Thursday, July 4, 2013

Be careful what you wish for

On this day that we celebrate declaring our independence from the English crown it seems appropriate to look at what's happening in Egypt.

In 2011 the Arab Spring reached its zenith as the US-backed dictator, Hosni Mubarak, fell from power. The army refused Mubarak's commands to fire on the protesters and forced Mubarak to step down. Over the course of the next 18 months secular and Islamist forces vied for control of post-Mubarak Egypt.

The Muslim Brotherhood, the outlawed opposition force during the days of the dictatorship, took both the presidency and the parliament (even after the original elections were invalidated). The Muslim Brotherhood also had a majority of the representatives in the assembly that was to draft the new constitution.

Dr. Mohamed Morsi, the standard bearer for the Muslim Brotherhood, did his best to force an Islamist state upon the people. Now, while his party did win a majority of the vote, there was still a healthy percentage of the population that voted in favor of the secular parties.

Over the past year Dr. Morsi's relationship with the political opposition deteriorated to the point that millions of Egyptians marched in the streets calling for Dr. Morsi to step down this week. That call was echoed by the leaders of the Egyptian military who told the president that if he didn't negotiate a political settlement with the opposition that they would step in.

And that is what happened on Wednesday evening. Dr. Morsi was removed from office by the military and placed under arrest - as were other members of his government and the Muslim Brotherhood. Those who had called for Dr. Morsi to resign were overjoyed after the coup.

But what is the price of victory?

Dr. Morsi was the first democratically elected president in Egypt's history. The parliamentary elections were the first free elections as well. While the secular parties and their supporters have legitimate grievances against the Morsi government, does it really serve the forces of democracy to have the military step in and remove a democratically elected president? What kind of precedent does this set for future governments?

Dr. Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood certainly didn't represent the views of millions of Egyptians who wanted Egypt to be a secular state. But he was elected. The Muslim Brotherhood, as an outlawed group, had, by far, the best organized party in the country. And it showed when it came time for elections.

The secular opposition wasn't happy. But Dr. Morsi played by the rules. The actions this week in Egypt were anything but democratic. Allowing the military to act as a sovereign branch of government is a very bad idea. Military rule is one of the worst possible forms of government as soldiers are taught to obey orders from above and not to question authority. Lest we forget, questioning authority is one of the cornerstones of a healthy democracy.

So now Egypt has a provisional president. At some point in the future new elections will be held and a new president will be elected. He may be better than Dr. Morsi. He may be worse. But what happens the next time there is public dissatisfaction with the government? Will the military step in once again?

In order for democracy to thrive there must be an understanding  that the people have the right to change their government. That right is exercised at the ballot box not by use of a rifle. The people in the streets of Egypt got what they wanted; but how will they feel when it's their ox that's being gored?

I have no sympathy for Dr. Morsi. I firmly believe that government and religion should be separate. But I also believe that you must accept the results of a free and fair election and fight your battles in the political arena. Organize your block. Organize your neighborhood. Picket. Shout. Protest. But be very careful what you wish for - because sometimes, in the long run, the price is more than you're willing to pay.

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