x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Egypt's crisis marks a beginning on the road to democracy

Certain people are portraying the crisis in Egypt in a selective way, to suit their own theories or aspirations. Polling has shown a different story.

Any honest assessment of the events in Egypt will recognise that they have all the aspects of a classic tragedy. The characters involved have demonstrated that they have been unable to rise above their fatal flaws with the result being the horror we are now witnessing. What Egypt needs is a clear-headed acknowledgement of what went wrong and what is the way forward. What it doesn't need are the nonsense claims made by some partisans who wildly blame others while seeking to absolve themselves.

What Egyptians wanted most out of their revolution was a national consensus that could establish a government that could provide prosperity. That's what our polling has consistently established. What they got was a group ill-suited to lead and a military that knows only one way to deal with a problem.

The Brotherhood was unable to govern or build the consensus that Egypt needed in the post-Mubarak era. After winning an election, they focused their attention more on consolidating their hold on the reins of power than on addressing Egypt's needs. In the end, they made enemies not only of those whom they had defeated but also of potential allies.

Egypt's military, too, became a victim of its own weakness. With the public calling for action, it overreacted: first by deposing President Morsi, and then by assuming that they could use overwhelming force to end the Brotherhood's sit-ins. By believing that there could be a violent solution to what is at its core a political problem, Egypt's military has now only deepened the crisis.

In reality then, it was the flawed instinct of both the Brotherhood and the military that led to this tragedy.

What is both disturbing and especially unhelpful are the half-truths being made by some that only serve to obfuscate Egypt's situation.

For example, in a New York Times comment article, a former minister in the Morsi government attempts to describe the situation in Egypt as follows: "This is a battle between those who envision a pluralistic Egypt in which the individual has dignity and power changes hands at the ballot box and those who support a militarised state in which government is imposed on the people by force."

While there may be some justification for the second half of this charge, our polling makes clear that the vast majority of Egyptians simply do not believe that the Morsi government ever envisioned "a pluralistic Egypt in which the individual has dignity". What they saw taking place during Mr Morsi's time in power was the exact opposite. The millions who demonstrated calling for him to step down were frightened that the president was consolidating an absolutist regime. What they hoped for was a real chance for a pluralistic government. This majority opinion still holds true.

What Egyptians have seen both before and since the military action has only reinforced their fears about the Brotherhood's intent. First, there was the incitement against Egypt's small Shia Muslim community that resulted in the brutal hanging of several members of this group. And in recent days there has been the assault on Egypt's Christians. At last count 50 churches have been attacked.

Not only Egyptian partisans are guilty of obfuscation and half-truths. There are those, like Senator John McCain, who point an accusing finger at President Obama calling Egypt his "colossal failure", charging him with "bearing a large amount of responsibility for the bloodletting that's taking place". The simplistic solution offered by Sen McCain and others is for the US to immediately cut aid to Egypt, assuming that this would rectify the situation.

But these charges ring hollow to most Egyptians who still blame the US for emboldening the Brotherhood while they were in power. In reality, as President Obama has noted, while the US has abiding national security interests in maintaining ties with Egypt, it has limited leverage in directing how the Egyptian military behaves. In this context, the president's statement was not "spineless". It was honest.

As for the calls to cut aid, these also ring hollow.

The economic assistance to Egypt has already been cut. The largest portion of the US aid package is in the form of military equipment supplied by US companies for which contracts have already been signed. The real losers of breaking these contracts, therefore, will not be Egypt's military, but US suppliers. This fact is already understood by Egyptians who in polls tell us that they do not want the US aid because they feel that it is the US or Israel and not Egypt that is the main beneficiary of this assistance package.

As President Obama noted, what is taking place in Egypt is deplorable and tragic. Momentous change is never easy. The tragic events now taking place are not, as some are suggesting, the end of Egypt's movement toward democracy, but the beginning.

The process that began two-and-a-half years ago has hit a terrifying bump in the road. The consequences are horrific, but the vibrancy of Egypt's civil society has demonstrated its ability to reassert itself before and will yet again. This is not the time for friends to cut and run. Rather, it is critical that friends remain supportive of the Egyptian people and their aspirations for an inclusive democracy.


James Zogby is the president of the Arab American Institute

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