Dr. El-Baz Editorial: Egypt needs time to build democracy

The Boston Herald

August 19, 2013

By Farouk El-Baz

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Politically charged pronouncements being made last week insist on labeling the deposing of Mohammed ­Morsi on July 3 as a “coup” — a military power grab. Morsi was elected a year earlier as president of Egypt by a slim majority and incrementally gave himself powers that exceeded those of his ­tyrannical predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted by a youth revolution in 2011. In reality, the military move was a response to demonstrations by millions of people throughout the country, a civilian uprising of vast numbers. The people felt that their revolution had taken an unpopular turn and they decided that it required a midcourse correction.

It may be difficult to fully comprehend the unique relationship between the people of Egypt and their armed forces. It started from the time the Egyptian state was formed by the unification of the “Two Lands” in the Nile Valley (Upper Egypt) and the Nile Delta (Lower Egypt) by King Mena some 5,000 years ago. Ever since then the army of Egypt kept its borders intact. Throughout history, it repelled invasions form the south, the northeast and the northwest and kept the people of Egypt secure within borders that never changed.

This relationship continued to modern times, for example, when the people revolted against their unpopular rulers, who were supported by the British, in 1919 and again in 1952. The current takeover by the Egyptian military was in response to public rejection of the Muslim Brotherhood’s power grab. Millions of people demonstrated for four days against Morsi and his exclusive rule. The army moved in to oust him and installed a civilian government until new elections could be held. The Muslim Brotherhood supporters of Morsi rejected the majority’s will and began demonstrations against the interim government.

When numerous offers for reconciliation failed, the police initiated the forced clearing of pro-Morsi demonstrators in two Cairo squares. There is no question that the use of force was a bad decision. But there was still time to negotiate a peaceful exit for Morsi and to let the Muslim Brotherhood vent its displeasure — so long as that did not threaten the state.

Today’s talk in Congress about cutting U.S. military aid to Egypt does not help. First, the $1.5 billion is not “given” to Egypt. Rather, it is spent right here in the States for the purchase of American military hardware. Second, the funds allow joint military exercises (such as the one just cancelled by President Obama), U.S. Air Force refueling rights and passage of U.S. Navy vessels through the Suez Canal. Third, the move might dangerously signal that the U.S. supports the failed rule of the Muslim Brotherhood. Fourth, the sum pales when compared to the $12 billion offered to Egypt by Gulf countries. And most importantly, this aid is spelled out in the Camp David Accords, which kept Egypt and Israel at peace for 30 years; no one would benefit from unraveling any part of that treaty.

Threats by the U.S. or the European Union will not reap any rewards. The youth revolution of January 2011 against a tyrannical rule should not have been expected to instantly result in a great democracy like that of the United States overnight. The first free national elections offered Morsi versus a Mubarak proxy. Morsi won, but proved worse than Mubarak in grabbing power and excluding all others. That is why so many revolted again.

All revolutions require time to bear the proper results. This is Egypt’s first experience with democracy. Its young people are determined to seek a better future in a country that is modern, democratic, forward-looking and under civilian rule. It is a tall order that needs time and perseverance. Let us be patient and cheer them along that arduous path.