The issue: Ouster of Egyptian leader was a setback for the principle of elected democracy
In retrospect, Mohammed Morsi, ousted last week after a year as Egypt’s president, should have done what he’d promised voters in the country’s first free election: Rebuild the economy, beginning with tourism, the country’s largest industry, by reassuring the safety of tourists.
CRACK DOWN ON the kind of petty corruption — routine bribes to traffic cops and lower-level bureaucrats — that unduly infuriates the public. Remove barriers to foreign investment, especially in oil and gas exploration. Attack youth unemployment with New Deal-type public works programs.
Without making a big deal of it, greatly step up trade with Israel, the Middle East’s most developed economy, and quietly seek its help in setting up a high-tech sector.
This is what Morsi was elected and failed to do. The public disillusionment was overwhelming and manifested itself in the massive public demonstrations that finally persuaded the military to remove him from office.
“We supported Morsi at the beginning. But he is a loser,” a flag-waving accountant told The Washington Post. Morsi is a longtime member of the Muslim Brotherhood, described by The Associated Press as “the region’s oldest and most prestigious political Islamist group.”
But during the campaign, Morsi played down his Islamic ties. Symbolically, he distanced himself from the Brotherhood by running as a member of a new party with the calculatedly neutral name of the Freedom and Justice Party. He won with something less than a mandate, just under 52 percent.
NONETHELESS, MORSI began to implement, quietly at first and more blatantly as time went on, what is called “political Islam.” Members of the Brotherhood and their Islamist allies were named to high government posts. Morsi’s rhetoric became increasingly religious. Perhaps the moment he overreached was allowing a panel dominated by Islamists to rewrite the constitution, which was approved in a referendum with only 32 percent voter turnout.
Last week, the military gave Morsi 48 hours to begin tackling the nation’s economic problems. When he failed to meet that impossibly short deadline, the military removed him from office in what it insisted was not a coup. But it had all the earmarks of one: the arrest of the Brotherhood’s top leadership, Morsi himself held in an undisclosed location, tanks in the streets and the suppression of pro-Morsi media.
Until new elections can be held at some unspecified date, Morsi’s interim replacement as president is Adly Mansour, the chief justice of Egypt’s Supreme Court. Morsi’s ouster could be expected to infuriate advocates of political Islam, but Mansour received valuable religious and political cover when Saudi King Abdullah send congratulations on “your leadership of Egypt in this critical period of its history.”
AS FAR AS the United States stands, Morsi is no great loss. He was an ineffectual leader and his brand of political Islam promised problems down the road. But his ouster was a setback for our espoused principle of elected democracy. Then again, as the late Sen. Everett Dirksen used to say, “Sometimes it is necessary to rise above principle.”