Egypt's July 4th

Going into the 4th of July weekend, I look at the political turmoil taking place in Egypt and feel fortunate to have been born in a country that had its revolution 200 plus years ago and was led by men of such singular ability. George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and other patriots were men who not only fought a revolution but could think deeply about the principles on which a new state should be based. They had a passion for the public good and thought that all private interests were secondary to it. It was a huge stroke of luck that our Founding Fathers were who they were. As Americans, we owe them our rights, our democracy and, arguably, much of our prosperity. We have not seen their like since.

One year after Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi came to power in free and fair democratic elections, millions of Egyptians took to the streets demanding he resign. A petition to remove him garnered 22 million signatures. Morsi could not—or would not—reach some kind of power-sharing arrangement with his critics and the military has now taken matters into its own hands. What united the protesters, drawn from many walks of life and holding many different political views, was the demand that Morsi go. What and who will replace him is unclear.

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Some say President Morsi brought on the troubles he and his Muslim Brotherhood party now face by overreaching for power, by not being sufficiently inclusive, by being politically inept, by lacking the charisma of a Gamal Abdel Nasser. All of that may be true, but looking at Egypt during the past year a question that has arisen in my mind about my own country recurs with greater force about Egypt. Has the country become ungovernable?  

An economy spiraling out of control, soaring inflation, a steep decline in public security, fuel shortages that have people waiting in long gas lines, electricity cuts—these are enough to sink any government, much less a new and inexperienced one composed of people who have never held power before. A government beset from within by elements of the old regime hoping to regain power and from without by a political opposition of secularists, liberals, leftists and Islamists unable to propose a coherent alternative but allergic to cooperating with the Morsi government. Political polarization, a plague in our own country, is an even bigger one in a country where an emboldened electorate wants the rewards of revolution and instead sees rapid deterioration in living standards.

Listening two years ago to Egyptians talking about their determination to create a democratic state for themselves was inspiring. But revolutions are not made by patient people, and the impatience that produced them can easily undo them. As much as many Egyptians wanted Morsi out, his exit is unlikely to alleviate the challenge of creating a stable, viable democracy. A popular military coup is a symptom of the problem, not a solution.

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