Egypt and Democracy on Trial

Tomorrow, 4 November, the trial of former Egyptian President Morsi commences. Also on trial is democracy. There are many lessons for Israel. Israel should take merriment in the trouncing of revolutionary movements such as the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood that has Islamic identity and intentions. Israel should take solace not only with Egypt but with all the Arab Spring countries as uniquely none of the Arab revolutions have portrayed anti-Israeli or even anti-American sentiments. Nor do they defend a revolutionary country like Iran. Israel should find consolation that the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, with its 80-year record, was unable to introduce a religious government with wisdom and prudence. If they couldn’t then how can the other new movements in other countries govern under an Islamic banner.

Egypt provides an example of why Islamic movements will not succeed to govern states and why existing Islamic regimes will crumble. In Egypt President Morsi acted like an elected dictator and rammed through a constitution based on Shari’a (Islamic) law, which did not explicitly respect women’s rights, pluralism, nor protect minorities. Morsi was not inclusive. He appointed people from the Muslim Brotherhood to key positions. The most prominent flaw was that the Brotherhood in Egypt was not interested in building a modern state because of the belief that “Islam is the solution”. Its main objective was to revive the Islamic Caliphate. This was not supported by the majority of the population who placed their economic well being at the top of the agenda. The Egyptian economy deteriorated under Morsi’s rule leading to its cave in. The Muslim Brothers in Egypt failed because they were unable to trust non-Islamists, nor communicate with the youth, resulting in more social and economic exclusion. Their lack of experience in managing public affairs also played against them.

These factors and elements and the results and consequences are not only evident in Egypt but also in the other post-Arab Spring counties: Tunisia, Libya and Yemen. The genuine predicament in all these countries is not only the new weak leadership, but also the crumbling economic, social, and cultural structures and the intense poverty. The new leadership failed to recognize that it was not popular support for a change in the political system that brought on the Arab Spring but the collapse of the economic structures. Unless the economic structures are invigorated then there will be true aggravation for Israel because of the ensuing instability and volatility. For example in Egypt the democracy project will be shelved due to ongoing struggles – not for the presidency or seats in parliament but for the polity and the economy. If the proposed new constitution is not democratic and inclusive and if the new yet to be elected parliament and president don’t deliver the economic needs and demands of the people at large; then Tahrir Square remains the only democratic option.

Tahrir Square is a political expression explaining Arab Spring democracy. It defines how Western liberal democratic notions are not acceptable for they argue that elected leadership should serve their term of elected office before the people vote them out for failing to make reforms or to rebuild the economy. Tahrir Square democracy doesn’t accept government or regime change resulting from the ballot drop boxes. Tahrir Square democracy demonstrates the power of the masses to titillate military support, not once but twice to overthrow a president. Tahrir Square democracy demonstrates that the people know the leadership that they don’t want but cannot institute new leadership to achieve their dreams – a vibrant economy.

The message for Israel is that change is not always for the better. Throughout the Arab world there is a risk of a further polarization of society and the rise of more extremist movements. Already in several Arab societies, Salafists are either outflanking Muslim Brotherhood groups or reaping the benefits of the Brotherhood’s crises in Egypt. What we are seeing is the onset of chaos and anarchy rather than democracy. The trial of Morsi will no doubt provide more domestic upheaval in Egypt. Tomorrow Morsi is not the only one on trial. The prosecution and defense will argue the virtues and vices of democracy by deliberating who has the right to rule once elected, who has the right to remove the elected and what happens next. In this Israel should taken caution that Arab movements throughout the region may seek to make Israel a scapegoat and a motif to realize domestic unity and Islamic concord.

Dr. Glen Segell, FRGS, is Researcher at The Institute for National Security Studies Tel Aviv, Lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and Senior Researcher for the Ariel Research Center for Defense and Communication.

About the Author
Dr Glen Segell is Fellow at the Ezri Center for Iran & Persian Gulf Studies, University of Haifa.