Foreign and Defense Policy, Middle East and North Africa

Is Morsi the new pharaoh?

Image Credit: Jonathan Rashad (Flickr) (CC BY 2.0)

Image Credit: Jonathan Rashad (Flickr) (CC BY 2.0)

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s decision late last week to exempt his own decrees from judicial review was greeted with satisfaction by those who opposed Mubarak’s ouster and see the Muslim Brotherhood wave washing over the Near East as a disaster of historical proportions. “I told you so” is among the most pleasing of foreign policy pronouncements. Perhaps the lovers of secular tyranny are correct; if we have to choose between tyrannies, the one that respects religious freedom is more attractive. But I’m not so sure that Egypt’s fate is sealed.

Certainly, there’s little to like about Morsi or the Brotherhood. Anti-American, anti-Israel, anti-secular, anti-women, and anti-Christian does not a pretty picture make. But Egypt’s future is not yet baked in the cake. Because Mubarak and the democratic revolution left Egypt in economic dire straits, the country is dependent for its very sustenance on international aid. And despite the deeply held – and possibly correct – conviction that the Muslim Brotherhood is now Egypt’s eternal ruler, the MB will in fact rise or fall on its ability to deliver on the Egyptian economy.

That gives the outside world substantial leverage over Morsi in the coming years; the real question is will the outside world choose to use that leverage, or simply shovel cash over by the truckload with its usual cough-up-the-entitlements attitude. In the United States, the only party likely to exercise the serious leverage we have is the United States Congress. Obama has already made it clear he’s okay with Egypt as Morsi likes it – refusing to suspend aid after Morsi ignored attacks on the US Embassy in Cairo. Will Congress take the same attitude? The Senate rejected calls to suspend aid to Pakistan, Egypt, and Libya on an 81-10 vote in the wake of anti-US demonstrations on 9/11 of this year. But will both the House and Senate rubber stamp $1.5 billion in taxpayer dollars flowing to Morsi et al without substantial new conditions? And shouldn’t those conditions relate to rule of law, treatment of minorities, economic reform, and other priorities that could insulate the Egyptian people from yet another pharaoh?

Certainly, we have a chance to influence the future in Egypt. We didn’t bother in the Mubarak years; will we again make the same mistake? If so, then yes, Egypt will be consigned to an Islamist extremist fate.

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