The Egyptian military’s forceful removal of the country’s first democratically elected president — and the ensuing violence — is the latest reminder of the dangerous chaos that continues to engulf the Middle East.
What happens next will have critical implications for both Israel and the United States.
Under the brief tenure of Mohamed Morsi, a leading figure in the Muslim Brotherhood, relations between Israel and Egypt deteriorated. The Brotherhood advocates Israel’s destruction and supports Hamas, the terrorist group that governs in Gaza. Though Morsi upheld the 1979 peace treaty with Israel during his single year in office, its status was tenuous as he mostly shunned the Jewish state while warming up to other Islamist governments.
As JTA reports in our cover story, Israel is eyeing events to the south with cautious optimism. Jerusalem has enjoyed close cooperation with the Egyptian army in recent decades, with both parties interested in combating terrorist groups and maintaining stability. “To get rid of the Muslim Brotherhood is great for Egypt and for the region,” said Zvi Mazel, Israel’s ambassador to Egypt in the late 1990s.
For its part, the Obama administration, which cozied up to Morsi more than it should have, needs to do all that it can to exert its influence during this transitional period. It must work with Congress to find a way to continue to provide financial assistance to Egypt, even though U.S. law currently prohibits such aid in the event of a military coup.
The $1.55 billion in aid, most of it defense assistance conditioned on Egypt’s observance of the peace treaty with Israel, is an important tool for U.S. leverage during this critical period.
The United States also must work to nurture the development of truly democratic parties and institutions that won’t just pretend to democracy, as the Muslim Brotherhood did.
Egypt’s first experiment in democracy failed miserably, as have, unfortunately, most of the recent experiments with democracy in the region. Indeed, balloting has, more often than not, led to the ascent of Islamist, often radical forces that then proceed to act in decidedly undemocratic ways. The first all-too-glaring example was the triumph of Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Democracy requires more than free elections. It requires the development of civil society institutions that protect the rule of law and civil rights.
The military takeover in Egypt was a blow to democracy but so was the rise of the extremist Muslim Brotherhood. Let’s hope that the military-led interim government’s plan for new elections leads to a better result — for both Egypt and the region.