Democracy or More Dictatorship for Egypt?
Recently by Eric Margolis: A Gentle Voice of Reason for America
Egypt is celebrating the first anniversary of its historic revolution that overthrew the 30-year Mubarak dictatorship.
By contrast, the reaction of the United States, the world's most vociferous exponent of democracy, to this important event and to the convening of Egypt's first democratically elected parliament has been muted, to say the least.
This is curious and revealing. Many Americans still believe the Bush administration's claim that their nation went to war in Iraq to promote democracy in the Mideast.
Egypt contains a quarter of the Arab world's people. So here is a golden opportunity to implant genuine democracy in the Mideast's most important nation.
I recently saw this myself, mixing with crowds of demonstrators in Egypt's historic uprising for freedom in Cairo's Tahrir Square.
Sadly, the best response Washington could muster to the most significant political event in the Arab world since Gamal Abdel Nasser's revolution in 1952 was a few half-hearted platitudes that further damaged America's already battered image in Egypt.
The first ever fair, free vote in Egypt produced a landslide for Islamist parties — as this author had predicted in his 2008 book on how the US rules the Muslim world, "American Raj." Dr Ron Paul recently named this book as one of three on his must-read list.
Egypt's venerable Muslim Brotherhood won some 48% of the vote, confirming it as the primary voice of 81 million Egyptians. In North America, the Brotherhood has long been wrongly branded an extremist, even terrorist organization by the seriously misinformed. This view is not only wrong, but harmful to US Mideast policy.
The Muslim Brotherhood is made up primarily of middle class, middle-aged professionals: doctors, engineers, lawyers. It is seriously stodgy and conservative. Many younger Egyptians derided it as "your grandfather's party." It sits squarely in the middle of Egypt's political spectrum.
The Brotherhood's political arm, its new Freedom and Justice Party, was patterned on Turkey's highly successful, Islamic-lite AK Party of Prime Minister Recep Erdogan. Like Turkey's AK, the Muslim Brotherhood is primarily concerned with social justice, education, health and welfare, areas almost totally neglected by the former Mubarak dictatorship.
So far, the Brotherhood has said or done nothing to challenge the United States or Europe except for calling for justice for the Palestinians. But this, of course, was the primary reason why the US kept dictator Husni Mubarak in power for thirty years: he secretly colluded with and aided Israel, and maintained fierce opposition to US foes Iran and Syria.
Interestingly, the Brotherhood has been in close contact with Egypt's military in a not so secret effort to work out a modus vivendi. An accord between the two power centers is possible, provided the military ends its repression and cedes some important powers to parliament.
Egypt's fundamentalist Salafists won a quarter of the seats in the new People's Assembly. Relying on rural support, the Salafists want the nation run under Koranic Sharia law, a view oppose by most urban Egyptians and the nations nine million Coptic Christians.
Like the Brotherhood, the Salafists and their Nour Party are almost entirely focused on local issues. They may be unable to compromise with the more moderate Brotherhood, and even become antagonistic.
In spite of ardent support for Palestine, neither the Brotherhood nor al Nour is calling for war with Israel. I didn't meet a single Egyptian who favored this idea.
The remaining quarter of the seats were won by the venerable, liberal Wafd Party, and a small number of young, western-oriented independents, the same Blackberry, iPhone generation who were originally ballyhooed by the social-media infatuated western media as vanguards of Egypt's revolution. In the event, their influence was minimal.
The first job of Egypt's new parliament is the difficult task of naming a 100-member panel to draft a new constitution that will then be validated by a national referendum.
Even if parliament achieves this task, it will then have to confront Egypt's 500,000-man military and equally numerous internal security forces. So far, Egypt's military, which is financed, armed and sustained by Washington, has thrown former dictator Mubarak to the wolves to appease popular anger, but it has barely given an inch on other key issues.
A year after the Tahrir Square revolution, Egypt remains a brutal police state where opponents of the regime and critics disappear, are tortured, and jailed in the thousands. Male and female rape and savage beatings remain standard punishments for protestors and bloggers. The military and security forces still control much of the nation's high ground, including most of the media, academia, the courts and industry.
Egypt's US-backed military has been used to ruling Egypt for two generations. The generals own between a third and two thirds of Egypt's key businesses or real estate and enjoy lavish perks and a cushy lifestyle.
The military's senior officers have been trained by the US, vetted by CIA, and are joined at the hip to the Pentagon in much the same manner as were Latin America's generals in the 60's and 70's.
Washington gives Egypt's military $1.3 billion annually, controls its flow of weapons and spare parts, and provides many tens of millions in "black payments" to the military, security forces, and feared intelligence service, the "Mukhabarat."
Accordingly, it's difficult to see Egypt's plutocratic military easily giving up all of its political and economic power to a rowdy civilian parliament, particularly when the US, Britain, Saudi Arabia, France, Canada and Israel are all quietly backing the military regime.
If the military further cracks down on parliamentary forces, it will drive the opposition underground and to violence. This is an outcome that will be a disaster for Egyptians and foreign powers.
America's cause is best serve by encouraging the Muslim Brotherhood and the development of real democracy in Egypt. Washington would be wise to press its allies in the military to quickly cede power to a responsible civilian government and relinquish the habit of governing. Otherwise, Egypt's military will face either a split in its ranks, as younger, Nasserite-officers try to seize power, or a bloody urban guerilla war.
Egypt and its foreign backers have an historic opportunity to achieve justice and stability in a new Egypt. Hopefully, they will be wise enough to seize the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Eric Margolis [send him mail] is the author of War at the Top of the World and the new book, American Raj: Liberation or Domination?: Resolving the Conflict Between the West and the Muslim World. See his website.