Sunday, July 07, 2013

Walk Like An Egyptian




Walk Like An Egyptian

In the world a quarter of a century ago, all power was held by the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.  In a slightly broader sense, it was the Free World, led by the United States and including western/northern Europe and nations elsewhere, squared off against the Communists in Moscow and Beijing.

Generally to the benefit of most of that world, the United States had an outsized influence. But on Wednesday, President Obama issued a statement (transcript, here) to "call on the Egyptian military to move quickly and responsibly to return full authority back to a democratically elected civilian government as soon as possible through an inclusive and transparent process, and to avoid any arbitrary arrests of President Morsi and his supporters."

President Obama was, predictably, ignored awhile supporters and opponents of the Morsi government took to the streets in violent protests.   In an article published Friday by the online edition of The New Republic, Laura Dean notes widespread disenchantment because Egypt's first democratically elected government has been ousted by the military. She writes

The army has no good answer to these people, and arresting the Brotherhood’s leadership and shooting members of the rank and file doesn’t offer one. At least three Morsi supporters have been shot dead today by security forces and the sun has not yet set.

In the early afternoon on the day after the army informed Morsi he was no longer president, there were only a few hundred stragglers left in Tahrir. Everyone else had gone home, because as far as they were concerned it was all over. But for supporters of Morsi, the real opposition has just begun.

As we have seen time and again in this part of the world, it is impossible to stamp out ideas by censoring them. In so doing you only push them underground and legitimize their most radical elements. Even the Brotherhood spokesman, Wael el Karim, who is more diplomatic than most said, “Now we see the only path to power in Egypt is by force.” Only by bringing them into the political fold and treating them like the political losers that they are, rather than like criminals, which they are not, can that rift be healed and can they begin to develop into the mainstream political player, among many players, that they could be. 

Still, we ought not to romanticize the government led by the Muslim Brotherhood., despite President Obama's remark "we are deeply concerned by the decision of the Egyptian Armed Forces to remove President Morsy and suspend the Egyptian constitution."

Oh, please.   That Egyptian constitution (text, here) President Obama seems to believe is inviolate was written once Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood had taken power. It is not a 225-year old document which has stood the test of time nor does it resemble the United States Constitution   Included in its 236 articles:  Islam is the religion of the state and Arabic its official language" and "principles of Islamic Sharia are the principal source of legislation."  Further, no disagreement will be tolerated, for "insult or abuse of all religious mesengers and prohphets shall be prohibited." 

 The authors were not James Madison, John Adams, or John Dickinson.  Instead, as Joshua Hammer explained last December in TNR, it was

written by an assembly that was 70 percent Islamist. Hard-line Salafists, who comprised 25 percent of the assembly, backed off many of their initial demands, such as making zakat (charity) as well as the hajj (the pilgrimage to Mecca) constitutional obligations. But the final draft still proved alarming enough to provoke a walkout of secularists and Coptic Christians. The new charter also leaves intact Article 2 from Egypt’s former constitution, which states that only “principles of Islamic Sharia are the main source of legislation,” but does not call specifically for sharia’s enforcement. However, the Islamists more rigorously defined those principles, singling out “the scholars of Al Azhar University,” a venerated Islamic institution in Cairo, as the final arbiters of Egyptian law. One article makes it illegal to insult the Prophet Mohammed. Hazy language about women’s rights has raised the fear that the Islamists will now have the leeway to lower the marriage age from 18, decriminalize female genital mutilation, and impose discriminatory property inheritance and divorce laws.

Ayman Nour, the party founder who organized the secular democrats into a bloc and led the walkout in November, doesn’t think Morsi feels any natural sympathy for liberal ideas. “In my estimation, the Brotherhood are Wahhabis, and the Salafists are Wahhabis, and they have many things in common,” he told me as we sat in the huge living room of his penthouse apartment in Zamalek, an affluent neighborhood whose many bars and active nightlife are symbols of the society that Egypt’s liberals are determined to preserve. Nour was betting that Morsi’s instinctual pragmatism, his lifelong desire to forestall the unpredictable consequences of a real revolution, would stop him from finally giving in to the Salafists. “As president, he swore five times in a single day that Egypt will never become a religious state,” Nour told me.

Mohamed Morsi is no George Washington, nor even a George Herbert Walker Bush. Hammer concluded

A hundred miles and a world away from Nour’s penthouse apartment, however, those who have known Morsi the longest say they have little doubt where his true values lie. Sitting beside his fields on the outskirts of Al Adwa, Said Morsi told me that his older brother remains rooted to the uncompromising Islamic beliefs that stamped his childhood and that have guided him throughout his life. “All of the vacations before becoming the president, he would come back here and work the fields, and sit with me, and talk,” he said, smoking a cigarette as the wail of the muezzin began to sound from a few hundred yards away. “In his heart, he belongs to the village.”

Unfortunately for the nation, President Obama is inclined to have us believe otherwise.  Fortunately, for President Obama, the Republican Party, which ascribes to Obama all manner of faults and sins for which he is not responsible, will not notice.



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