Egypt’s Unrest: Revolutions are never pretty

Anti-Morsi protest in Cairo. Image via Flickr.

Anti-Morsi protest in Cairo. Image via Flickr.

As many of you know, I have a special place in my heart for Egypt.  We lived there for many years,and our daughter was born there.  I loved the people, the shopping, the challenge of understanding a completely different culture and thought process from an American point of view.  When we were there, it was a dictatorship but one that on most days was not harsh.  All of the Americans I knew who lived in Cairo would speculate over how long it would take for the masses to rise and change the political system.  No one ever guessed 2011, but the revolution happened then.  I was certainly excited at the potential for change.

To me what happened this week is just a continuation of the revolution.  Part one was a first election — where there were few options since most political parties hadn’t truly formed or coalesced.  The sectarian opposition, which had had no organization underground for 80 years as had the Muslim Brotherhood, got out maneuvered.  Still, there was hope that now that the Brotherhood finally was in a position of power, it would rise to the occasion and rule efficiently, effectively, and inclusively.  No such luck.

What happened this week was not what I would call a military coup (just like we didn’t call it a military coup when Mubarak was ousted from office by the military responding to the people in the street).  It was phase two of the revolution.  Since Morsi was doing everything he could to be UN-democratic and grabbed all the power into the hands of the Brotherhood — as well as ignored the rule of law and the judicial findings against him — the people went back to the streets in even greater numbers to get their “people power” back.  In addition, his administration was driving the country into an even greater economic depression.  The security in both the major cities and the Sinai was deteriorating much too quickly.

To me, this signals that there is a large number of Egyptians who know that one election does not a democracy make.  They will have to be ever vigilant in order to truly turn Egypt into a working democracy.  We in the West, especially television anchors who have no knowledge of the country and most likely have never stepped foot in any part of it, can quibble over whether it is a “military coup” or not, but it is not in our interests to do so.  What we should do is support the desire of a large number of Egyptians to create a society that represents democracy in toto – free press, protection of minorities, inclusion of all in the process, and tolerance of others’ views but not tolerance of repression.

I am keeping fingers crossed that the next steps will indeed be a new constitution that Egypt can be proud of in the modern world and new elections that will bring someone into the office of the Presidency who doesn’t immediately try to become yet another autocrat.  It can be done if the Egyptians and their allies work together to lower tensions and develop a reasonable plan of action.

Revolutions are never pretty, and they always carry bloodshed.  Unfortunately, it is likely that the violence is not completely over in Egypt.  We can do little from the outside to help other than not inciting a higher level of tension from either side.  That means the American Congress, the White House, and the media should keep the extreme rhetoric down and support a “peaceful” process.  We have to understand that this is a revolution, which usually means that, for now, we have to keep out of the fray.

I find it very interesting to hear the talking heads blather on about “military coup” and “ousting a democratically-elected” president.  I would like to see the American reaction to a “democratically-elected” president if, in this country, said president ignored the Supreme Court, locked up the press, threw out anyone who supported democratic institution building, and decided to mistreat women and minorities.  We’d probably have a revolution also.  One election does not guarantee a democratic system.  It takes time and there will always be missteps.  As long as the military does what it seems to want to do — get out of Dodge quickly as far as managing the civilian government — and Egypt tries again to institute a democratic system of government and governance, there is hope.

I am keeping my fingers crossed since I want to be able to go back to one of my favorite places to sip mint tea and enjoy the hospitality of Egypt (as well as the fantastic shopping in the khan el khalili).

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