Crisis in Egypt: The Failure of Democracy in the Middle East?

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Mohamed Azazy
Mohamed Azazy

It has been just over a year since Mohammed Morsi, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood within Egypt, was named as the country’s first democratically elected President. Since then, however, Egypt has been intensely divided, with nearly half of the electorate objected to President Morsi’s seemingly authoritarian and religious policies, resulting in a second takeover of Tahrir Square in the Egyptian capital Cairo. Last month, President Morsi was ousted from office after an intervention by the Egyptian army, resulting in violent clashes between supporters of the former President and security forces.

The ensuing chaos has cast doubts over whether Egypt would be able to sustain itself as a democratic nation. Obviously any politically shifting Middle Eastern state is highly unlikely to create a secular liberal democracy, similar to that in Western Europe, with religion in politics being an important part of the culture. Can democracy survive in such a volatile environment? And should Western European nations, as well as the US, take a step back from this crisis, allowing the Egyptian people to resolve it on their own?

Since the removal of Mohammed Morsi from his position as President on July 3, there has been a series of violent clashes resulting in a large number of casualties and fatalities. Despite international condemnation for the violence seen in the cities of Cairo and Alexandria, Egypt’s interim government still retains the support of the military and certain members of the Arab League, particularly Saudi Arabia, who has reportedly said that it “will not hesitate to help” the government if Western nations cut their aid packages to the country.

According to The Guardian, Nabil Fahmy, foreign minister in the military-backed interim government, has told Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague and other foreign ministers that: “the Brotherhood and its allies were terrorising citizens, attacking governmental institutions, hospitals, churches, places of worship [and] causing … a threat to domestic peace and security.” There still remains a feeling of uncertainty as to the future of Egypt; a country not so long ago seen as the success of democracy within the Middle East is now suffering its worst domestic crisis since the fall of Hosni Mubarak in the 2011 uprising.

There have, however, been conflicting reports of gunfire within the country. The Muslim Brotherhood has described deaths caused by the military’s crackdown on Islamists as “cold-blooded killings” and has even gone as far as to claim that the interim government has “decided to betray its trust and ignore its role” with these “heinous crimes” which show “the total disregard of the right to life by these murderous fascist thugs.” If these levels of violence continue, however, Egypt is in danger of returning back to an authoritarian regime, with the banning of certain political parties such as the Muslim Brotherhood and a government that is ultimately backed by the military.

From a Western perspective, however, it is difficult to attempt to create a clear picture of the devastation, as well as the political ramifications of such instability. The interim government has attempted to reassure the nation that new elections will be held within a year, but will Egypt’s military stand for election? Will members of the ousted Muslim Brotherhood be allowed to stand in these future elections?

So should Western European nations, as well as the US, become involved in what is essentially a domestic crisis within Egypt? European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and the president of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy have said the EU “will urgently review in the coming days its relations with Egypt.” These relations include trade embargoes and aid packages that Egypt currently receives from Europe. However, with Saudi Arabia expressing its own political and economic support for Egypt’s interim government, it is unclear as to what effect the withdrawal of Western aid will have on the outcome of the crisis.

The international community has also come under criticism from Fahmy, who commented that “their silence encourages armed groups to continue murdering and using violence and intimidation.” However, Western nations would do themselves no favours by becoming politically involved in Egypt’s own crisis. It is therefore up to the Egyptian people to resolve their own domestic problem; the desire for a democratic state can still become reality, but only if both sides are willing to make concessions and if a peaceful solution can be found.

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