than 84 million citizens, is by far the most populous nation in the Arab world, and exercises religious and cultural leadership.
Many of its people are well educated, but with little to occupy their time. This is not a good mix. A government with popular support, that respects the rights of minorities and manages the economy wisely, is in everyone’s interests.
Jeffry Babb, a Melbourne-based writer, has travelled unaccompanied in Egypt from Alexandria in the north to Aswan in the south.