While it is certainly too early to tell, I hope that when historians look back on this decade they will declare the Egyptians as the reinvigorators of world-wide democracy. There is a lot Americans could learn from Egypt during this season of Arab Spring.
I was in Nazareth, Israel on January 28, 2011. I remember watching with wonder the BBC news coverage on the small analog television in a tiny schwarma shop. What I was witnessing I had only seen clips of on the History channel growing up. Revolution: a people taking the future of their country into their own hands. I instantly became obsessed with the Egyptian revolution. I quickly educated myself on Hosni Mubarak and his oppressive regime using Wikipedia on my iPhone. For the remainder of my time abroad that semester I watched and read about the developments. I remember being extremely skeptical of the military taking over. I thought there was no way the military would actually allow elections because historically the military never gives up power. I mean, hello, Napoleon, Julius Caesar, Edi Amin; I could go on!
Then Egypt held elections. Real legitimate elections. The reported overall turnout was 62% country-wide. That’s unheard of. The last time the US had a voter turnout like that was 1908. Egypt had done what few countries in history had done. They had overthrown a dictator, had temporary military rule, and then peacefully held elections. Has that ever been done before? Meanwhile, American media was obsessed about who had been elected: the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi. I was not really sure what to think of the Muslim Brotherhood. I knew they were Islamist, but it’s almost impossible outside of Turkey for a secular government to be formed (or so I thought). However, I had high hopes for Egypt. I really thought Egypt was on the up and up. Morsi was democratically elected, but he quickly failed to reach out to any group that was not associated with the Muslim Brotherhood; something that can’t be done in a parliamentary system. When he rushed through a questionable constitution, granted himself “unlimited powers to protect the nation,” and declared he could legislate without judicial oversight or review of his acts I began to worry. Morsi was beginning to look a lot like Mubarak.
And so people were unhappy, which led to today, July 3rd, 2013. Here’s my take. Morsi, while democratically elected, failed to form a representative parliament. His cabinet and other leadership positions were given to only Muslim Brotherhood supporters. He refused to reach out to the minority groups (which by the way still took around 49% of the popular vote in the elections). Post-revolution, a leader cannot do this. In order to enact true change from the previous regime, all the people must be included. On top of this, Christians were being targeted by extremists. Violent crime levels were the highest in modern Egyptian history. The infrastructure of Egypt was being neglected. Morsi was failing to actually keep Egypt running. If the same thing was happening here in the US the people would flip out too. Morsi supporters were calling for more time. My problem with that argument is what difference will that make? If the man can’t competently lead a country in one year, what difference is 3 more years going to make?
Now the media is calling this a coup. In reality, they are only half true. The military has overthrown Morsi. Okay, yes that is what happens in a coup. However, they have given presidential power to a judge, and already appointed powers to the coalition and youth groups. This does not happen in a coup. The military didn’t seize absolute power last election (that I can tell), and so I doubt they will do that here. Besides, the military is filled with ranks of sons and fathers of the average citizens. Egypt’s social culture has encompassed all citizens. Revolution is life now.
Hopefully, Morsi supporters will choose to engage with this new road map rather than fight it. The Muslim Brotherhood should not be prevented from putting forth another candidate. Representation must win the day, no matter what. Egypt must avoid civil war if they want their country to prosper. Finally, the United States needs to stay out of Egyptian politics. This must play out on its own. Once things settle, diplomacy can continue.
So what can we learn from this? First, Egyptians refuse to let partisan politics dictate their government. They have shown this today. Over the course of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries American politics has gotten more partisan. Politicians can't even come to an agreement on our country's budget anymore! There are a number of culprits behind this partisan phenomenon (gerrymandering, extremist groups, American media, etc) but this type of governing is simply not sustainable. We need change. The last time our country was this divided we fought a Civil War. This will not happen now but the seriousness of the current situation is just as present. Second, American citizens have gotten lazy and apathetic concerning our government's well-being. Citizens don't act like they have a say anymore. People are more concerned about their jobs and their immediate microcosm of life. However, for better or worse, our government's well-being effects each and every one of us. American's do not necessarily need to be protesting on the streets, but they need to be educating themselves on the issues, they need to be emailing their representatives, they need to be concerned. Washington D.C. has discovered that it is not being held accountable anymore. Lastly, politics in America has become entertainment. The last election felt like a long and crappy TV show. It doesn't seem serious anymore. So much money is spent on fanfare and smear campaigns, that there is hardly any substance to politics presented to the public anymore. It's no wonder people don't give a rat's ass about politics anymore in this country. Egypt stands as a lesson to the Western world. Our destinies are in our hands if we want them to be. This partisanship has to end. We will determine the breaking point.