Egypt heads from Spring to who knows where
What sort of model is available for Egyptians to emulate? What do they want and what do we want? Do we really have the answers?
Before we go any further, ponder this. If, just supposing, the Egyptian military eventually allows free and fair elections after Wednesday's coup d'etat, what happens if the Muslim Brotherhood wins again? Another coup? And then another, and so on ad infinitum or until the Egyptian people finally provide the "right" result?
As the world wakes up to an Egypt that yesterday was run by democratically elected Islamist fanatics but today is run by appointees of the military, the situation in this strategically vital Arab nation is just about as fraught as that.
Optimists, of course, point to Turkey, where secularism has been guaranteed by the military, while the people are allowed to vote for whomever they want. However, the so-called Turkish model of containment has started to look decidedly jaded in recent years and it is debatable whether it can really be transplanted to Egypt anyway
Which brings us to the crux of the matter: what sort of model is available for Egypt to emulate? Given that the new regime in Egypt isn't even a day old, it is not surprising that few people are venturing answers with any confidence. But if we're not at the "answers stage" we at least can be at the "questions stage".
Here are five questions I would want to raise right now:
1. Are we in the West who support democratic values unambiguously convinced that Egypt is ready for Western style democracy? Most of us who were appalled when Egypt voted in the Muslim Brotherhood shy away from putting the point as bluntly as that, but I think it raises the core issue for many.
2. Would we be prepared to support a dictatorship in Egypt if we felt it at least provided strategic stability and so long as it was not despotic? Essentially, that's Mubarak Redux.
3. If we balk at that, we're back to where we started: Will we accept a functioning democracy even if it elects profoundly anti-democratic parties such as the Muslim Brotherhood? There's no wriggling out of this: the question has to be answered.
4. Enough of what we want and what suits us, what about the Egyptian people? What do they want? It is not at all clear that the victorious crowds thronging the squares of Egypt's cities last night were opposed to President Morsi because of his Islamism, so much as for his failure to deliver strong economic growth and rising prosperity.
5. If this "revolution" is not, despite what we assume, primarily about democracy, and is much more precisely located in enormously high expectations about how political change can effect rapid improvements in the standard of living, what happens a year from now when such expectations have not been met?
That is far from an exhaustive list, but if anyone can provide clear answers to all of the above, we'll be a lot further forward than we are today.
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