Working against her interests again?
As far as I know there have only been free elections to choose a government or a head of state of Egypt twice in the past five thousand years. (By the way, there is not a jot of genuine evidence for a theory that Cleopatra was secretly arranging a scheme for elections to foil the Romans by showing the extent of her popular support, and was poisoned when the Romans found out, though afterwards they managed to spread the story that she had done it herself. )
Both the free elections have taken place within the past two years. The election for president was won by Mohammed Morsi. The election in 2012 of the consultative assembly which would prepare the way for normal democratic practice was won by supporters of Morsi. Specifically in the consultative assembly the islamist parties won 150 seats out of 180 elected, liberal parties 22, and others 8. The accusations against Morsi during the months before the military coup were principally that under his leadership the preparations for democratic practice were weighted unfairly in favour of islamist views. One does not have to share those views to find the charge somewhat surprising given the results of the elections; democracy is generally considered to intend that a country’s direction follows the path chosen by the majority. A different charge against Morsi was that he became too authoritarian, in particular when he gave himself the right to overrule judicial decisions. The fact that judicial decisions had given the appearance of resisting the change to a more democratic system of government, and were in fact mostly taken by those who had been appointed to office under the previous régime, however, seems a rather respectable response to that charge. It may also be borne in mind that those now protesting against Morsi belong mainly to the privileged minorities in society and in many cases were active supporters of the previous dictatorial régime, who may have seen their great advantages slipping away. Another point to notice is that Morsi had allowed at least provisionally many of those privileges to remain, had hardly put any constraints on the army’s great power, and in fact had himself appointed General Sisi to the post of Defence Minister.
In those circumstances it was a heroic endeavour of the Secretary of State to refuse to describe the military coup as a military coup, calling it instead (to gasps of international astonishment) a case of the army intervening to restore democracy. Those who have paid some attention to Egyptian politics for the past few years will know of the close links between America and the Egyptian army, but it seems the excesses of the military since seizing power have even shocked Washington. We have seen the legitimate head of state not only illegally driven from office, but also charged with torture and incitement to kill – in effect murder. Perhaps this bizarre charge will prove a step too far. It seems to be based on Morsi’s giving instructions for security forces to put an end to riots and disorder. Undeniably and deplorably, a number of people were killed in the process, but this is an immense distance from any reasonable argument that Morsi wished those people dead, and even then would leave the question of why he is on trial when in the disturbances since the army coup the numbers shot by the security forces run – if the reports in the media are correct – into thousands.
It is only too easy to see here another case of America working hard against her own interests, beside those mentioned by Oliver in his posting, since at the very least she could have averted the coup had she chosen to do so. Presumably Washington had thought that Morsi would be a dangerous activist, and not least a threat to their ally Israel. This suggests no great knowledge of the background of the movement he represented, and shows an assessment of his character which is almost certainly badly wrong, and and an appreciation of his policy which is at odds with the facts. He made it clear explicitly that with his leadership international treaties and undertakings would be respected. Relatively minor disturbances in this regard were to be expected, but could also be expected to fade out as a responsible democratic system got under way and economic progress was restored. Out of the 150 islamist seats mentioned above, the comfortable majority, 105, were members of his party which has been described as middle-of-the-road. And as already noted above, Morsi had been extremely cautious about restricting the privileges of those who had done well under the previous régime, not least the army. Now, however, with a military government clearly at odds with a very large section of the population, and trying to suppress them violently, with shootings, imprisonments, and show trials, it should be obvious that there is a risk of a really serious explosion in the largest nation in the region, with who knows what to follow. Not a prospect to reassure the government of Israel nor, for that matter, others further afield.