July 03, 2013 3:24 PM
As the Egyptian military takes control of the country, having previously restricted President Mohammed Morsi’s ability to travel and seized the state-run news media, we should consider why this is a critical development.
Since the days of Alexander of Macedon, the span from Morocco to India has been a key prize for empire-builders. From Alexander through Julius Caesar to the pendulum of the Crusades, on to Napoleon and Hitler, this has been a scene of warfare in one fashion or another. The location of Egypt is analogous to the keystone in an arch, another aspect of ancient days.
Today, we have concerns from Iran and Pakistan in the east, all the way through post-Gaddafi Libya to Algeria. The fulcrum of this lever lies at the mouth of the Nile. The ancient world knew Alexandria as the only other mega-city than Rome itself.
While the United States’ foremost ally in the region remains the embattled state of Israel, it was Egypt that first signed any accord at all with the Jewish state, coming after two unsuccessful wars against it. Since the Camp David agreement, Egypt was a key counter-balance against the more belligerent Islamic states. Thus, the United States poured aid, military and financial, into its relationship with Egypt.
When the Arab Spring ignited the region, it was the Egyptian situation that was the most volatile, with the Muslim Brotherhood candidates holding sway over the country. The military coup puts them back in charge, a role that it had held for the better part of a century. Under the interim military government, we can hope that a functioning democracy takes root.
However, let’s not lose sight of history and its powerful gravitational effect on the region.
Scanning across the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean, we find very few examples of successful democratic governments. Israel’s parliamentary system has held since 1947 and Jordan’s constitutional monarchy has shown stability. In other places, there have been kings, dictators, “presidents-for-life,” and other autocratic systems.
To be blunt, there is no history of successful self-government in the region. After Mubarak’s series of predictable “election” outcomes, the Muslim Brotherhood essentially hijacked the electoral process and started a move toward a theocratic state. The people, accustomed to more Westernized culture, expressed their dissatisfaction with Morsi’s government and its direction.
Now, we need to hope that the military government will oversee a transition to a more republican system. They key to the keystone will be political organization among the Egyptian people. Assembly of the populace in Tahrir Square is one thing. Being able to organize slates of candidates and run campaigns is another challenge entirely.