Protesters take part in a protest demanding that Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi resign at Tahrir Square in Cairo in this July 1, 2013 file picture.
Credits: REUTERS/Suhaib Salem/Files
I don’t think there are many people who genuinely know Egypt who are particularly surprised at what has happened in that country. We in the west speak of democracy carelessly, blithely, because we assume its existence, we regard it as a self-evident truth.
Not so in a country with almost 30% illiteracy, where concepts of freedom of speech and religion, gender equality and a civil society are foreign, often alien, concepts.
There were, remember, more people in Cairo protesting President Mohamed Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood than there were in 2011 to demonstrate against then- president Hosni Mubarak.
The western media may have celebrated Mubarak’s demise, but while he was a despot, he wasn’t a sadist; while he was a Muslim, he wasn’t a fundamentalist; while he was no special friend to Israel, he didn’t seek war; while the economy was weak, it was growing; while the regime arrested dissidents, it was gentle compared to Iran, Syria, even Jordan and Turkey.
We also have to understand the authentic nature of the Arab military. Middle Eastern armies are not designed to fight external enemies but to suppress internal revolt. It’s why Israel has so easily defeated its enemies.
The IDF may have some first-class units and a fine air force, but they are not supermen.
As a leading Israeli is said to have remarked on observing the German military in action, “Thank God we fight the Arabs.”
The Egyptian army cannot remain in power because Washington is legally obliged to withdraw its massive funding if it does.
Whether a judge with military support leads the country or not is hardly the point. It’s whether people will still have to line up for bread, whether the tourists will return, whether westerners will renew their investments.
If not, the economy will continue to plummet, the people will riot again, and the army may be replaced by something else.
As for the argument that this is a rape of democracy, surely genuine democracy depends on a wider context.
The toleration of rival and even shocking opinion from defeated parties, the acceptance of open and free speech and a thriving non-government media, the attempt to implement at least some of the promises made in the pre-election manifesto.
None of these democratic characteristics have been seriously pursued by the Mursi government, and frankly we shouldn’t be surprised.
Turkey, for example, now has a democracy, but there are far more political prisoners and jailed journalists than there were when the army effectively governed the country. Iran has a type of democracy, but a secret police several times the size of that of the Shah, and an execution and incarceration rate of dissidents that makes the former monarch look like a liberal.
Democracy is a wonderful thing done properly, but sometimes we have to reach for freedom and prosperity first, and hope and assume that democracy will flow naturally and normally.
The first time I ever went to Egypt, I crossed the border in southern Israel. The soldier at the checkpoint looked at my passport, explained that he had a cousin in Mississauga, Ont., and exclaimed, “Canada. Best country in world.”
Yes sir. Egypt might not be Canada, but it can be a much, much better Egypt.