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Taking Sides In Egypt

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We will never know if such an evolutionary direction was possible under Morsi. What many of the secular democrats of Egypt (transformed into the "Egyptian mainstream" by many media outlets) saw in his victory was not the potential of an evolutionary democratic process leading to the Turkish model, but rather the prelude to a quick emulation of Iran. 

Almost immediately upon election, the Morsi government met resistance and sabotage. As had happened with the Weimar Republic, The new government inherited a court system, police establishment and military that were the creatures of the old authoritarian regime. These bureaucracies had no loyalty to the Egypt's elected government, as can be seen by the fact that the economic and internal security situation within the country immediately deteriorated. Artificial shortages of important goods, such as gasoline, appeared. The crime rate started to climb as the police presence on the streets became sparse. The legitimacy of the new government was repeatedly challenged and always through a court system full of judges appointed by the prior dictatorship. 

Most importantly, the secular organizations (such as Tamaroud and the June 30 Movement) which had helped dislodge Mubarak now decided that they were unwilling to accept the results of a free election in which the wrong party had won. They convinced themselves, as had happened in Algeria, that an Islamist government would never allow another free and fair election. They did not know this to be the case, but fear made the assumption seem an inevitable truth.

A host of rationalizations followed: the entire Muslim Brotherhood has been characterized as a terrorist organization because some protesters attacked Christian churches and police stations, and the responsibility for hundreds of dead unarmed protesters has been laid at the feet of "armed Islamists" who first attacked soldiers who were just trying to keep order, and all those deaths are really the demonstrators' fault because they did not disperse even though they knew the military would come and attack them, and the Morsi government, by definition theocratic in nature, had to be the death knell of democracy in Egypt.   

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Thus the secular democratic organizations of Egypt decided to support the brutal actions taken by reactionary military and police establishments to destroy not only the government, but also the   bete noire of political Islam. With but too few exceptions, their followers cheered as the election was overturned, and they naively believed the assurances of the military leader, Abdel Fattah el Sisi's, that after Morsi was done away with, the military would bring them "real" democracy (an idealistic 33-point liberal constitution was produced but never implemented). In this way the secular democratic groups who helped bring down one dictatorship provided cover for the return of the same sort of dictatorship with different faces.  

In doing so the Egyptian democrats helped open Pandora's box. Following the Algerian model, the army swept in and arrested almost all the moderate leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood. This only opened space for more violent Islamist elements and began an erosion of the Brotherhood's chain of command. Thus we saw the attacks on the Coptic churches, police stations, government buildings, and soldiers and police in the Sinai area. Despite this, the wonder is that the vast majority of Egyptian Islamists have stayed nonviolent even now. We do not know if this restraint will last.  

Part V -- Conclusion 

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Why would the democratic elements of society ally themselves with the reactionary right? Why wouldn't they see a dictatorship of the right as their bete noire? The reason may have to do with a long period of cultural conditioning. In the modern history of both the West and Egypt, the largely middle-class democratic elements we are considering have embraced much the same values and lifestyle. They have both also been culturally conditioned to see the greatest danger to their idealized society as coming from somewhere other than the reactionary right. 

In the West the democrats have been conditioned by a capitalist culture to believe that the bete noire comes from the specter of Communism. The Egyptian democratic middle-class, which is largely a secular group that has taken on Western values, hasn't got the same historical fear of Communism as those in the West. However, they have long considered Islam and its Sharia law as an archaic and potentially totalitarian force that could destroy their political and cultural ideals. 

Of course, there are real dangers to democratic values and practices coming from both these sources. Yet, in having become so sensitized to Communism and political Islam, the democrats of both the West and Egypt have failed to develop sufficient sensitivity to the threat from the right. So much so that many of them willingly ally with reactionary forces at the first sign of political success of that other third force, their respective bete noire. 

Facing a feared maybe of a theocratic state, the secular democratic forces of Egypt rushed headlong into the certainty of a renewed military dictatorship operating behind civilian front men. They have also brought on the possibility of years of civil strife. If only these democrats had looked for the precedents, they would have known that the probability of this outcome was high. Yet apparently they did not stop to consider this. "Ignorantia est semper periculosum principium."  Ignorance is always a dangerous starting point.

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Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign
Policy Inc.: Privatizing America's National Interest
; America's
Palestine: Popular and Offical Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli
; and Islamic Fundamentalism. His academic work is focused on the history of American foreign relations with the Middle East. He also teaches courses in the history of science and modern European intellectual history.

His blog To The Point Analyses now has its own Facebook page. Along with the analyses, the Facebook page will also have reviews, pictures, and other analogous material.

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