In “Defending the Coup” Bobo gurgles that there are reasons to celebrate the fall of the Islamists and Mohamed Morsi’s government in Egypt. He actually says this: “Islamists might be determined enough to run effective opposition movements and committed enough to provide street-level social services. But they lack the mental equipment to govern.” Me? I think Bobo lacks the mental equipment to understand when he’s being offensive. As “Anne” in Seattle commented: “The exact same arguments can be made about Political Christianity and the radical dominionists that control the Republican Party in the USA. We have the choice to stop our own extremists who ‘lack the mental equipment to govern.’ ” Mr. Cohen, in “Political Islam Fails Egypt’s Test,” says the youth of Egypt refuse the Brotherhood’s hijacking of their revolution. In “E Pluribus Unum” Prof. Krugman says America’s ever-changing and enduring identity is worthy of a special holiday salute. Here’s Bobo:
The debate on Egypt has been between those who emphasize process and those who emphasize substance.
Those who emphasize process have said that the government of President Mohamed Morsi was freely elected and that its democratic support has been confirmed over and over. The most important thing, they say, is to protect the fragile democratic institutions and to oppose those who would destroy them through armed coup.
Democracy, the argument goes, will eventually calm extremism. Members of the Muslim Brotherhood may come into office with radical beliefs, but then they have to fix potholes and worry about credit ratings and popular opinion. Governing will make them more moderate.
Those who emphasize substance, on the other hand, argue that members of the Muslim Brotherhood are defined by certain beliefs. They reject pluralism, secular democracy and, to some degree, modernity. When you elect fanatics, they continue, you have not advanced democracy. You have empowered people who are going to wind up subverting democracy. The important thing is to get people like that out of power, even if it takes a coup. The goal is to weaken political Islam, by nearly any means.
World events of the past few months have vindicated those who take the substance side of the argument. It has become clear — in Egypt, Turkey, Iran, Gaza and elsewhere — that radical Islamists are incapable of running a modern government. Many have absolutist, apocalyptic mind-sets. They have a strange fascination with a culture of death. “Dying for the sake of God is more sublime than anything,” declared one speaker at a pro-Morsi rally in Cairo on Tuesday.
As Adam Garfinkle, the editor of The American Interest, put it in an essay recently, for this sort of person “there is no need for causality, since that would imply a diminution of God’s power.” This sort of person “does not accept the existence of an objective fact separate from how he feels about it.”
Islamists might be determined enough to run effective opposition movements and committed enough to provide street-level social services. But they lack the mental equipment to govern. Once in office, they are always going to centralize power and undermine the democracy that elevated them.
Nathan Brown made that point about the Muslim Brotherhood recently in The New Republic: “The tight-knit organization built for resilience under authoritarianism made for an inward-looking, even paranoid movement when it tried to refashion itself as a governing party.”
Once elected, the Brotherhood subverted judicial review, cracked down on civil society, arrested opposition activists, perverted the constitution-writing process, concentrated power and made democratic deliberations impossible.
It’s no use lamenting Morsi’s bungling because incompetence is built into the intellectual DNA of radical Islam. We’ve seen that in Algeria, Iran, Palestine and Egypt: real-world, practical ineptitude that leads to the implosion of the governing apparatus.
The substance people are right. Promoting elections is generally a good thing even when they produce victories for democratic forces we disagree with. But elections are not a good thing when they lead to the elevation of people whose substantive beliefs fall outside the democratic orbit. It’s necessary to investigate the core of a party’s beliefs, not just accept anybody who happens to emerge from a democratic process.
This week’s military coup may merely bring Egypt back to where it was: a bloated and dysfunctional superstate controlled by a self-serving military elite. But at least radical Islam, the main threat to global peace, has been partially discredited and removed from office.
The Obama administration has not handled this situation particularly well. It has shown undue deference to a self-negating democratic process. The American ambassador to Cairo, Anne Patterson, has done what ambassadors tend to do: She tried to build relationships with whoever is in power. This created the appearance that she is subservient to the Brotherhood. It alienated the Egyptian masses. It meant that the United States looked unprepared for and hostile to the popular movement that has now arisen.
