President Barack Obama interrupted his Martha’s Vineyard golfing binge to lay out his prescription for ending the military crackdown that has claimed the lives of hundreds of Egyptians protesting the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi, the country’s first freely elected president. The ineffective Morsi was removed by the military as part of a crackdown on the Brotherhood.
Obama urged an end to the state of emergency and beginning a process of “national reconciliation.” That is, respect for the rights of women and religious minorities — things that Egypt has never had and to which most Egyptians seem deeply unwilling to compromise about. Obama also is hoping for constitutional reforms and democratic elections to choose a new president and parliament.
Those would be good suggestions were Egypt a Western-style democracy inhabited by placid Danes and Dutch. But it’s not. It’s a highly combustible, fundamentalist Islamic society ruled for most of the past 70 years by the military — which also quietly controls a huge chunk of its economy. The Brotherhood has no interest in sharing power with non-Islamists, the military has no interest in sharing power with the Brotherhood after seeing what a mess Morsi made of the Egyptian economy, and most Egyptians would prefer a Sharia-based society to a Western-style one, with its emphasis on women’s’ rights, gay rights, etc.
So Obama’s preferred solution sounds more like wishful thinking than practical policy. In addition, we lack the political leverage to make it happen.
Obama’s hopes for a new round of elections in Egypt are badly misplaced. Although Morsi’s bungling has given the Brotherhood a bad name there, there are plenty of other even more radical Islamist groups and candidates with likely strong appeal to voters.
Back during the so-called Arab Spring days, Obama refused to stand by then-military ruler Hosni Mubarak, who though flawed was one of our oldest and most dependable allies.
It’s been often said in the past week or so that the U.S. has “no good options” when it comes to Egypt, and there is truth to that. But the fact is Mubarak and the military managed to keep radical Islamists in that country under control for the most part. They also understood the value of maintaining peaceful relations with their neighbor and our other main ally in the region, Israel.
Obama’s “feel-good” talk about “democratic elections” and “national reconciliation” will do no good for us and no good for most Egyptians if it leads to a Sharia-minded Islamist regime determined, like Iran, to make war on the West.
That leaves a return to military control as the reluctant best option for bringing stability, for protecting the rights of Egypt’s embattled Christian minority (about which Obama seemly could care less) and as the best way to buy time for true democratic institutions and traditions to hopefully take root.