Over 500 people have been killed and thousands injured in the latest riots since the Egyptian army deposed Mohammad Morsi and once again assumed the reins of command. Both sides are talking at each other without really communicating, while our Government is in the awkward position of defending democracy but siding with a legally elected leader.
Both sides can make legitimate arguments. Morsi’s defenders point to the fact that most observers felt the election was conducted as fairly as possible in that neck of the woods. Anti-Morsi groups argue rightly that he promised he would listen to input from other groups but scorned them instead. His answer to resistance regarding his pro-Islamic fundamentalist positions was that people could choose to not re-elect him when it was time for the next election. Many pro-democracy supporters felt that the well-organized Muslim Brotherhood had stolen the election and pointed the ship of state towards an Islamic republic governed by Shariah law rather than a democratic government that respected the rights of all its citizens.
The sad truth is that even though Egypt’s literacy rate is high for that part of the world (not including Israel), it still is low. Democracy requires an educated citizenry. Many people in Egypt cannot read, but they can listen to advice from their religious leaders. Once Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood colleagues took office, women began to chaff under new restrictions. Just one example of these actions was the Government’s requirement that women broadcasting on its television channel had to cover themselves with traditional garb. Western women and Egyptian women who chose to walk the streets in Western style clothes found themselves under attack.
In my new novel, Egypt Rising, I describe the conditions leading up to the Egyptian revolution of 2011. In fact, during that revolution, fundamentalist-leaning men attacked Western reporters such as Lisa Lang. Olivia is far more fortunate since she was able to subdue our attackers. The attacks on Israel-supporters described in the book actually did occur.
Egypt Rising described a creaky Egyptian bureaucracy that survived regime change. Recent reports indicate that this situation is still true. Squeeze and payoffs are engrained in a culture in which they have been part for thousands of years. The Government did shut down all digs near the Sphinx. You can buy the Government’s arguments that digging was undermining the structure, or you can accept my theory (and the theory of many skeptics) that there is far more to the story.
Novels predictably have happy endings in which the author ties together all the loose ends. That’s not going to be the case in Egypt. Neither side can afford to concede, so the fighting is bound to continue. Our Government has a very unfortunate set of options. One choice is to side with the Army and continue our foreign aid while trying to justify going against the Government elected by the very democratic principles we preach. The other choice is to cut off our support for the Army and face the very real possibility that democracy goes away and the people wind up with an Islamic republic where women face all kinds of new restrictions and lose of freedom. When we sever our money connection to the Army, we also sever our influence. We will have no influence whatsoever with an Islamic republic.
The best policy is to continue to provide financial aid to the Army while pushing it to speed up the process of setting up new elections. The problem, of course, is that there is no guarantee that a party favorable to our interests will be elected.