In analyzing the events that transpired in Egypt there are two major challenges. First, what does it say about the future of democracy in the Arab world and second what does it suggest about Islam’s political power in the Arab world?
With respect to the first question the answer is obvious and it is certainly not the one envisioned by Obama and the other dreamers when the watched free elections being held in the largest Arab country in the region last year. The problem is that democratic elections are only elections. Governing in a democratic manner is another matter entirely and is far more challenging.
As former presidential advisor and key Middle East negotiator Dennis Ross said today in USA Today:
Genuine democracy requires not just elections; it requires a political culture of tolerance and respect for minority rights; institutions that provide for the rule of law; a readiness to accept the outcome of elections even when you lose and a recognition that governance cannot favor only one group to the exclusion of everyone else.
This was clearly not a place where the Morsi led Government was prepared to go and one which is incompatible with radical Islam.
With respect to the second question there is no real answer and there may not be one for a long time. One year ago it appeared that the Muslim Brotherhood was very much on the ascendancy in Egypt as was/is fundamentalist Islam today throughout the Arab world. Over the past few weeks, however, it is clear that the views and leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood as championed by President Morsi and his followers was unacceptable to the Egyptian masses. The actual demands of the people are clear; jobs, food, housing, No one should assume that the vast majority in the streets were calling for a rejection of Islam, although that indeed may be so among the more secular protesters. It was rather anger at Morsi’s undelivered promises against which the people were enraged. The challenge is whether the military leaders and their appointed acting leader can move quickly to parliamentary and presidential elections, or else there well may be more demonstrations and protests and casualties.
One further open question remains which may be very important in the long run. What effect are the events in Egypt having throughout the Arab world? How will other elements in the Arab world which comprised the Arab Spring movements react to the brief Egyptian experience with democratic elections which brought fundementalist Muslims to power?