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OP-ED: Egypt Coup Challenges U.S. Credibility

WASHINGTON, Jul 5 2013 (IPS) - The military’s removal of democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi poses a serious challenge to Washington’s pro-democracy agenda and its ability to influence events in Egypt and the rest of the region.

The Barack Obama administration should make it clear to Egyptian Secretary of Defence Abdel Fattah al-Sisi the coup cannot stand, and Egypt’s unsteady march toward democracy should continue.

"Washington should be clear: Al-Sisi should know the era of military dictatorship in the Arab world has run its course."

Although senior religious and opposition leaders were present on the stage, General al-Sisi’s military action to depose Morsi, suspend the constitution, and appoint an acting president was a major blow to the January 2011 revolution.

Toppling Morsi by the military in the name of national security makes a mockery of the principles of freedom, justice, and the rule of law for which millions demonstrated 30 months ago.

It is deeply disturbing that many within the Egyptian opposition who fought against the Mubarak regime are now welcoming the military’s intervention.

Long gas lines, high unemployment, exorbitant food prices, and pervasive corruption might explain people’s anger, but do the millions of protesters who called for Morsi’s head expect the post-Morsi government to solve these problems within a year or two? What will the new civilian government do about the military’s massive control of the economy and their opaque “black box” budget?

Al-Sisi’s brazen “in your face” action speaks volumes of perceived, and some say actual, U.S. impotence in the region. His temerity was largely driven by Washington’s timidity to prevent a coup or to denounce it after it happened.

To many Egyptians, Washington played a marginal role at the advent of the Arab Spring and has been equally indecisive in the latest crisis.

Because of U.S. strategic interests in the region, its ongoing concerns about Syria, Iran, and the Egyptian-Israeli peace agreement, and Egypt’s pivotal role in the region, Washington cannot abandon Cairo. The Egyptian military, however, must be made to understand this is a two-way street.

It’s time for U.S. policymakers to act boldly and decisively in support of democratic transitions and in opposition to reprehensible human rights violations across the region. They should stand firm against Arab militaries’ ever-present temptation to usurp the political process in Egypt and elsewhere.

Morsi inherited a dictatorial, military top-heavy, corrupt regime and a stalled economy. Several groups and centres of power in Egyptian society – including the military, the police, remnants of the old regime, secularists, and radical Salafis – opposed his election and refused to be governed by a Muslim Brotherhood man. They were bent on defeating him and brought out millions in the streets to do just that.

Ironically, this is not dissimilar to how some U.S. politicians have felt about President Obama’s election. Those who were bent on defeating President Obama have used the courts, state legislatures, the Republican controlled Congress, 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 the election.

Yet, 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 marred Morsi’s one-year tenure.

When he came to office, Morsi promised to be president of all of Egypt. He failed to deliver. As a majority in the parliament, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood showed 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 gotten much worse. 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 failed to combat the pervasive terror against women meaningfully and convincingly.

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

Let’s be clear. These conditions and Morsi’s demise resulted from the failure of a particular Islamic party in power and a particular leader. They do not signal the defeat of Arab democracy or a failure of political Islam.

Rachid Ghannouchi and al-Nahda, by contrast, have successfully created an inclusive, tolerant, and workable political governing model in Tunisia.

Washington should actively encourage the Egyptian military to take several immediate steps. First, urge the newly appointed Acting President Adly Mansour to form a national unity government and set a date certain for parliamentary and presidential elections within six months.

Second, in light of President Obama’s recent statements, urge the military to free Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood and other top leaders, who have been detained in the past few days. These leaders should not be tried on trumped-up charges or for political vendettas.

Third, urge the Egyptian military to allow the acting president a free hand to establish civilian rule and for the military to return to the barracks.

Fourth, urge the acting president to proceed with national reconciliation by including representatives from all political parties and civil society organisations. The Muslim Brotherhood and the Freedom and Justice party, of course, should be included.

These steps do not necessarily guarantee saving Egypt from total collapse or preventing a possible civil war. They do offer, however, a civilian-managed “roadmap,” that could be embraced by all Egyptians.

Washington should be clear: Al-Sisi should know the era of military dictatorship in the Arab world has run its course. Such excuses as “foreign armed groups,” “Shia terrorism,” and now “Muslim Brotherhood plots” to justify a military takeover are stale and no longer believable.

If al-Sisi and his generals doubt that, let them take another look at Tahrir Square.

*Emile Nakhleh, a former director of the CIA Political Islam Strategic Analysis Program, is a Research Professor at the University of New Mexico and author of “A Necessary Engagement: Reinventing America’s Relations with the Muslim World”.

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