As a liberal, Egypt offers horrible options. I am glad I am just a lay observer from across the continent where I am unlikely need to make such choices any time in the foreseeable future.
On one side, there is the democratically elected Islamist organization Muslim Brotherhood with Mohamed Morsi as the former President. While democratically elected, they are no democrats and while in government, they were ready to abuse state institutions to cement their power. Something had to be done to counter the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood and quite clearly, millions of Egyptians, majority or not, agreed that something needed to be done. So they protested more after the original protest turned into a revolution which pulled the dictator Hosni Mubarak down. The new protest brought the whole country to a standstill, which led us to the current situation.
In an attempt to break the deadlock, the military launched a bloodless, pre-announced, quick coup d’état. Some liberals have celebrated the move. Deep inside me, I am truly happy for what has happened in Cairo.
Nevertheless, it is hard to say having the unelected military in power instead of the elected Islamists a better option. Supporting a coup d’état itself is one of the most illiberal things to do. It would be very odd for a liberal to cheer on the military ousting the elected power, a power with repulsive outlook or otherwise.
But things are not that simple especially for Egypt which is emerging from Mubarak autocratic years. If Egypt was a normal democracy, than it would be easy to say a coup d’état by the military was outright wrong, But Egypt is in a revolution that has not concluded. The objective of the revolution is the creation of a sustainable democracy. The logic of revolution has its own rules.
The country is a state in flux and it is struggling to create such democracy. As a liberal, I am hoping that that democracy is a liberal one with individual rights sufficiently protected, and not merely a majoritarian democracy where the majority can do whatever it wants at the expense of others. After all, how many dictators have been elected to power? Winning an election is an insufficient condition for a person to have respect for democracy.
Given that Egypt is fresh at the start, it is important to get things right before everything calcifies.
With that in mind, having the Muslim Brotherhood with its wide tentacles unchecked can corrupt state institutions, leaving the opportunity to create independent institutions crucial to a liberal democracy smaller by the day. Already the new constitution gives too much power to the President, in the crucial early days of the Egyptian republic. Not only that, the constitution is inadequate to separate powers that exist in the state. That gives too much leeway for the Muslim Brotherhood to corrupt the state.
And the Islamists are no liberal and they have an Islamist vision that in the past months have shown intolerance to others, like the Christians. So, I see Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood as an oppressive regime which believes a victory at the ballot boxes gives it a free ticket to do anything. The only thing that has prevented the Muslim Brotherhood from taking off has been the military.
Democracy, as in modern democracy which really liberal democracy, is not merely about the ballot boxes. It is about rights and institutions and a majority win during one election alone does not give the power to trample those rights and institutions. Those Islamists do not understand that.
So, letting the Muslim Brotherhood through Morsi shaping the early history of the Egyptian republic excessively without strong constitutional safeguard sounds like a bad plan to me.
What the military coup does is to till land again. That gives a chance for a democracy that is more than majoritarianism to flourish. That creation of democracy is the goal of the revolution. If you fail the first time, try and try again. To waste this revolution will be one of the worst of all outcomes. They are already there and so, let them try as hard as they can.
It is only regrettable that the till was done through military might. Ideally, it should have been done through democratic process. Or Morsi should have stepped down. But the land got tilled anyway and that is a great consolation prize. I now hope that the military is merely a caretaker for a very short period before Egypt has another run on its democratic experiment. Whether I am right to hope, whether that hope is realistic, only time will tell.