Monday, July 1, 2013

Egyptian Military as Cleisthenic Reformer?

Recent events in Egypt brought to mind this recent IQ2 debate: Better Elected Islamist than Dictators. An argument that was made for the motion seems to be proving out here. The best way to assure that an Islamist government does not last in Egypt apparently has turned out to consist in taking the risk of having one for a year. By ‘allowing’ the MB (who is allowing here?) to actually win open elections in places where they have popular support, one does of course risk that they will take root and the situation will become worse (for us and/or for indigenes) the government turning out worse than what was replaced.
The potential benefit though, is that they will prove incompetent at governance, or become unpopular due to repressive measures they take domestically.  When that happens, so the argument goes, they lose that popular support, Islamist governance does not take root, while also losing domestic credibility.  The large demonstrations and MBHQ flam-beau would seem to indicate this has happened.  The tricky bit here though, any time you allow such elections is the gamble that the Islamist government does not become adept at repression, so that the popular will can actually be exerted, thus bringing about the demise.

An allied argument for continuing military aid to Egypt seems to be panning out. Predictably, as things have begun to unravel in Egypt, the military has produced an ultimatum for Morsi and the Brotherhood. They are to get their ‘shtuff’ together in 48 hours or be ousted.  The populace supports the military in this, expressing this support with laser pointers. No one seriously believes it is possible for Morsi and company to get their shtuff together in time. It is clear what will happen in the very near term. No one in Egypt has a problem with this, no one except the MB that is.

In hindsight, it is apparent that we took the Islamist gamble with Egypt while hedging our bets. Our continued aid has assured that conditions are right for the ouster, that is, specifically, our aid makes it far less likely that the MB could consolidate and intimidate domestically. Compare and contrast how we dealt (or rather did not) with the Shah during the Iranian revolution, with how we have actively engaged the Egyptian military during this present crisis. We continued to give it money and training during the Morsi regime. That has turned out to be a wise move. These guys are pragmatists, not ideologues. They can be partners. We had no such luck with Iran, because we chose to disconnect.

What is interesting though is that the Egyptian military cannot do what it has done before, putting in another Mubarak. The populace demonstrated in large numbers against that failed experiment, having put up with decades of such rule. To go back to that is no progress, one would assume. What is more, the economy is in the tank, employment is in the tank, and tourism is in the tank. None of this is going to change any time too soon, no matter what is done in the near term. So, what is the Egyptian military to do? They face a choice over which Cleisthenes would fret.   

 Meanwhile, the U.S. was wise to maintain ties to the military.

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