Egypt’s political situation has already gotten messier, which is unsurprising but nevertheless worrisome.
Egyptian prosecutors escalated what appeared to be a widespread roundup of top Muslim Brotherhood members on Thursday, acting hours after the military deposed Mohamed Morsi, the Islamist who became the country’s first democratically elected president just a year ago.
The roundup, which placed some Brotherhood members in the same prison holding Hosni Mubarak, the autocratic leader toppled in the 2011 revolution, came as a senior jurist was sworn in as the acting head of state and an alliance of Islamists called on supporters to stage peaceful demonstrations nationwide on Friday to protest Mr. Morsi’s ouster.
Not a good sign for democracy in Egypt, but then neither was the military throwing out the duly-elected leader. (That is not to say that the collapse and embarrassment of the Muslim Brotherhood are not a fine development, but secular democracy has taken it on the chin once again.) The Obama administration let it be known that it is urging “a quick and responsible return of full authority to a democratically elected civilian government.”
The reduction of democracy to simply speedy elections is how Egypt (and the United States) got into this mess in the first place. What the Obama team would be well advised to do is to explain in no uncertain terms that arrests and show trials will make it nearly impossible for us to support the current rulers. In other words: The more Egypt’s rulers emphasize that this is a coup, the more we will be forced to treat it as such and cut off aid and other assistance.
Elliott Abrams, former deputy national security adviser for the Middle East, notes:
The Obama administration has mishandled Egypt from the day it took office. First it embraced Mubarak, whom Hillary Clinton called a “family friend,” and took no stand against his human-rights violations and increasingly unpopular effort to insert his son Gamal as his successor. When Mubarak fell, the White House was off balance but decided to embrace Morsi with equal enthusiasm. Again, human-rights violations were ignored; Morsi’s prosecutions of journalists and activists for “insulting the president” — more numerous in his one year than Mubarak had racked up in 30 — were not protested. Even the prosecution and conviction of American NGO workers, essentially for the crime of promoting democracy, did not seem to turn the Obamians against Morsi. So today Egyptians believe we were pro-Morsi and wanted him both to stay in office and to accrue more personal power. This is a self-inflicted wound from which we will now have to recover. . . . Has Obama learned anything from this policy debacle?
No sign of that yet.