July 11, 2013 | National Post

Egyptians Still Hunger for Democracy

Zagazig, Egypt — The Egyptian protests that began on June 30 and culminated in the toppling of President Mohammed Morsi look a lot like the 2011 uprising that brought an end to the 30-year rule of President Hosni Mubarak. While the drama of these last few days may surprise Western observers, many Egyptians saw a familiar pattern unfolding, and so knew what was coming.

Anger against Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood has been on the rise in recent months. There have even been attacks on the Muslim Brotherhood’s headquarters and the homes of the group’s leaders. The ruling Islamist faction presided over the near-collapse of the Egyptian economy, while it refused to govern inclusively and manipulated the judiciary, among other institutions.

But it was the shaky foundation of the post-Mubarak transition that ultimately undermined the Brotherhood. Less than a month after Mubarak’s departure, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which promised to help guide Egypt’s political process toward democracy, held legislative elections before the country had even agreed on a constitution. At the time, the Brotherhood was the only organized party. And it became obvious that the Brotherhood and SCAF had entered into a dangerous alliance.

The other political movements, less organized and armed with fewer resources, tried to prevent this power grab. Their pleas did not move the SCAF, however. The result? Egypt held elections that were free, but not fair to non-Islamists. They never had a chance.

Then came the presidential elections. The Brotherhood initially vowed to sit them out, but then reneged. Surprisingly, in the first round of these elections, over 60% of the votes went to the non-Islamists candidates. But in the second, after the field grew smaller, the Muslim Brotherhood eked out a victory. Morsi won thanks to the support of secular voters who preferred him over Ahmed Shafiq, a Mubarak-era apparatchik.

Once he took control, Morsi immediately began abusing his power. He overturned court verdicts and attempted to control the judiciary. He illegally replaced the attorney general and appointed controversial loyalists in key governorships.

The crisis culminated in November 2012, when Morsi granted himself absolute power and, together with his Islamist allies, drafted a constitution that did not include the input of non-Islamists, Copts, or even women. The Brotherhood then began to slowly take over state institutions by appointing its members throughout the bureaucracy.

This climate of political instability had a disastrous impact on the economy, which relies on tourism and foreign investment. As conditions worsened, Egyptians turned on their elected leader.

The protests that toppled Mohammed Morsi make it clear that, two years after the ouster of Mubarak, the people of Egypt are still hungry for a government that is transparent and accountable, and one that will safeguard a pluralistic society where civil liberties are protected.

For now, Egyptians are relying on their military to provide stability. Some fear that the generals will abuse their power. To be sure that is what happened in 1952, when the Free Officer’s Rebellion thrust Egypt into a long era of military rule. But back then, circumstances made it easier for the military to hijack the country. The Free Officers inherited a fairly wealthy nation, a strong currency, plentiful gold reserves, and a relatively good infrastructure. Today, Egypt is in crisis, with political tensions running high. It would be suicidal for the military to take over on a long-term basis.

It is for this reason that the army’s intervention should not be viewed as an illegitimate coup, but rather, a correction of the mistakes made during the previous transition. The people on the streets of Egypt asked for intervention, on a limited basis, to carry out the necessary reforms that would enable the country to move forward.

The military is now expected to start the transition process over again – to set the clock back to 2011– so that Egypt’s political process includes all constituencies. Indeed, the military now has a chance to provide what Egyptians wanted after Mubarak’s departure: a process leading to genuine democracy.

Khairi Abaza is a senior fellow at Foundation for Defense of Democracies.