Do you remember the purple finger? It was the color of the index finger of millions of Iraqis after they voted for the first time in their history. The whole world, including myself, celebrated the purple finger and considered it as sign that finally Iraq was on its path to democracy. President George W. Bush made a speech on that day to boast in front of his critics and tell them that the purple finger proved they were wrong about the war in Iraq.
What happened to the purple finger? It turned into a red finger. Iraq for the past years witnessed the death of thousands and is still mired in sectarian conflict. Why? Because democracy is far more than a ballot box. This is the truth that many analysts in the West should understand.
Elections to many in the West is considered to be the uttermost form or interpretation of democracy simply because all other facets of the democratic process are taken for granted in their respective countries. Things like independent judiciary, independent police force, fair elections laws, free press and the free operation of NGOs are de facto in old democracies such as Europe and the United States. This is the reason why these integral elements of democracy are often ignored and sidestepped, only elections, the most visible and media attention grabbing element of democracy, receives the attention of Western analysts and governments.
This leads us to the question: what should the international community and especially the US administration do in Egypt? I will concentrate on what the US should do since it has the most political clout in Egypt and over the MB. How did I know the US has a lot of political clout over the MB? Well, I just compared Morsi before and after Hillary Clinton’s praises that followed the Gaza ceasefire deal. Last October, the MB used their “representative in the presidential office”, Mohamed Morsi, to sack their nemesis former Prosecutor General Abdel Megied Mahmoud. The judges revolted against the decision and Morsi immediately backed down and invited Abdel Megied to the presidential palace. Fast forward to right after the conclusion of the Gaza cease fire deal between Israel and Hamas. It only took days after Hillary Clinton praised Morsi for his role in the deal for him to issue a dictatorial constitutional decree and sack the Mubarak-era Prosecutor General and replace him with an MB poodle. This is what the MB have been doing ever since they reached power: replace a Mubarak poodle with one of their own.
The MB know the Mubarak era rule very well. Make the US happy and then do what you want inside.
How did the US administration react towards Morsi’s assumption of sweeping powers? The Obama administration almost said nothing. The only time the US government really made a big fuss was over Morsi’s 2010 disgusting antisemitic remarks that surfaced on Basem Yousef’s satirical show. Other than that, it appears as if the MB had a carte blanche to do whatever they wanted.
Why was the US reaction almost muted to the MB’s hegemonic attempts to shape Egypt post-revolution future in a way that preserves their rule, and only their rule? There could be three reasons. First, the US might still be under the influence of the MB’s years long PR campaign in DC. May be the US is still under the false impression that somehow, sometime, the MB might be like Turkey’s Justice & Development Party. If that is the case, US policymakers need to listen to this creative chant that has been echoing in many of the recent demonstrations: shave your beard, uncover your shame, you will find your face to be the face of Mubarak.
Second, let’s face it, the MB are just too good to be true! The world’s largest Islamist organization sent a letter to Israeli president Shimon Peres calling him “my faithful friend”. Camp David is well maintained and business is as usual. Who could have imagined that? A dream come true to many US policymakers who might have had doubts regarding Egypt’s policy towards Israel after the demise of Mubarak. The MB know this very well. They know that the key to keep the US happy is to be nice to Israel; or at least to maintain the status quo that prevailed after signing the Camp David agreement.
Third, besides the army, there is no viable political alternative to the MB. The US administration might be reluctant to pressure the MB to the extent of undermining their power and risk the return of the army once again.
So what can the US do in Egypt? I believe the US should start to talk, whether in public or in private, about the other facets of democracy I’ve stated above. For example, the MB just drafted an NGO law that aims at killing NGOs and bring them under the direct control of the government. Just like Mubarak’s dictatorial regime, the MB’s dictatorial regime hates NGOs. The US could pressure the MB on that.
Another example. The current MB formulated elections law was tailored made specifically to suit the MB’s political interests. Areas that voted against the MB in previous elections are now clustered together in order to minimize any loss the MB might endure. The US could weight in on that.
Am I calling for US interference in Egypt’s internal affairs? It is already there! US taxpayers give the Egyptian army $1.3 billion in aid every year. Non-military aid amounts to a yearly $700 million. In the midst of the political unrest, the MB made sure to explain its position to the White House. They dispatched the President’s foreign affairs adviser and MB member, Essam Hadad, who met senior officials in the Obama administration. So the US clout is there. It is a reality and I’m only dealing with this reality. If the US still wants to “support democracy” in Egypt, it should not be content with merely celebrating an election here and there. The US has considerable influence in Egypt and over the MB, it would be a good idea to make good use of it. If not, then the US should cease talking about democracy in Egypt and should stop the $2 billion annual aid because no money comes free of any strings attached.