People often ask me what I think about the situation in Egypt, knowing that I worked for the Egyptian Press Office in Washington, D.C. through three and a half years of revolution and political transition. I understand the curiosity, especially since Egypt is a country that few Americans understand, but the fact is that my opinion isn’t worth that much, and neither are the opinions of most of the people you see on television.
Take a look at the situation in Egypt today: the security forces have moved in to clear the Muslim Brotherhood’s protest camps, leaving approximately 525 people dead. This is the latest in a long line of chaos that started with the 2011 revolution and has now gone through a ruling military council, an elected Islamist government, and then another takeover by the armed forces.
It was obvious when the military dismissed President Mohamed Morsi earlier this summer that his supporters were not going to go away quietly. I also remembered enough about how inept the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) was at running this show before that I had no reason to think they would quickly usher in a democratic reconciliation government this time.
The chaos that has unfolded over the past few weeks is the inevitable result of any such circumstances. We have seen it time and again throughout world history as competing factions fight each other for the right to rule a country that is quickly spiraling downward into economic ruin. Such situations are made for extreme forces to flourish and for voices of reason to be drowned out amid a shower of bullets.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made a statement to the press yesterday condemning the violence and calling for cooler heads to prevail. Normally, I wouldn’t pay much attention to this because a) John Kerry has a way of making even the most interesting things seem boring and b) such statements seem to provide as much proof as anything about how impotent the U.S. is in these circumstances. (If you’re complaining to the world media, that probably means you didn’t have any luck speaking to Egypt’s military leadership directly.)
However, toward the end of his comments, Kerry said something which caught my attention and seemed to sum up my feelings about Egypt. If I were to give a to describe where the political transition stands at the moment, this is probably what I would say, minus one or two uses of the word “ahead”.
The promise of the 2011 revolution has simply never been fully realized, and the final outcome of that revolution is not yet decided. It will be shaped in the hours ahead, in the days ahead. It will be shaped by the decisions which all of Egypt’s political leaders make now and in these days ahead.
Referring to a “2011 revolution” in Egypt is really inaccurate. President Mubarak may have been forced out, but the regime never changed. There were no real reforms in the bureaucracy, security services, and judicial system. They managed to hold free elections, but the state institutions and rule of law are too weak to maintain the results of those elections. It turns out that elections are easy, but democratic government is very difficult.
Everything that has happened in Egypt over the past few years is one massive conflagration as the various factions fight each other for the right to determine the country’s future. If I were to tell you right now that I knew who would emerge victorious, I would be kidding myself. When the rules of the game are constantly changing, you can’t know who will win, because you don’t even know what winning looks like or how it can be achieved.
Say a prayer for the people of Egypt. They deserve better leaders than the ones they have received. Until they have a stable government, they can never have a stable society. Unemployment, poverty, and a lack of education will continue to hold the nation back. Sectarian strife will become the norm, and we could even see an increase in terrorist elements. What the U.S. can do about this is something that not even the best foreign policy experts can know for sure. So until events take a turn for the better, say a prayer for Egypt that no more blood will stain its streets.