By Fareed Zakaria
The events in Egypt over the last week have been fascinating but also bewildering. Most of us don’t quite know what to make of them. Is what has happened a good thing or a bad thing? Let’s start with some basic facts.
The government that was deposed in Egypt was an elected government. Mohamed Morsy’s Freedom and Justice Party, won the presidential election, the parliamentary elections, and a referendum to approve a new Egyptian constitution. So there’s no getting around it – this was the party that represented the wishes of the Egyptian people as expressed through the ballot box.
On the other hand, the government ruled in an arbitrary and highhanded manner and in many, many cases, violated human rights and outlawed its political opponents. President Morsy announced that his decrees were above judicial scrutiny. He banned all members of the previous ruling party from participating in politics for life. He did little about attacks on Egyptian’s Christian minority. The Muslim Brotherhood, of which Morsy was a lifelong member, had promised not to seek the presidency or a parliamentary majority and it reneged on both pledges, creating this new Freedom and Justice Party as a façade.
In 1996, I wrote an essay in Foreign Affairs describing the rise of what I called “illiberal democracies” – elected governments that were abusing individual rights and freedoms. The Morsy government is a textbook example of such a regime. But it is important to note that the current system in Egypt does not look like one that is upholding liberty in any sense either. Indeed the more the arrests and crackdowns continue, the more it looks like the old Mubarak-military complex, crowned once more over the ashes of democracy.
This has been Egypt and the Arab world’s tragedy. These lands are caught between repressive dictatorships and illiberal democracies, and from this vicious cycle there does not seem much space for liberty to break out.
What should the United States do to help the cause of freedom and stability in Egypt? Well, a suspension of U.S. aid would plunge an already bankrupt country into deeper chaos. But Washington should announce that it will continue its aid for a limited period, say two months, while it determines whether the new government is in fact moving to restore genuine democracy in Egypt.
More specifically it should ask for three things:
- An end to arbitrary arrests of the Muslim Brotherhood or any groups or people for political opposition. Also, the end of the crackdown on media in all forms.
- The writing of a new constitution through a process that includes all major voices in Egyptian life
- The scheduling of parliamentary and presidential elections in which everyone can participate, including and especially the Muslim brotherhood.
If these conditions are not met, than we have no alternative than to recognize the reality that this is not the restoration of democracy, nor a path to moderation and inclusion. This is a pretty-old fashioned military coup. And it should be dealt with as such.