The Struggle For Democracy Continues in Egypt
In January 2011, Egypt’s Tahrir Square filled with hopeful, chanting protesters as Hosni Mubarek, its dictator of 30 years, was ousted from power. In the democratic elections that followed Mubarek’s removal, Egyptians chose Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood as their president. However, Morsi’s administration was turbulent, and many Egyptians questioned whether he was returning to the country to the dictatorial rule it had overthrown with Mubarek. Some Egyptians, backed by the military and its leader, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, began demonstrating against President Morsi at the end of June, and overthrew him on July 3. Since then, Egypt has descended into chaos as the military, the Muslim Brotherhood, and others struggle for control. The violence continues, including incidents of looting and burning Coptic Christian churches, torture and murder of police, and targeted killing of 36 Islamist protesters who were trapped in a police van and teargassed.
Tawakkol Karman, a who won the Nobel Peace Prize for her pro-democracy work in Yemen, condemns the Egyptian military’s takeover as a rollback of Egypt’s progress toward democracy. Her assertion received grim support when a criminal court in Cairo ordered Mubarek himself, perhaps the most potent symbol of 2011′s struggle, to be released from detention this week. Mubarek’s release may well be the result of Saudi Arabia’s influence: King Abdullah took responsibility for backing Morsi’s ouster last week, and has been uncharacteristically explicit in his anti-democratic rhetoric in public statements since. Saudi Arabia is known to be hostile to the wave of democratization in the Arab world, and especially to the Muslim Brotherhood, which is currently gaining popularity among Saudi citizens. Saudi Arabia’s involvement indicates the complicated intersections of loyalty among nations in the region, all of which seem to be anxiously watching Egypt and assessing the possible ripple effects of its instability.
Calls for the United States to define Morsi’s ouster as a “coup”, which would trigger an end to U.S. military aid to Egypt, have intensified both at home and abroad. However, the effects of pledging to end aid are unclear. As an initial matter, most of the military aid allocated for Egypt during this fiscal year has already been released. More broadly, though, ending U.S. military aid now will not remove the lasting impact of providing weapons and training to the Egyptian military for generations. In fact, U.S. aid is partially responsible for the power vacuum that resulted from the 2011 overthrow of Mubarek.
Egypt’s current agony shocks the conscience, but it should not be a surprise: it is immensely difficult for people of any country to replace a dictatorial government with a democratic one, because they have to start from scratch. The very structure of the government must be rebuilt after a dictator who oversaw its every aspect is removed. Mubarek held power for so long because he had a military regime backed by the U.S. government, granting the U.S. military unfettered access to the region. Egypt’s struggle for democracy is exponentially more difficult than it would be without that long history of dictatorial rule. The United States’ ideals are inconsistent with aiding a military that violently suppresses democratically-elected leadership, but we have never showed much concern for supporting other countries’ democratic ambition when it conflicts with our foreign policy objectives.
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