A very unfortunate coup

egypt_coup001_16x9It was not surprising that the first democratic elections in Egypt produced a victory for an Islamist candidate. That was former President Mubarak’s plan. Secular dictators in the Middle East always suppress secular liberal opposition and license limited opposition by Islamists so that they can threaten liberals – at home and in the West – with the thought that things will get worse if they ever fall. While this misled some in the West to overestimate Islamist support, the Muslim Brotherhood was the only organized party in Egypt, so its eventual victory was to be expected. As the only party with any heritage or infrastructure, securing 52% of the vote was hardly a ringing endorsement, but it remains more than the mandate won by Barack Obama.

For this government to be brought down by a military coup and a few demonstrations does not bode well for the future of democracy in the Middle East. While it does seem as though the administration is unpopular at the moment, elected governments do not fall because they are temporarily unpopular. If they did then neither Ronald Reagan nor Margaret Thatcher would be recalled with reverence, but as brief and temporary leaders who ran into early storms of unpopularity. Governments can only take difficult decisions if they know that the next election is some years away and there is time for their policies to start working.

If Mohammed Morsi had been allowed to complete his term, then there is every chance he would have been defeated when seeking re-election. First leaders often raise unmatchable expectations. This is especially true when their objectives are tied up with mysticism and mumbo-jumbo. If people believe that poverty and suffering in Egypt are judgments from God on the impiety of their rulers they are likely to be disappointed by the impact of electing pious replacements. 

One path for democratization, then, could be failing dictatorship followed by Islamists who fail to bring the Kingdom of God to the world, then secular liberals with modest but realistic objectives.

The problem is that this process has now been interrupted in the Arab world’s most populous country by a military coup. Morsi will probably be remembered as a martyr: the lost leader who tried to reform Egypt but was brought down by a corrupt military. Better, probably, that he should have been given a fair chance so that everyone could see his policies fail.

Egypt is not just one country. It is a symbol of the whole Arab and Islamic world. If democracy can be made to work in Egypt then this will spread to other countries. If democracy in Egypt is seen to fail then dictators across the region will breathe more easily. This was, very probably, the military’s plan. It was probably Mubarak’s plan. No government in the Middle East from the brutal military rulers of Syria to the absolute monarchies of the Gulf or the theocratic dictatorship of Iran wants to see democracy succeeding in Egypt. It seems as though, for the moment at least, this horrible coalition has got its way. 

This is another, not so positive, step in the Arab Awakening. Yes, an Islamist government has failed, and that is a good thing. But it was not allowed to fail unambiguously and on its own. Instead of a humbled failure of an ex-president, Morsi is now a martyr to Islam.

 

Quentin Langley is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Bedfordshire Business School as well as a freelance columnist published in the UK and all parts of the US. He blogs on social media and crisis communications at brandjacknews.com

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