Sunday, November 25, 2012

Morsi's Coup Shows: With Obama Around, It Doesn't Pay To Be A Democracy In The Middle East

On Wednesday, The New York Times was positively gushing about Obama's new buddy in Egypt as Egyptian President and Obama Forge Link in Gaza Deal
Mr. Obama told aides he was impressed with the Egyptian leader’s pragmatic confidence. He sensed an engineer’s precision with surprisingly little ideology. Most important, Mr. Obama told aides that he considered Mr. Morsi a straight shooter who delivered on what he promised and did not promise what he could not deliver.

“The thing that appealed to the president was how practical the conversations were — here’s the state of play, here are the issues we’re concerned about,” said a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations. “This was somebody focused on solving problems.”
Remember, Hillary Clinton praised Morsi's government on Wednesday:
Egypt's new government is assuming the responsibility and leadership that has long made this country a cornerstone for regional stability and peace.
Maybe that should have been a warning sign -- after all, back in March 2011, on Face The Nation, Hillary praised Syria's Assad as a reformer:
There’s a different leader in Syria now. Many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformer.
That was before Hillary "backtracked" by blaming the flawed assessment on others 2 days later:
I referenced opinions of others. That was not speaking either for myself or for the administration.
It is a measure of the keen analysis of The New York Times and of Hillary's and Obama's great judge of character, that the following day Morsi decided to assume dictatorial powers:

The BBC reported Egypt fury over Mohammed Mursi 'coup against legitimacy', following Morsi's decree making him Egypt's latest dicator:
The decree states that the president's decisions cannot be revoked by any authority, including the judiciary.

...Thursday's decree bans challenges to Mr Mursi's decrees, laws and decisions.

It also says no court can dissolve the constituent assembly, which is drawing up a new constitution.

"The president can issue any decision or measure to protect the revolution," presidential spokesman Yasser Ali announced on national TV.

"The constitutional declarations, decisions and laws issued by the president are final and not subject to appeal."
But is Morsi's latest power grab really going to change Obama's evaluation of Morsi?

How much backlash should we expect from the Obama administration now that Morsi has contradicted the glowing assessments that Obama and Clinton have made of the Egyptian government?

Apparently, not much.

Instead of a condemnation, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland responded to the Morsi coup this way:
We call for calm and encourage all parties to work together and call for all Egyptians to resolve their differences over these important issues peacefully and through democratic dialogue.
(Note to self: how does one have democratic dialogue when the newly self-appointed dictator just got rid of democracy?)

Barry Rubin writes that Morsi's grab for dictatorial powers won't change Obama's attitude towards him:
The timing of this takeover is ironic since it coincides with an all-time high for the Obama administration’s regard for Egypt, following that regime’s brokering of an Israel-Hamas ceasefire, including a continuous insistence from the U.S. government and mass media that the Brotherhood was now moderate and pro-democratic. In a normal universe, a U.S. president would be furious at Egypt for being made to look foolish after lavishing so much praise on Egypt and its insistence that the Brotherhood was moderate and democratic. Of course, that will not happen with this administration.

It is true that Mursi acted “pragmatically” on the ceasefire issue. But what does that mean? He took into account his own regime interests and didn’t just howl “Alahu Akhbar!” repeatedly. Westerners seem to think that for someone to be a radical Islamist they have to be a wild man. If Osama bin Laden wore a suit and tie, he’d still be alive today.

But of course Mursi wants to stay in power and strengthen his regime. He’s not going to throw away $10 billion in aid (U.S., EU, IMF) for some wild adventure in the Gaza Strip that Hamas began without asking him. He doesn’t yet control the country or the army. There’s no constitution and no functioning parliament. If the Muslim Brotherhood has proven anything, it is that it has patience.
Considering that Obama's best friend in the Middle East, Turkey's Erdogan, similarly assumes greater power as he leads his country towards radical Islamism, it is unlikely that Obama will react to Morsi's actions.

As a side note, Obama has not reacted publicly towards Erdogan's continuing antagonistic proclamations against Israel -- raising the question of just how far Obama would go once Morsi feels comfortable doing the same.

Rubin concludes that
Egypt will get almost $10 billion in aid from the United States, European Union, and International Monetary Fund, even as it becomes a repressive, Islamist state.
It just goes to show you: These days, it just doesn't pay to be the lone democracy in the Middle East.

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Empress Trudy said...

I think we can agree that the notion of western style representative democracy with what we would consider balance of power, respect for minority rights and nominally functioning judiciary were and will be for Egypt, more or less complete nonsense. There was always going to be some kind of dictator, King, Emir, Pharaoh, President for life, military junta, Council of Imams or any of the other forms of totalitarian government that Arab states enjoy today. Since 1936 Egypt has had 5 totalitarian leaders including the current one. Of the 5, 2 were deposed in coups and 2 died in office, their presidency for life, otherwise. This is how Arab states are run where power is absolute and governments change either by death or a coup. Which is fine since the only alternative to that is civil war.

Daled Amos said...

True, but what is striking is that even those elements of independence (such as the courts, the prosecutor and the military) that existed under Mubarak are now either being taken over or are being shorn of their power over Morsi.

Empress Trudy said...

Because like in Turkey, the army is willing to maintain power but it's unwilling generally to slaughter everyone in order to take power. Some might even call that a generational aspect. The old guard as it were, in Egypt and Turkey were educated at American and British war colleges steeped in American and British theories of the role of the armed forces. Those are a dying breed. They were outmaneuvered, politically and their replacements are political flunkies, hacks and people from the 'Intelligence Services'. In fact if anything the slow disintegration of the Egyptian and Turkish armed forces could be a good thing since in Arab and Islamic nations, the cream of the crop, the "Republican Guards", etc ALWAYS have their guns trained inward at the populace not outward at any foreign enemy real or imagined. As they begin to fall apart there will be fewer and fewer firebreaks between the angry screaming hungry filthy mob and their rulers. There's a better than 50/50 chance that both Turkey and Egypt experience an historic civil war that implodes the country into ungovernable splinters and factions that may never resolve.