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More on Egypt

November 11, 2013

The situation has changed rapidly since my previous blog on Egypt.  I’ve also done more reading on the subject, both from many news articles on Egypt, and from Karen Armstrong’s book The Battle for God.  This book contains a good description of the history of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

Hosni Mubarak led an autocratic government during his 30-year term as president of Egypt.  He responded to the recent demonstrations in Tahrir square by introducing some democratic reforms, but was eventually forced to step down as president.  Amid the chaos that followed, free elections were held in the country, with dozens of parties contesting the elections.  The Muslim Brotherhood’s party won the majority of votes, with Mohammed Morsi as the new president.  The Muslim Brotherhood has a long history of good works in Egypt and enjoys wide support.  Various governments suppressed the Brotherhood, putting its leaders in jail and declaring it an illegal organization.  During this time, the Brotherhood became islamist and more militant.  Hosni Mubarak had relaxed most of those restrictions, leading to their participation in the elections.

Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government created a dilemma for the US and other western countries.  The US wanted to support Egypt because of its strategic importance in the region.  However, they saw the Brotherhood as an islamist group, an enemy.  The US had been supporting the Egyptian military with 1.3 billion dollars a year.  Eventually, the military overthrew Morsi’s government, replacing it at least temporarily with a military government.  Here is a description of the last few days under Mohammed Morsi.  The US has a long history of overthrowing democratically-elected governments when their politics were unpalatable.  It’s possible they may have played a role in this one.  They do claim publically to promote freedom and democracy in other countries, although these other countries often view that claim as meaning western domination of their country.  Of course, a quick transition to democracy may not always be the answer.  Egypt does not have a democratic tradition.  Indeed, they saw the bad side of democracy during the British occupation of Egypt.

The change of government in Egypt created another dilemma for the US.  They have a law that prohibits support of countries where the government has resulted from a military coup.  At first, they denied there was a coup, even though everybody knew there was one, and continued to support the Egyptian military.  Now I read that they are seeking an exemption from that law in the case of Egypt, and that this move enjoys wide support in the US.  What good is a law that restricts government action when that law can easily be circumvented?

Recently, the military government has once again suppressed the Muslim Brotherhood, putting many of its leaders in jail.  This action has overtones of what happened during previous governments in Egypt.  Outlawing the main opposition party makes a mockery of democratic elections.

I don’t suppose anybody knows what will happen next in Egypt.  The military government has promised elections in the future.  Will the Muslim Brotherhood be allowed to participate in these elections?  Will they just make the military government more legitimate?  Maybe the outcome will be something completely unexpected.

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