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I realize the problems with the New York Times subscription wall, but there is a really excellent Op-Ed about the implications of the coup in Egypt that deserves serious consideration. It is by Khaled M. Abou El Fadl who is a professor of Islamic law at UCLA.

The Perils of a ‘People’s Coup’

But Mr. Morsi’s fall does not bode well for the future of Egypt and democracy in the region. The army is following in the footsteps of Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, Hafez al-Assad of Syria, Saddam Hussein of Iraq, and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran, who shared a common trait. They all pointed to their supporters in the streets as the source of their legitimacy and perpetuated autocratic rule in the name of the people’s will. By stepping in to remove an unpopular president, the Egyptian Army reaffirmed a despotic tradition in the Middle East: Army officers decide what the country needs, and they always know best.
Many so-called liberals are praising the military for upholding personal freedoms while blissfully ignoring the fact that one of the army’s first acts was to close down all media that the military, in its infinite wisdom, deemed a danger to public order. This includes Al Jazeera, which saw its office in Cairo shut and its workers threatened and arrested, and their equipment confiscated.

This is nothing new. The army has simply reaffirmed and aggravated a decades-old feud between secularists (who believe that they alone understand democracy) and Islamists (who believe that secularists only believe in democracy when it serves to exclude and marginalize Islamists). Mr. Morsi’s fatal mistake was to believe he could win the trust and loyalty of his defense minister, Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi. Instead, he got a coup.

Secularists across the Middle East have traditionally failed at the ballot box because they lacked support among the pious masses and instead had to rely on the repressive might of the military. Islamists have generally fared well in elections, but because of emotional appeal rather than competence in governing. So secularists have ended up monopolizing power by excluding and repressing Islamists. The predictable result has been radicalization of the Islamists, after they lose trust in the hallowed principles of democracy and human rights.

This time, the military agreed with the protesters. But next time, when protesters call for something that isn’t in the army’s interest, they will meet a very different fate. Today they are called “the people”; tomorrow they will be labeled seditious saboteurs. A year from now, the dreamy youth who celebrated and danced when Mr. Morsi was overthrown may well find themselves in the cell next door to the Brotherhood.
There are a billion people who follow various Islamic religious traditions. It is never going to be possible to have a popularly elected democratic government in an Islamic country that isn't under the control of people who are Muslims. If people in the US and Europe really want to see democracy in that part of the world they will have to accept that reality and come to terms with it. However, it is more likely that the people in power in the west are much more interested in geopolitical control. The political and economic forces in the Middle East are central to that objective. That is why we always seem to wind up courting military dictators as allies while spouting rhetoric about humanistic values.

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