Photo credit: GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images
President Morsi fled the presidential palace today just ahead of a mob of protesters. What makes this action unique for Egypt is that the army did not fire on the unarmed protesters. Under Mubarak, it is likely that the response would have been deadly. However, that does not mean that Morsi is a more tolerant and open leader than Mubarak.
Much as we might like to think so, the political transition in Egypt is far from over. While the US government and public might like to think of this as a “successful” democratic revolution, it is far from clear that the Egyptian transition is over or will be even somewhat democratic in the end. The current protests are over the new constitution that the Shara Council, dominated by the Islamic Brotherhood, Morsi’s party, wrote and passed in almost record time. Morsi says that a referendum on the new constitution will be held on December 15, but it is unclear if the referendum will actually take place, and if so, what will happen after the referendum? If the constitution passes, it is likely that there will be many charges of vote fraud and renewed violence. If it does not pass, it is unclear what the next step would be since Egypt does need a new or at least revised constitution in the wake of the removal of Mubarak and the clear public desire for a change in the political system and structures.
As I said in my previous post, Egypt is still an important regional partner for the United States. We have a vested interest in a stable and open government in Egypt. This does not mean that we need to, or should, take an active role in the current situation. It does mean that we can and should make known our support for individuals and/or political parties whose interests and goals are aligned with ours and who will honor the existing peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. However, the Obama administration should make some comment on the current situation. To say that there are “concerns” with the situation in Egypt and yet say nothing specific regarding the extra-constitutional power grab does nothing to improve our image in the region.
Morsi has granted himself a great deal of unchecked power. The uprising in Egypt last year was not solely about Mubarak; it was also a protest against the embedded corruption of the Egyptian government and right now, Morsi appears to be offering more of the same with the added twist of a political party who has as one of its goals the inclusion of Sharia law into Egyptian law. The lack of separation between church and state is something Americans should be wary of. We are adamant that religion has no place in defining or governing public institutions for good reason. Religion as a governing entity in public institutions leads to things like the state prosecuting individuals for heresy (violating church law or a sanctuary) as happened with Pussy Riot band members in Russia. Egyptians are a generally secular population these days and like most Americans, do not appreciate having the government support one religion over the other. In addition, they are aware of the attacks on Coptic Christians which are downplayed by the government at best, or perpetrated at worst, and other religious groups.
Those wishing to create a government which utilizes the Koran for its laws, do not have a track record of tolerance for other religions in their midst. The U.S. would do well to pay close attention to the words and actions of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood over the next few weeks and months. If the Obama administration starts supporting, explicitly or implicitly, oppressive and intolerant regimes, it will put liberals in the same position in Egypt as conservatives found themselves in 40 years ago in Chile or El Salvador: supporting an oppressive government which engages in gross violations of basic human rights.