Analyst: Egypt should have waited for elections
July 19th, 2013
11:49 AM ET

Analyst: Egypt should have waited for elections

By Inesha Premaratne

Inesha Premaratne, an intern with the GPS show, speaks with Gregory Gause III, professor of political science at the University of Vermont and non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Doha Center, about recent developments in Egypt.

What’s your take on what’s happening in Egypt right now?

Well, I’m pessimistic about what’s happening right now. It seems to me that you have a precedent of the military coming in and ousting an elected government. No matter how bad the government was, that’s a bad precedent for democracy. Secondly, if through this action what you get is a Muslim Brotherhood that is pressured by the state and is either not allowed or not willing to participate itself in the political process, you just can’t have an inclusive democracy.

So would you say that it would have been preferable for the Egyptians to wait for the elections rather than have the military stage a coup?

Yes, I would say that. They should have waited for the parliamentary elections; that would have been better for democracy. You’ll find many Egyptians that will say I’m an idiot, that I don’t understand that the Brotherhood was entrenching itself to such an extent that the elections would have been useless. But in my reading of the Egyptian situation I hadn’t seen the Brotherhood crossing that line yet where they were so monopolizing power, that the elections would have been a sham.

Let’s examine the nature of the transition itself as compared to others we’ve seen. In your piece The Year the Arab Spring Went Bad, you wrote that democratic transitions are particularly tough in this region. Can you explain why you think this is so?

First off, I think we should banish the assumption that the natural end state of the fall of an authoritarian government is democracy. We were kind of spoiled by the results of transitions in Eastern Europe and in the democratic wave in Latin America and East Asia in the 80’s and 90’s. Many of those transitions did end up in democratic results, so we came to think that democracy was the default position for a transition from authoritarianism.

So why is it harder in this region? I think there are two kinds of cleavages that exist in Arab countries that make stable democratic transitions particularly difficult. The first kind of cleavage is ethnic and sectarian – whether it be the competing identities of Kurds and Arabs or Sunnis and Shiites or Muslims and Christians. In a place like Syria or Iraq where those identities are very salient, it’s hard to have a democratic transition because first elections tend to end up being a sectarian/ethnic census. Minorities don’t trust majorities and majorities come to loathe minorities who have held power over them.  Politics becomes an all or nothing game, where compromise is very hard to achieve.

The second kind of cleavage is ideological. People have to ask whether they want an Islamist government, as was the case for the Muslim Brotherhood before its fall in Egypt, or a more secular one. This kind of ideological fight is relevant not just in Egypt but also across the Middle East, from Morocco to Iraq and also in non-Arab countries like Turkey and Iran. When societies are characterized by severe identity and ideological cleavages, the spirit of compromise and toleration that makes democracy work is hard to come by.

Given this, and acknowledging that U.S. foreign policy has historically been to support and promote democracy around the world, what do you think the U.S. role is in Egypt and in the Middle East?

I think the United States should be a lot less involved in the Middle East than it has been in the last 10 years or so. But that doesn’t mean a complete withdrawal or an isolationist policy in the Middle East. We have a relationship with Egypt that goes back to the peace treaty with Israel. We give the Egyptian military $1.5 billion a year in military aid. Of course we’re going to have a relationship with Egypt. But the idea that we can somehow micromanage Egyptian politics is really wrong.  I think we should deal with the transitional Egyptian government, and governments that come after it, on the basis of what they do in foreign policy, not on their domestic political basis.  If they cooperate with us on important foreign policy issues, we should cooperate with them.

So what do you see as a path forward for Egypt? What should come next?

I think if what you want is a democratic solution in Egypt, you already know what ideally should happen. The military should step away. There should be free and fair elections. The Muslim Brotherhood should participate. The judiciary should oversee the elections. But that’s not just the ideal solution – that’s an idealist solution because in fact the judiciary is part of the political game in Egypt. It’s staffed largely by people appointed by the old regime. The army is a political player too; it’s not a neutral arbiter that stands outside the gate.  The Muslim Brotherhood will have a hard time getting back in the political game after their recent experience and their rejection of the current government. And so I think that the ideal solution in Egypt is one that is not politically practical in the near future.

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Topics: Egypt

soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. JAL

    How does the prospect of a newly vibrant economy in Egypt play into this characterization? Peace and prosperity should be the focus.

    July 19, 2013 at 3:03 pm | Reply
    • JAL

      We need more people actively promoting peace and prosperity in Egypt, regardless of any personal characteristic.

      July 19, 2013 at 3:41 pm | Reply
  2. j. von hettlingen

    Both Morsi's government and his opponents had made mistake. Morsi had inherited a mass from the old regime and had failed to put the country's economy back on its feet. His opponents within the old regime and the army weren't eager to keep Morsi in power and the Brotherhood weren't inexperienced and unprofessional. As more and more people took to the street, the army urge Morsi to compromise, which didn't happen.

    July 21, 2013 at 11:21 am | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      please read: Morsi inherited a MESS from the old regime.
      the Brotherhood WERE inexperienced and unprofessional.
      In order to have a stable Egypt, the Brotherhood has to get off the high horse and the activists, who toppled the two regimes within two years have to get their act together and be part of the government. Both camps have to learn how to compromise.

      July 22, 2013 at 5:08 am | Reply
  3. Von Howsus

    49% had worlds support.
    51% had Morsi's support
    Military was looking for more aid and 49% seemed good choice.
    Its all staged.

    July 22, 2013 at 12:40 pm | Reply
  4. Jo Black

    This was a spontaneous populist uprising. Also called a revolution you lunkhead.

    July 22, 2013 at 6:13 pm | Reply
  5. Dele

    Wipe off your sleep guy, there's nothing spontaneous in that coup, it was truly micromanaged, only that the MB didn't see it coming.

    July 22, 2013 at 8:49 pm | Reply
  6. SamB19

    "should have waited for elections"...duh, you think?? It's sad that the obvious must be stated.

    July 22, 2013 at 9:48 pm | Reply
  7. Paul

    You moslems have to come to terms with the fact that you have been conquered and your armies are and will be at our service and under our command. The sooner you accept this fact the sooner you can have a decent life for yourselves and your children. This is just the facts of life accept it and move on.

    July 22, 2013 at 10:21 pm | Reply
  8. Chukwuemeka

    I concur that the EgyptIans should have waited for elections before voting out Morsi. Now, they have entered a dark tunnel which may never be exited.

    July 23, 2013 at 1:18 pm | Reply
  9. deniz boro

    Could America wait for the elections?. I believe USA planners are even more scared of the youthe who are generally exposed to various "consumers items globally". Could USA wait for elections... Not in the USA...Sad to say otherwise.

    July 24, 2013 at 2:27 pm | Reply

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