Egypt's 84 million people are causing a lot of hand-wringing in western political circles. The military ousting of the Muslim Brotherhood's President Mursi (or Morsi ...) has many western government's more or less trying to avoid being "hoist on their own petard" and desperately trying to work out how to respond. Probably not a good place to be either way. Even the Egyptians can't seem to decide, some think it worth celebrating the ousting and the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, and others feel the military have damaged the democracy Mursi represented. It does seem to depend on whether you are an educated urban dweller from the Middle Classes, or a worker from the poorer or more rural areas, a 'liberal' or a 'traditionalist'.
As ever the situation is a complex one, far more complex than most news media or politicians admit. For one thing almost all major businesses are owned, managed or controlled by ex-military. The Muslim Brotherhood wants a nation subjected to Sharia Law and piety, with the religious scholars having more say in the law, the administration of justice and a scrapping of the peace treaty with Israel. A large portion of the population want more freedom of personal choice, speech and activity. The military want stability, and preferably no involvement in any "adventures" of conquest against their neighbour. Mursi, a civil engineer from a farming family in the Delta, seems to have fallen into the trap all those thrust unwillingly into positions of power get caught in - he mistook having won an election with a mandate for absolute power. The right to do as he saw fit without taking account of what the significant portion of the electorate who did NOT vote for him wanted and thought.
So he pushed ahead with the imposition of a Constitution written by his Muslim Brotherhood chums who removed the hard earned rights of significant groups and made provision for the imposition of Sharia Law. He ignored the Judiciary, and began issuing Presidential Decrees, removing the right of challenge from the courts to to any of his decisions. The Parliament, dominated by his Muslim Brotherhood, began pushing legislation that further endangered and disadvantaged the rights the people who sparked the anti-Mubarak uprising had fought for. Then he made the mistake of ignoring the legitimate objections of the crowds gathering in Tahrir Square to make their feelings known. It has certainly been inflamed by thugs from the Muslim Brotherhood roaming the streets and enforcing the wearing of headscarves by women, making demands from small businessmen and even beating up those who objected. This was not the "democracy" the people had ousted Mubarak to gain, nor was it the enlightened democracy the West thought would emerge.
To cap it all, the economy has all but collapsed thanks to the incompetence of Mursi's ministers. So the military removed him, and now we have the spectacle of the former Chief Justice as Acting President and the prospect of new elections. Plus, we have the Muslim Brotherhood diving for cover as the angry crowds burn their offices and centres and the military arrest their leaders.
Western leaders face a difficult choice here. The Muslim Brotherhood is a very well organised movement, but it is also very anti-western and fundamentalist. Yes, it won the last elections, largely, it appears, because it was better organised than anyone else, not because it was more popular. Its TV station has broadcast a stream of anti-Jewish, and anti-Christian hate material with impunity. That has undoubtedly incited a number of attacks on Christian families, businesses and churches. Several prominent Jews have been murdered and their deaths linked to blatant anti-Jew and anti-Israel propaganda from the Muslim Brotherhood's broadcasts. Is this really what we, in the west, would call a "democratic" movement or government? Probably not, but now comes the crunch, a military "putsch" isn't really anything to celebrate either.
So who should we support? In my view we should keep our noses out. This is a matter for the Egyptians themselves to resolve, not western governments, the UNO, NATO or the western media. We have to accept that their concept of government is not the same as ours, and that they are better placed to understand the problems and tensions within their own society than any outsider can ever be. This calls for a pragmatic approach, less rhetoric and a lot of diplomacy. Only the Egyptians can find the way to go forward and achieve the democracy they want and can live with.
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