[private]Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, was ousted by the military in July after barely a year in office, felled by the same kind of popular revolt that brought him to power in the Arab Spring. The armed forces installed a temporary civilian government to replace the Islamist Morsi, suspended the constitution and called for new elections.
A year ago I noted in this space that the “eyes of the world” were on Egypt and that it was a time of hope for the world’s most populous Arab state. Being the first Islamist elected to lead an Arab country presented special challenges for Morsi that I said would require someone like Nelson Mandela to pull off. Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood needed to authentically reach out to the other half of Egyptians who did not share their fundamentalist beliefs.
So, what did Morsi do? He appointed muslims to every position of power within his administration, precipitating a huge backlash. The people accused him and the Brotherhood of abusing their electoral mandate. After a stunning four-day revolt that brought protests larger than those that pushed the hated dictator Hosni Mubarak from power in 2011, the military sent troops and armoured vehicles into the streets, arrested the head of the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, deposed Morsi and installed Adly Mansour, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, as interim president. A government of technocrats is to run the country until new elections are held.
Millions of anti-Morsi protesters around the country erupted in joy. Fireworks burst out in Cairo. People danced shouting “God is great” and “long live Egypt.”
The protests were fueled by anger over Morsi’s giving too much power to the Islamists and his failure to tackle the country’s mounting economic woes.
But the removal by the military of an elected leader could prove more explosive than its removal of Mubarak. There is concern over whether a government installed by the military can give way to real democracy. The military has insisted it acted on the will of the people. But neither the military nor Mansour has said when new elections would be held or what would be the role of the military in the interim.
Mansour has promised not to exclude anyone from participating in the new government. A panel of experts and representatives of all political movements will consider revisions to the constitution drafted by Morsi’s allies. Mansour has not said whether the changes would be put to a referendum.
The continuing unrest in Egypt shows the Arab Spring is far from over. In the Middle East extremists go all the way and moderates just go away. What happens in Egypt will affect the whole region.
Democracy is not easy. It was unreasonable to expect Egypt to get it right the first time. It is a messy process at times. But it is a form of government worth dying for.
It is up to Egyptians to find their path forward. That path is unlikely to lead to peace and prosperity unless whoever succeeds Morsi understands the key elements needed for a stable and successful nation: a willingness to enact economic reforms, extending opportunity to all; securing the rule of law and respecting all religious and ethnic groups.
Until all elements of Egyptian society – the army, the Muslim Brotherhood, liberals and former Mubarak supporters – leaders can agree to embrace each other, conflict and uncertainty will continue to flow along the Nile.
Once again, the world, including the Bay Islands, is watching. It would be a real shame to see the Arab Spring turn into the Arab Winter of Discontent.[/private]