Ousted Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi had been a miserable leader. He broke many promises starting with the Muslim Brotherhood’s promise not to run a candidate for President just yet and to lead an inclusive government. He forced through a new constitution without proper consultation or broad support, and failed to address Egypt’s many economy and political problems. He deserved to be replaced, but doing so by military coup seriously harms Egypt and the entire Middle East in several ways. The failure of the Obama administration to acknowledge the act as a coup deprives the English language of any meaning.
Obviously it is a set back for democracy. Morsi’s growing opposition should have organized to defeat him in the next election. Given his miserable performance it shouldn’t have been difficult. That would have strengthened democracy rather than weakened it. One coup begets another until a leader can coop the military.
The more serious harm is to the social and political conditions needed for diverse people (Muslims, Christians, secularists, Jews) to live peacefully together. What, pray tell, do the secularists and military think the Brotherhood and their supporters will do after being removed from their elected positions and arrested? Go sulk in the Old Cataract in Aswan (of which I have very fond memories)? There is a high probability that they will resort to violence. As the Army kills more and more demonstrating Morsi supporters, the prospects of an insurgency increase rapidly, as occurred in Iraq and so many other places.
It has already started. In Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula: “The rapid thud of machine-gun fire and the explosions of rocket-propelled grenades have begun to shatter the silence of the desert days and nights here with startling regularity, as militants assault the military and police forces stationed across this volatile territory that borders Israel and the Gaza Strip.” (The Washington Post, July 29, 2013, page 1) Hundreds have already been kill by the military or insurgents and the violence is growing rapidly. How could it be otherwise?
And it is spreading. Tunis has been the most promising model of transition to democracy. Following the assassination of two opposition leaders in Tunis, mass demonstrations have escalated into terrorist attacks that killed eight Tunisian solders Monday. President Moncef Marzouki, Tunisia’s moderate Islamist president, stated in a television address that “In all countries of the world, when the state faces a terrorist attack people come together. But I don’t see anything like that happening in Tunisia. All we see is divisions and chaos.”
U.S. law requires the administration to cut off aid to governments that came to power by coups. This is clearly the case in Egypt and aid should be immediately suspended. For decades U.S. aid to Egypt has ranged between 1.5 and 2 billion dollars per year, over 80% of which is to the military. Congress would surely quickly suspend this provision for Egypt but should attach conditions for any resumption of aid. These conditions should call for restraint on the part of the military, free and open public debate, quick elections, and broad participation in the redrafting of the constitution.
The already troubled Arab Spring has had a series set back.