Contradictory feelings on the uprising in Egypt
And the role of the military and preserving democracy
Figure 1: Can Egyptian democracy rely on military overlords?
I have been watching the new uprising in Egypt with some fascination and trepidation. The source of my conflict is in the role of the military in protecting the nascent democracy.
It is clear that the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood and President Mohamed Morsi was, at least in the eyes of the Egyptian people, inadequate in addressing the complicated economic and social instability endemic to modern Egypt. On the other hand, President Morsi was a democratically elected leader who may have benefited from more time to institute change. Regardless, the people decided that they had had enough of Morsi and were suspicious of the professed goal of the Muslim Brotherhood to create an Islamic Republic. Secularists and leftists organized and protested in the streets—something I believe could benefit the United States—and it is my belief that democratic leaders should be responsive to the will of their people. Morsi, clearly, was not.
So I’m heartened that the military acted in what appears to have been the interests of the people and deposed Morsi. When the military refuses to defend the government from its own people, the government is done. By all appearance, the Egyptian military appears to be a stalwart defender of democracy. Yet “appears” is the operative term, here. I fear that appearances might be deceptive with regard to the Egyptian military. I worry about ulterior motives.
I’m no expert on Egyptian politics, society or culture, but I do know that militaries in general are almost never stalwart defenders of democracy in and of themselves. As authoritarian institutions go, militaries are among the most authoritarian, a clear contradiction to democratic ideals. So while I’m heartened that the democratic will was upheld, I’m skeptical of the long term prospects of a so called democracy that is dependent upon the good will of the military.
Institutions act to empower themselves. When institutions can act autonomously with few checks against their power, this creates a certain potential for the concentration of power and influence. As the protestors celebrate the role of their military in overthrowing a hated leader, I fear for the future of Egyptian democracy itself. The goodwill of an institution, especially institutions premised on legitimized violence, only goes so far.
Militaries are always a potential danger to freedom and democracy. Egyptians would be best served to remember that.
Postscript: As I was writing this piece, a New York Times article appeared on my phone about Egyptian authorities shutting down and pressuring media outlets for the sake of maintaining stability. If the people do establish checks against the growing power of the military, their experiment in democracy may be short lived. That military’s current actions bolster its reputation among the people lends it the kind of pseudo-legitimacy that could be a stepping stone to more dictatorial power later on. Take heed, Egypt.