The military-coup style ouster of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi led some U.S. leaders to consider pulling U.S. aid per laws that govern that aid in the event of military overthrows of legitimate governments.
But pulling aid right now to an Egyptian government in transition would be akin to throwing gasoline on a fire in the backyard of our closest Middle East allies.
U.S. economic interests, as well as strategic alliances with Israel and the rest of the Middle East, require that we move cautiously on Egypt, encouraging power-sharing among the various political, ethnic and cultural groups in a country with growing importance as a U.S. ally in the Middle East.
While there is plenty of evidence Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood were not acting in the interests of all Egyptians, it was unfortunate that the most efficient, and maybe only, means of changing this dynamic relied on military force.
But we have to remember that up until about a year ago, Egypt was as far from a democratic state as one can get in the Middle East. For 30 years, it was ruled by a brutal dictator whose notions of democracy were nonexistent.
All of this cannot be changed quickly, as we have seen in Iraq.
Unfortunately, Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood brought much of this on themselves. And there are not a lot of other Egyptians who are running to their defense.
Experts say that when the Brotherhood won the election after dictator Hosni Mubarek’s ouster, they showed no interest in a coalition government, showing any religious tolerance or coming up with a consensus constitution. Morsi seized key institutions and showed, as veteran journalist Fatemah Farag says, that they were “taking Egypt for themselves.”
Religious intolerance continued, says Farag, writing in the journal “Foreign Policy:” “The lot of non-Islamist voters was to roast in an eternity of hell, we were told. Christians were threatened and intimidated into staying away from the vote. Anyone who was against Morsi or ‘the Islamic nation’ was an infidel.”
The way forward for the U.S. should include condemnation of religious intolerance by any group, including current military leaders. Brotherhood lawbreakers should be held accountable for their deeds but not arrested willy-nilly for their religious beliefs.
The U.S. must encourage power-sharing in a new Egyptian democracy that is not yet ready for a democracy led by a strong majority, argues Megan O’Sullivan, a former George W. Bush administration security adviser who worked with transition governments in Iraq.
She argues in a Bloomberg View piece that emerging democracies must consider power-sharing first at the risk of some dysfunction in government institutions. A quick move for these transitioning democracies into full-blown “majoritarian” democracies, she argues, is a mistake that will only lead to more instability.
The U.S. doesn’t have influence in the forming of a government in Egypt like it did in Iraq, but our role should be to encourage the power-sharing and help build the institutions that can provide the foundation for a representative, but not perfect, democracy.