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Charles Laffiteau's Bigger Picture

Last update - Saturday, September 1, 2012, 00:52 By Charles Laffiteau

With the US general election only two months away, it’s time for me to turn my attention to the Presidential race, as well as Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate. But before I do, I want to offer some opinions about Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s decision to fire some of the senior generals in Egypt’s armed forces and what his actions portend for the future of Egypt.

As I’ve written here before, many of President Morsi’s moves to consolidate his hold on power have not been supported by the 48.3 per cent of Egyptians who voted for his opponent. Morsi has also been sending mixed messages to the more secular elements of Egyptian society ever since he won the presidential election. While he did appoint a Prime Minister and a number of cabinet ministers who are technocrats rather than members of the Muslim Brotherhood, they are also men (there are no women) who have no political power base. In other words, they are not the type who would challenge Morsi if he attempts to transform Egypt into an Islamic state.
Make no mistake: an Islamist regime is not compatible with the kind of democracy Europeans and Americans are familiar with. Islamists believe their societies should be governed under Sharia law, so although they may tread softly while they consolidate power, at the end of the day what they really want is a tyranny of the majority, not a pluralistic democratic state. Islamists do not support coexistence with other religions because they believe that only Islamic religious beliefs and laws should guide the social, political and personal lives of all members of society.
But those of us who have grown up in democracies have markedly different beliefs. The very essence of our liberal democracies is a diversity of competing social, political, religious and personal beliefs in a society where all citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives.
I’m not surprised that people who live in the democracies of the west were quick to support the Arab Spring and the toppling of the secular autocracies that dominate the Middle East. After all, the people demonstrating in Tahrir Square and other Arab countries only wanted to be able to live their lives in the same type of pluralist democracies we live in. I can also excuse the Tahrir Square protestors for not understanding that toppling the Mubarak regime would lead to an Islamist regime instead of a pluralist democracy, because they had no direct experience of democracy.
But the Arab Spring’s supporters in the west should have known better. They should have known that the Islamists were much better organised than the moderate Muslims, students and democratic idealists who ignited the Arab Spring. So it should really come as no surprise to us in the west that the people who brought down the Mubarak regime have now been marginalised by the Muslim Brotherhood.
But instead of acknowledging the role our misguided beliefs played in replacing secular autocracies with Islamist regimes, we are now trying to talk ourselves into believing these Islamists regimes will embrace our pluralistic democratic values.
I too hope that President Morsi and other Islamists in the Middle East will accommodate the desires of Tahrir Square protestors for pluralist democratic governments with new constitutions that will protect the social, political, religious and personal beliefs of all citizens. But let’s not kid ourselves. There is no evidence that Islamist governments have any intention of allowing their citizens to think for themselves. Furthermore, doing so would require Islamists to ignore their core belief: that Islam should guide the social, political and personal lives of all citizens and society as a whole.
As for President Morsi’s recent overhaul of Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), it shows that he is clearly in charge of Egypt’s government, not Egypt’s military. Morsi could not have sacked Egypt’s long-serving Defence Minister, Muhammad Tantawi, Deputy Defence Minister General Sami Enan nor the heads of the army, navy and air force without the backing of other SCAF generals. Morsi has also shown that he is a deft political operator, because the SCAF generals he named as replacements will be more compliant since they owe their new positions to him.
But over the longer term, I foresee an ongoing struggle for control between Egypt’s generals and its civilian government. On the political front, the generals will expect to have a place at the table when Egypt’s new constitution is drawn up and I expect them to bring Morsi’s moderate Muslim and secular opponents in with them. But the bigger struggle between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood won’t be over political differences. It will be due to the fact that Egypt’s military controls vast swathes of the Egyptian economy. Morsi will discover that purging the upper ranks of Egypt’s military is a much easier task than taking control of the military’s economic empire.

Charles Laffiteau is a US Republican from Dallas, Texas who is pursuing a PhD in Public Policy and Political Economy. He previously lectured on Contemporary US Business & Society at DCU from 2009-2011.

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