Egypt’s ignoble descent

Despite the enormity of the task when discussing the events in Egypt over the past two years, it is still a topic that I definitely want to address. My last post ended with a question: what do we do when democracy meets confrontation with our other favourite notion, the protection of individual liberties? This is the frustrating question facing any Western liberal democrat in a case like Egypt.

The ousting of the dictator Hosni Mubarak was absolutely necessary – I should be clear on this from the start. The imposition of rule by a single man for 30 years is not acceptable. Yet the fight which began as a fight for democracy, for choice by the people, has since then descended into something else entirely. I’m sure you will be familiar with the rest of the story: the Muslim Brotherhood’s astounding failure to maintain popular support, the second military coup that followed it and the chaotic altercations between state forces and the remaining Islamists loyal to Mohamed Morsi.

I could not believe what I was reading when learning about the raids that took place in August on camps of Brotherhood supporters. A death toll of over 600 can be described in no words other than the crushing of a minority, even if a minority of opinion, not ethnicity. The Egyptian generals that ousted Morsi and his party were not doing so in the name of democracy. They were doing so for their own power.

Questions over Morsi’s involuntary departure and its legitimacy need to be faced up to. The Islamist regime, about which I will not say too much here – it is too early in this blog’s history to engage in the messy topic of non-secularity and religion – had, no matter their agenda, been elected by the people. This means their removal needed to be in the same democratic spirit as the original issue. The popular dissent towards the governing party did not justify the coup alone. Yet let us assume for a moment that it did (in any case, preventing all out chaos and the complete reversal of democratic progress by the Brotherhood’s hand was enough justification). The immediate action of the generals should have been to call a new election, and define a constitution. Letting the Islamists continue to have their say by way of a democratic vote would have mitigated tension. Yet instead, the military crushed the opposition and brutally ignored the case for human rights.

This post will avoid sticky matters of foreign policy, and the task of recommend courses of action to Western democracies. But what I believe is the right cause in Egypt is initiating democracy at all costs, with freedom of speech given to those who protest – the right to voice one’s dissent is exactly what the military were supporting when they acted due to the staggering discontent of the people. When we must choose between supporting the democratic legitimacy of a party which has values that we don’t sympathise with, or the liberties which might be protected were said party removed from power, it is of the utmost importance to consider how such a removal might come about, and to respect other countries’ needs for transition periods between regimes.

Now that the new regime is facing a potential insurgency crisis, the infringement of basic human rights might try to conceal itself under the guise of counter-terrorism practices. As Sophie McBain writes in the article linked, “violence often breeds violence”. But simply using the fact that your enemy has evolved into something less innocent, to cope with your horrifying actions, to try and defend continued oppression is reprehensible. I suppose, however, that these issues of strongman tyranny and irresponsibility are inevitable when the only faction powerful enough to champion democracy has a comprehensive set of demands and incentives that run in precisely the other direction.


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