Friday, July 12, 2013

Left Side of the Aisle #116 - Part 5

Egypt and American mythology

Two things should have become clear from events in Egypt, two treasured notions of American mythology brought into serious question: One, that elections equal freedom and two, that people power equals justice.

After the dictator Hosni Mubarek was brought down by, yes, people power backed up with some military support, Egypt had its first free elections. The outcome was the election of President Mohammed Morsi and domination of the parliament by the Freedom and Justice Party, the political arm of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood.

A new constitution was then drafted by an assembly chosen by the parliament and thus also dominated by Islamists - who, despite repeated their assurances of respect for religious and political minorities in Egypt, tried to ram through a document that made civil government subservient to Sharia law, that is, to fundamentalist Muslim religious law.

The assembly was controversial enough that the non-Islamists involved eventually just gave up and walked away and courts were considering whether to disband it. But Morsi decreed that they could not as his allies finalized the draft. The final version, with its strong Islamist flavor, passed in a referendum with around 60% of the vote but in an election with a turnout of only around 30%.

So first: Do not forget that Morsi had been democratically elected in Egypt’s first free election, an election that people power ultimately helped bring about. But the overall result was not freedom - not unless you think the word can comfortably be applied to a constitution and a government that was more oriented toward theocracy than democracy.

Dissatisfaction with Morsi’s rule grew until it finally exploded into the streets in an odd coalition of liberals, Christians, Mubarak supporters, Salafists, Al-Azhar scholars, and the military. People power again filled Tahrir Square with tens, hundreds of thousands demanding Morsi go.

And the result? Justice? Not what you would call it. It was a military coup that has arrested hundreds of Morsi supporters as well as shooting down more than 50 of them in one of the worst single incidents of bloodshed in the whole 2-1/2 years of turmoil. (And a coup which, by the way, the US refuses to call a coup because to do so would require cutting off the $1.3 billion in military aid that goes to Egypt each year, and no way does the US government want to do that).

People power is not in charge in Egypt, the military is. And the military has set up its own timetable for drafting yet another constitution and elections for yet another parliament, all within the next 6-1/2 months, the quick pace apparently intended to soothe the ruffled feathers of Western governments.

But there is where it gets extra interesting: Under the timetable issued Monday by interim president Adly Mansour, two appointed panels would be created. One, made up of judges, would come up with amendments. The other, larger body consisting of representatives of society and political movements would debate the amendments and approve them, with a referendum to follow.

Now, aside from the question of who gets to decide what “representatives of society and political movements” get to take part and how much say each of them has, the fact is that the judges who run Egypt's courts made their careers under Hosni Mubarak, and now they are the ones who will come up with the proposed amendments that the other panel will debate.

So do elections equal freedom? Not when they become the classic “tyranny of the majority.” Does people power produce justice? Not when it starts by saying the necessary “no” - and never goes beyond it.

Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood has rejected the whole new deal, calling it an attack on democracy and has called on its supporters to rise in protest. Which they have. As the saying goes, watch this space.


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