Last week’s military coup in Egypt is really an opportunity for democracy to work again in that country, writes Michael Rubin:
Last November, just five months into his presidency and with deliberations over a new constitution deadlocked, [Mohammed] Morsi seized dictatorial power. As guardian of the revolution, he argued, his power should trump the judiciary. If the Egyptian people wanted constitutional order, his allies suggested, they should approve the constitution the Muslim Brotherhood drafted in the absence of any quorum.
The Egyptian people — forced to choose between a one-man dictatorship or a flawed constitutional order — narrowly approved the constitution, ending Morsi’s brief autocracy but giving him what he wanted even more: Imposition of the Brotherhood’s religious agenda on a population that wanted jobs, not Islamic law. One article, for example, charged the state with protecting public morality, which Morsi interpreted in the most conservative, religious manner. […]
Morsi trampled human rights and denied women and minorities equality. The public did participate, but not in the way Morsi hoped: 20 million Egyptians signed petitions calling for the president’s ouster. […]
Rather than punish the perpetrators, Obama should offer two cheers for Egypt’s generals and help Egyptians write a more democratic constitution to provide a sounder foundation for true democracy. [New York Daily News, July 7]
Kim Holmes has a similar take:
According to Section 508 of the Foreign Assistance Act, the U.S. government is barred from giving “any assistance [to] the government of any country whose duly elected government is deposed by a military coup d’etat or decree.” That is pretty clear: If what happened in Cairo is a coup, then U.S. aid would eventually have to be cut off. It could be restored provided a new democratic government is elected. Mr. McCain is right: U.S. aid is in jeopardy.
But is he right that aid should be terminated now? I think not. It would be better to wait until the situation is clearer before making that decision. The president has no official waiver authority, but he does have discretion and therefore time to consider the right course of action. It may be that the army will not call elections; or it may use excessive force against its opponents. If this happens, it will be difficult if not impossible to continue aid.
On the other hand, elections may be called, in which case it could be some time before we know whether democracy is established.
These complexities show that our aid policy is much too simplistic. It’s not just about coups or elections, but about whether a society is mature enough to create a stable democratic order. What Egypt needs is a prolonged period of political peace in which to plant the values and build the institutions of a representative democracy. If a new election produces yet another authoritarian ruler, no matter whether the vote is free or not, we should not bless that outcome by calling it “democratic.” Instead we should cut off aid.
At the same time we should start insisting that Egyptian parties take up the cause of economic reform. No one — most assuredly not the army — is talking about the reforms needed to turn Egypt’s economy around. Unless they do, our aid will be wasted. [The Heritage Foundation, July 12]