In reality, the U.S. has no ability to influence political events in Egypt in any important way. The only real leverage point is at the level of ideas. Right now, as Walter Russell Mead of Bard College put it, there are large populations across the Middle East who feel intense rage and comprehensive dissatisfaction with the status quo but who have no practical idea how to make things better. The modern thinkers who might be able to tell them have been put in jail or forced into exile. The most important thing outsiders can do is promote those people and defend those people, decade after decade.
It’s not that Egypt doesn’t have a recipe for a democratic transition. It seems to lack even the basic mental ingredients.
Next up we have Mr. Cohen:
Heba Morayef voted for Mohamed Morsi last year. The Muslim Brotherhood candidate was an unlikely choice for a liberal Egyptian woman, the director of the Human Rights Watch office in Cairo, but she loathed Hosni Mubarak’s old guard, wanted change and believed Morsi could be inclusive.
“I have been extremely conflicted this past week,” Morayef told me. “I don’t support the military or coups. But for me as a voter, Morsi betrayed the trust that pro-reform Egyptians placed in him. That is what brought 14 million people into the streets on June 30. It was not so much the incompetence as the familiar authoritarian agenda, the Brotherhood trying to solidify their control by all means.”
Morsi misread the Arab Spring. The uprising that ended decades of dictatorship and led to Egypt’s first free and fair presidential election last year was about the right to that vote. But at a deeper level it was about personal empowerment, a demand to join the modern world, and live in an open society under the rule of law rather than the rule of despotic whim.
In a Muslim nation, where close to 25 percent of Arabs live, it also demanded of political Islam that it reject religious authoritarianism, respect differences and uphold citizenship based on equal rights for all.
Instead, Morsi placed himself above judicial review last November, railroaded through a flawed Constitution, allowed Brotherhood thugs to beat up liberal opponents, installed cronies at the Information Ministry, increased blasphemy prosecutions, surrendered to a siege mentality, lost control of a crumbling economy and presided over growing sectarian violence. For the Brotherhood, the pre-eminent Islamist movement in the region, the sudden shift from hounded outlaw to power in the pivotal nation of the Arab world proved a bridge too far.
As Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel-Prize winning diplomat put it in a recent article in Foreign Policy magazine: “The uprising was not about changing people, but changing our mind-set. What we see right now, however, is just a change of faces, with the same mode of thinking as in Mubarak’s era — only now with a religious icing on the cake.”
This was Morsi’s core failure. He succumbed to Islamic authoritarianism in a nation whose revolution was diverse and demanded inclusiveness. The lesson for the region is critical. Egypt is its most important experiment in combining Islam with democratic modernity, the only long-term way to overcome the sectarian violence raging in Syria and elsewhere.
ElBaradei is a liberal modernizer. Yet he appeared beside Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi as a takeover was announced that deposed a president chosen in a free election, suspended the Constitution and installed an interim government. For all the generals’ efforts to insist they have no interest in politics and avoid the word “coup,” this was a coup. It placed the military front and center again — a bad precedent and blow to civilian democracy. ElBaradei’s presence in the choreography of this act — like Morayef’s conflicted state — demonstrates just how desperate Egypt’s situation had become.
“The rejection went far beyond the liberal community,” Morayef said. “The vast majority of the women at the demonstrations were veiled. Practicing Muslims, non-Westernized Egyptians, were saying no to political Islam and religious authoritarianism. We have never seen anything like this in the Arab world.”
Avoidance of a coup would have been far better. If Morsi had called new elections when 14 million Egyptians appeared in the streets that might have been possible. He did not do so, proving tone deaf yet again. So, conflicted, I say he had to go.
Now all will depend on whether the army can uphold the spirit of the revolution. This demands that nobody hijack Egypt’s modernizing aspirations — not the Brotherhood, not the military, not the illiberal liberals who only like democracy to the point it backs their candidates, not the old guard’s thugs.
It is critical that polarizing violence be avoided and that the Brotherhood continue to play an important role in the nation’s politics (forcing them underground would be the death of democracy). New elections must be held soon and the army must uphold its commitment to “remain away from politics.” A new Constitution must be drafted. Egypt’s liberals, who have proved a squabbling bunch, must overcome pettiness and cohere into a credible political grouping. Without effective management of the economy that restores order, all attempts to establish consensus and reset Egypt’s course will fail.
All this is an immense task. But Egypt, the world’s oldest nation state and not some Arab country sketched on a map by dyspeptic British bureaucrats, has immense reserves of talent and wisdom. It is not an impossible task: Egypt’s inspiring youth have shown their determination.
