MANY EGYPTIANS hoped that last week’s military coup would somehow correct the troubles the countryhas experienced since 2011 in its transition to democracy. Instead, the generals now in charge are repeating the same abuses and authoritarian practices that preceded the rise to power of the Islamist government they ousted.
The new regime’s dependence on brute force was demonstrated Monday, when soldiers opened fire on a large crowd that had been protesting the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi, killing 51 people. Later in the day, a little-known judge who had been appointed president by the military issued a constitutional decree that had been prepared in secret and without the agreement of the political forces the generals said they were responding to when they carried out the coup.
The governing document contains the worst elements of the constitution the military suspended, and adds more. It grants unchecked power to the military-installed president; exempts the armed forces from civilian supervision; and includes a provision on sharia law that secular and liberal forces strongly opposed when it was proposed by militant Islamists last year. The decree lays out procedures for amending the previous constitution that would allow only limited input from political parties or other groups outside the new regime.
A prime minister appointed Tuesday served in the previous military government. Named as vice president was former diplomat Mohamed ElBaradei, who chose not to run for president after polls showed his support in single digits. In answer to all objections, Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, the defense minister who led the coup, issued a recorded statement saying that the timetable for holding elections next year should offer “more than enough assurance” to those worried about the country’s direction.
Egypt desperately needs a political compromise to avoid further violence, not another diktat. But while the new regime’s spokesmen say they wish to reach out to the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s largest political force, Mr. Morsi and other top leaders are under arrest. Meanwhile, the generals are cutting deals with a more extreme Islamist movement, adopting its sharia language in the constitutional decree and allowing it to vet candidates for prime minister.
This crude and counterproductive behavior should come as no surprise to Egyptians who experienced the military’s rule in 2011-12. The Brotherhood, too, appears unwilling to learn from its mistakes, including an uncompromising drive to gather and consolidate power during the past year. Some of its leaders are calling for a popular uprising against the new regime, a course that can only lead Egypt toward more bloodshed and chaos.
The Obama administration is doubling down on its own failures. During 2011 and 2012, it refused to respond to the military’s abuses by reducing or suspending aid. For the past year it remained publicly silent and passive while the Morsi government abused its powers. Now it is contending that a cutoff of U.S. aid — required by law following any ouster of an elected government in which the military plays a decisive role — would not be in the U.S. interest.
By refusing to follow the law even after the military’s brutal and autocratic actions, the administration is sending the message that nothing — short of war with Israel — will lead to a rupture with the Egyptian armed forces. That will merely encourage the generals to continue their reckless and counterproductive behavior.