Why we must help Egypt regain democratic ground lost to tanks and troops

| August 26, 2013
Vancouver rally for Egypt, Aug. 24 2013. (Photo: Shahzad Mansoory)

Tom Hayden spoke to a rally for Egypt in Vancouver, B.C. on Saturday, August 24. This article is based on excerpts from that speech. See partial video of the speech on rabbletv here

 I am moved to see Egyptian-Canadians, supported by longtime peace activists, mobilizing today against the military dictatorship which has seized power in Cairo.

Calling what has happened by its right name -- a coup -- is very important because, under American law, designating the generals' seizure of power by those four letters, coup, requires an immediate suspension of $1.3 billion U.S. military aid. That's a fact, and has been articulated by a very important US senator, Patrick Leahy and even acknowledged by Republicans John McCain and Lindsay Graham.

Suspending that aid is the only way for President Obama to gain leverage against the generals in Cairo, and to possibly make them back down before even worse disasters are inflicted on the people of Egypt. Once before, President Obama stood up and spoke out against the lobby for Mubarak's military dictatorship. Obama endorsed the legitimacy of Muhammad Morsi's election.

But for now the new dictators and their defenders, from Saudi Arabia to Israel to the US Congress, have tied the president's tongue. Only resistance in Egypt and public opinion in the Western world can free the president to state the truth and act on it. These rallies can hasten the day.

The United States and Canadian governments cannot maintain any global credibility if they support this dictatorship.

Too many of the apologists are liberals who should know better. How on earth could the liberal Secretary of State, John Kerry, have said the military coup would "restore democracy"? How could so many Egyptian liberals and secularists share the same upside-down view? Some of them, like Mohammad el-Baradei, have since regretted their support of the generals and been forced to leave the country. Others, like Tamarod, who started the petition for Morsi's ouster, have apparently doubled down and, according to this morning's papers, are hoping to overthrow Hamas in Gaza next.

Why the confusion? What is going on? To clarify the massive confusion, it might be time to revive "teach-in" on our campuses and in our communities as soon as the school year opens.

It seems to me that the defenders are saying that Egypt's democratic elections that chose Morsi and the Brotherhood would lead to a future dictatorship and so a dictatorship became necessary to restore democracy. That's a logic of fear that is inconsistent with the idea of democracy itself.

I do not identify myself with the Muslim Brotherhood but with the democratic process. If people have problems with Morsi's actions in office, it's hard to argue that Morsi's regime was growing into a tyranny. The police, the army and the judiciary, all the institutions of the Mubarak era, were against Morsi despite his being elected. So were at least 48 percent of Egypt's voters. That's not exactly totalitarianism, but paranoia run amok.  

Anyone who says Morsi should be locked up and the Brotherhood wiped out is saying that there is no acceptable democratic or political path forward for Islam. But If Political Islam is rendered illegitimate, then isn't the only alternative clandestine struggle, violence and sabotage, and isn't where all this began in the prisons of Egypt decades ago? Do the defenders of the generals prefer to fight al Qaeda on the battlefield than political Islam in democratic elections? The rise of Political Islam is the target of this dictatorship, just as it was in Algeria in the 1990s before the generals of that country inflicted mass slaughter to prevent an Islamic election victory.

It may only be coincidental, but the Egyptian coup comes at a key moment when support for the Global War on Terrorism has been waning. Egypt under Mubarak was a major ally of the United States in the secret rendition and torture of unknown suspects. And Egypt provided special access through the Suez Canal and free airspace for US ships and planes carrying troops and supplies to Iraq and Afghanistan. After Mubarak, and under Morsi or any other elected leader, there would be an inevitable shift in Egypt away from being a lackey of the CIA and Pentagon. Egypt would have played a more constructive role in Gaza, and in favor of the Palestinians, instead of automatically supporting the Israelis in exchange for American dollars. And if Egypt shifted towards a more balanced and independent role, other countries might have chosen more independent paths instead of subordinating their foreign policies to that of the Pentagon.

The initial acceptance of Morsi's election by the United States was part of a thaw in the fundamentalist war-on-terrorism model. Public doubt and dissent have been on the rise. The anti-war movements were able to push back against the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. There has been global blowback against the drone wars and  revulsion against Guantanamo. The surveillance state is coming under greater criticism in part because of courageous whistleblowers. The trillion dollar costs of the secretive wars has become a burden for countries experiencing high unemployment and declining social services.

Now with the Egyptian coup, the war-on-terrorism model is being re-energized. Drone strikes are up in Yemen. After unexplained alerts, 20 U.S. embassies were suddenly closed. Sarin gas is now discovered in Syria. The gates of Hell are opening across the Middle East. The Fortress Empire is being fortified.

Democracy will have to wait, we are told -- not only in Egypt but here in the shadow of the new Surveillance State with its secret wars and secret courts.

We must all help Egypt regain the democratic ground it has lost to the tanks and troops. Our own democratic rights, including the fundamental right to know what our governments are doing, where we are fighting and who we are funding, are at stake too. 


Tom Hayden was the chair of Gov. Jerry Brown's Solar Energy Council in 1980 and chaired the California Senate's environmental committee in the 1990s. He is author of The Lost Gospel of the Earth.

Photo: Shahzad Mansoory



I'm not sure I can support Tom's efforts. "Political Islam"? In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood (political Islam?) showed precisely what it thought of democracy when it stood by and allowed other young Egyptians to put their lives on the line protesting in the first (failed) revolution. I know what the Right's idea of choice is. Agree with it and you have choice. Don't agree with it and you are wrong and can't be supported. Is that Tom's idea of democracy? Agree with my idea of democracy, period-? I hope the Left isn't saying that it's okay for a religious organization to run for office and to end up running a country. That doesn't work. A Muslim President is one thing. An Islamic Egypt is another. I don't want to see that or a Christian state or a Jewish state, because imperfect humans will use undeservered power to abuse others. It's unwise to allow it.

What does Tom mean by Political Islam? Perhaps someone can explain for us.

Of course there was a coup in Egypt. But does Tom think Morsi's attack on democracy needed to be met with a polite, democratic response. "Yes, Morsi, We don't like your attack on democracy, which your friends will excuse for you for all manner of reasons, but we will just let your program roll, like Hitler's tanks in Europe beginning in 1939, until we can re-examine your worthiness in the next election because we are democrats and you were democratically elected."

Players in Egypt, mainly the army and the MB, but also the mutating Tamarood movement, are all jockeying for power and a chance to be uncle Sam's dance partner, since it's clear that that's your only chance of (possibly) acquiring the good life in this world and under the American-dominated corporatocracy. Those are not democratic groups in Egypt and, talk of process notwithstanding, you won't get democracy by following democratic rules and favoring one of those groups over the others. I'm not even sure of the Egyptian street right now. In any case, The deed is done. Morsi's gone. Obama's (composite) strong man is the military. Obama can't bring himself to declare the coup a coup, which would shut off American dollars to the generals, which makes it clear, Doesn't it?, that the military strong man in Egypt, however that might be tweaked later, is what the Obama crowd wants?

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