Behind The Curtain

Copyright © by Len Holman, 7/10/13


  The first democratically elected president of Egypt is under arrest.  His supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood are being arrested by the Egyptian army in self-righteous droves.  Crowds filled Tahrir Square in jubilation that Mohamed Morsi is gone and the U.S. is tippy-toeing around that awful, significant, word “coup.”  There are bloody clashes in the streets of Cairo, with Brotherhood supporters vowing to “take it to the streets” with a vengeance, and everyone is worried that the possibility of a civil war is real and imminent, while the Army has taken charge of the nation, supplied an interim president, dissolved the constitution, and closed Al Jazeera’s TV outlet in Egypt and arrested on-air personalities. 

  But this takeover is not a coup, says the Obama administration.  If it were, then the U.S. would, by its own laws, be obligated to stop sending the Egyptian military their annual billions, potentially dissolving our “arrangement” with that institution, and endangering the stability of the entire Middle East. It is not a coup when a nation’s military decides to arrest a democratically elected president and supply the bare-bones infrastructure that a working democracy—however poorly-run, however incompetent, however overweening—would try to do (where is Confucius’ Rectification of Names when you really need it?). 

  Egypt’s voters seem to have buyer’s remorse, even though they have put up with, and allowed, themselves to be manipulated and deprived for decades, and they are not just disgruntled, they are an excuse—an excuse for the military to take over the country and return Egypt to the “will of the people.”  Except the people have no idea what their will is.  They put up with a dictator for almost forty years, and several autocrats before that, and then they decided that—after the Arab Spring—they would do a democratic thing and vote for a president.  Mohamed Morsi is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood—a menacing name if there ever was one, post-9/11.  He won with 52 percent of the vote.  Did the voters not understand what he was about?  Did they not understand that Egypt wasn’t a democracy yet just because of one vote? 

  Democracy is, at least, a two-way street:  politicians need to do their part, yes, but the voters just can’t WISH for better, they must CHOOSE better.  And they must wait for things—however bad and frustrating and economically strained—to get better.  If things don’t get better, well, there is another election around the corner.  They must be vigilant and watch their elected representatives to see if they overreach, then they go to a recall, protests, etc.  They do not beg the army to take down the president and hope the military will be nicer, then when the soldiery again gets that taste of a power they have long had, they can’t call for a do-over.  It will be too late then.  The army will put people into office who are amenable to that army and Egypt will go back to hovering on the brink of chaos. 

  All this tumult is certainly bad for Egypt’s people, its children, its economy, its very life, but it has broader implications than that.  It is a look at what the West means by “democracy;” what the West (America) has meant by it, what we in the West think it looks like, both here and abroad, and what we, the people, will allow the Spinners In government to tell us democracy is.  Remember Hamas and the “free and fair” election?  Remember how Hamas won and recall how they were deprived of tax monies and were vilified and ostracized?  And recall those purple fingers of the voters when Iraq was “liberated?”  Remember those indicators that a woman or man had voted and the cameras catching them smiling those hopeful smiles, hopeful for a new freer, democratic Iraq? 

  Well, some years on, with American combat troops gone, millions of aid dollars vanished, and Prime Minister Maliki become, in all but name, a dictator, closely allied with Iran, running roughshod over Sunni populations, we call Iraq a democracy in progress (remember our mantra: “nation-building.”)  These are but two examples of our definition of democracy.  It’s not hard to see that other Mideast nations take their cue from us.  They hear the voice of Oz and don’t bother to look behind the curtain. But they should.  If Egypt thinks what they are doing is democracy, it has learned well from American forays into the jargon of democracy around the world.  America controls the vocabulary of democracy, and that vocabulary indicates that “voting” is sacred and the sine qua non of democracy.  Forget institutional repair—Egypt has no real institutional paths for democratic reform.  Forget economic repair.  That 1.3 billion the U.S. sends goes to the military, while just a quarter of a million goes into the general economy—a mere drop in the hummus.  Forget that democracy doesn’t come from fiat but from blood, sweat, and tears—over a long period of time, with education of generations of potential citizens to be accomplished and nurtured. 

  This, Egypt has not done, and this America has not helped Egypt to do, and this is what democracy looks like when the curtain is pulled back and the ugly old hag of greed, power, influence, and self-promotion has not been transformed into a perfumed princess who will perform of, by, and for the people.  Democracy cannot be imposed, and—by definition—the military cannot impose it, no matter how many promises it makes.  Make no mistake: there will be blood, and this blood will be a portion of America’s gift to the Arab world.


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