All the anger in Egypt over the past couple of years was once deflected outward at imagined enemies or conspiracies. This was a colossal waste. It is now focused where it belongs — on the Arab failure to deliver the new “mind-set” of which ElBaradei wrote.
The army cannot deliver that but — just conceivably — can still be its incubator. Islamist authoritarianism, just like secular dictatorship before it, could not.
And finally we get to Prof. Krugman:
It’s that time of year — the long weekend when we gather with friends and family to celebrate hot dogs, potato salad and, yes, the founding of our nation. And it’s also a time for some of us to wax a bit philosophical, to wonder what, exactly, we’re celebrating. Is America in 2013, in any meaningful sense, the same country that declared independence in 1776?
The answer, I’d suggest, is yes. Despite everything, there is a thread of continuity in our national identity — reflected in institutions, ideas and, especially, in attitude — that remains unbroken. Above all, we are still, at root, a nation that believes in democracy, even if we don’t always act on that belief.
And that’s a remarkable thing when you bear in mind just how much the country has changed.
America in 1776 was a rural land, mainly composed of small farmers and, in the South, somewhat bigger farmers with slaves. And the free population consisted of, well, WASPs: almost all came from northwestern Europe, 65 percent came from Britain, and 98 percent were Protestants.
America today is nothing like that, even though some politicians — think Sarah Palin — like to talk as if the “real America” is still white, Protestant, and rural or small-town.
But the real America is, in fact, a nation of metropolitan areas, not small towns. Tellingly, even when Ms. Palin made her infamous remarks in 2008 she did so in Greensboro, N.C., which may not be in the Northeast Corridor but — with a metropolitan population of more than 700,000 — is hardly Mayberry. In fact, two-thirds of Americans live in metro areas with half-a-million or more residents.
Nor, by the way, are most of us living in leafy suburbs. America as a whole has only 87 people per square mile, but the average American, according to the Census Bureau, lives in a census tract with more than 5,000 people per square mile. For all the bashing of the Northeast Corridor as being somehow un-American, this means that the typical American lives in an environment that resembles greater Boston or greater Philadelphia more than it resembles Greensboro, let alone true small towns.
What do we do in these dense metropolitan areas? Almost none of us are farmers; few of us hunt; by and large, we sit in cubicles on weekdays and visit shopping malls on our days off.
And ethnically we are, of course, very different from the founders. Only a minority of today’s Americans are descended from the WASPs and slaves of 1776. The rest are the descendants of successive waves of immigration: first from Ireland and Germany, then from Southern and Eastern Europe, now from Latin America and Asia. We’re no longer an Anglo-Saxon nation; we’re only around half-Protestant; and we’re increasingly nonwhite.
Yet I would maintain that we are still the same country that declared independence all those years ago.
It’s not just that we have maintained continuity of legal government, although that’s not a small thing. The current government of France is, strictly speaking, the Fifth Republic; we had our anti-monarchical revolution first, yet we’re still on Republic No. 1, which actually makes our government one of the oldest in the world.
More important, however, is the enduring hold on our nation of the democratic ideal, the notion that “all men are created equal” — all men, not just men from certain ethnic groups or from aristocratic families. And to this day — or so it seems to me, and I’ve done a lot of traveling in my time — America remains uniquely democratic in its mannerisms, in the way people from different classes interact.
Of course, our democratic ideal has always been accompanied by enormous hypocrisy, starting with the many founding fathers who espoused the rights of man, then went back to enjoying the fruits of slave labor. Today’s America is a place where everyone claims to support equality of opportunity, yet we are, objectively, the most class-ridden nation in the Western world — the country where children of the wealthy are most likely to inherit their parents’ status. It’s also a place where everyone celebrates the right to vote, yet many politicians work hard to disenfranchise the poor and nonwhite.
But that very hypocrisy is, in a way, a good sign. The wealthy may defend their privileges, but given the temper of America, they have to pretend that they’re doing no such thing. The block-the-vote people know what they’re doing, but they also know that they mustn’t say it in so many words. In effect, both groups know that the nation will view them as un-American unless they pay at least lip service to democratic ideals — and in that fact lies the hope of redemption.
So, yes, we are still, in a deep sense, the nation that declared independence and, more important, declared that all men have rights. Let’s all raise our hot dogs in salute.