On July 2 of this year, the Egyptian military ousted democratically elected President Mohammed Morsi. The military justified its action in the name of the will of the Egyptian people. Prior to the ousting, there were mass demonstrations against the president due to his poor performance and his lack of affinity for Islamic thinking.
After its actions, the military leaders appointed Adly Mansour, the chief justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court, the interim president. Furthermore, the military has stated that it will set up elections for a new president and return Egypt to democracy. This sounds reasonable, but the actions of the military not only took Egypt to the edge of civil war, it has also put the United States in a difficult position.
There are several ways to change government. The democratic way is to follow the constitutional procedures through open, fair and competitive election. This is the normal and accepted procedure. There are also unconstitutional means to change government — revolution and coup d’état. Even though both revolution and coup have the same element of violence, the end game is different. Revolution is a total societal change (political, economic, social and culture, etc.) through violence, while a coup is only a political change through violence.
It is clear that the events of July 2 in Egypt were not a revolution. It was a military takeover of the government, but was it a coup? Even though the military ousted President Morsi, it appointed an interim president and promised to return to democracy through election. If we decide that this violent change in power is not a coup, then has the Egyptian military invented a new form of political change? Regardless what we may call it, the military will increase its influence in that region.
From the recent actions in Egypt, we have learned that if the military gets what it wants from the government, it will side and support the government. If the military does not like the government, it can simply overthrow the government in the name of the will of the people. The Egyptian military has set a dangerous precedent. In a democracy, it is the civilian rule. The military should have no involvement in the political process.
The Egyptian military has put the United States in a very difficult position. Egypt is one of our most important allies in the Middle East. Because of this, the United States needs to be very careful. Please note that under U.S. law, we only recognize a governmental change through election (if that country is a democratic nation).
Even though the Egyptian military has promised to return to democracy in near future, the means in which the change took place has violated the spirit of our law. As such, the Obama administration and our congressional leaders have gone out their way to avoid calling the July 2 Egyptian military action a coup. If President Obama had done so, the U.S. would have to cut its $15 billion-plus in annual aid to the Egyptian military. Obviously, this would severely damage our relationship with Egypt.
Based on our diplomatic traditions, there are three basic self-images in conducting U.S. foreign policy: We are morally correct (we are always right); we are powerful (we get what we want); and we are practical (we are willing to make changes). These three methods have been the rationale for our previous foreign policies. These three methods are timeless and will continue to be used. So, the Obama administration and our Congress will probably continue to provide aid to Egypt and compromise the intent of our law. (Because it is practical.)
Politics deal with the reality. The reality is that the elected president was ousted and a new interim president was appointed by the military. Unfortunately, based on the circumstances in the Middle East, we cannot afford to lose Egypt as an ally.
The crisis in Egypt is just the beginning. The military takeover is welcomed and supported by anti-government forces, but it is also resisted by many including the ousted president’s political party and the Muslim Brotherhood. At this very moment, the Muslim Brotherhood has mobilized and is demonstrating in Cairo. They have vowed to fight back and regain power. Many observers believe that the Egypt is divided and on the verge of civil war.
One thing that is clear is that the current Egyptian crisis is an Egyptian domestic affair. No outside power should interfere. Yet, we know that United States has a habit of interfering in other countries’ affairs. However, the current crisis in Egypt is going to be a tough one and will put the U.S. between a rock and a hard place.
Sooner or later, Egypt will solve its own problems. If we do not handle this situation with care, the U.S. will surely be the biggest loser.
Professor Yu-long Ling, a Franklin resident, is an expert in foreign policy. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.