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Egypt's Elections: Islamists, Liberals And The Generals

With guest host John Donvan

Egyptians vote again and General Sisi is set to win. It has been a roller-coaster ride –from dictator Mubarak to the Muslim Brotherhood, it’s back to a military strongman.

An Egyptian woman registers her name at a polling center during the second day of voting in the presidential election as an army solider stands guard, in Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday, May 27, 2014.  (AP)

An Egyptian woman registers her name at a polling center during the second day of voting in the presidential election as an army solider stands guard, in Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday, May 27, 2014. (AP)

Democracy fails. That’s the election taking place this week on the other side of the earth in Egypt, the nation where Arab Spring supposedly was going to change everything. Instead, the army’s back in charge, deciding who can run and who’s banned. On the banned list: Egypt’s biggest party, the Muslim Brotherhood. They’re missing from this election. Also missing? Any outrage from the White House that the game was cooked. Which raises the question: In places where Islamist parties are likely to win, just how committed is the US to democracy?  This hour On Point: the Democratic election that isn’t. Not really.

– John Donvan


Louisa Loveluck, Egypt corespondent for the Christian Science Monitor. (@leloveluck)

Shadi Hamid, fellow at the Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy. Author of the new book, “Temptations of Power: Islamists & Illiberal Democracy in a New Middle East.”  (@shadihamid)

Robin Wright, journalist and author, distinguished scholar at the United States Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson International Center. Author of “Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World,” “The Iran Primer: Power Politics and U.S. Policy” and “The Islamists are Coming: Who They Really Are.” (@wrightr)

From The Reading List

The Atlantic: The Future of Democracy in the Middle East: Islamist and Illiberal — “Illiberal democracy has risen to prominence in part because Western Europe’s careful sequencing of liberalism first and democracy later is no longer tenable—and hasn’t been for some time. Knowing that democracy, or something resembling it, is within reach, citizens have no interest in waiting indefinitely for something their leaders say they aren’t ready for.”

Christian Science Monitor: Egypt extends voting by a day in latest bid to boost low turnout – “In a vote that has often resembled a coronation more than a contest, high turnout is crucial to the legitimacy of the results. Early returns show Mr. Sisi winning by a landslide. But the low turnout indicates that a large swath of voters – far more than just the Islamists who have been pushed underground – are not convinced the former military chief can fulfill his promises of security, stability, and economic growth in the deeply divided country. ”

Washington Post: If Thailand is a coup, why wasn’t Egypt? — “The Obama administration ultimately side-stepped the decision on whether Egypt was a coup or not entirely. There seems to be a disconnect there, and it clearly wasn’t lost on reporters at Thursday’s State Department briefing. So what exactly is different about Thailand and Egypt? According to Jay Ulfelder, an American political scientist who focuses on political instability, not as much as the State Department hopes.”

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  • Ray in VT

    From all news accounts it seems that Mr. Sisi’s election is a foregone conclusion. There seems to be a great deal of support for Mr. Sisi, and Egyptians speaking on the BBC seem to see him as a person who can cure the nation’s ills. I wonder, though, what will happen if in 6, 9, or 12 months if things are not markedly better, then will many of his current supporters, as well as those who may oppose him, take to the streets again. Someone said that Egyptians were great protesters but poor democrats. There just doesn’t seem to be a great deal of the patience that it would seem to take in order to allow a government to tackle and seek to correct the challenges facing the country.

  • Yar

    “just how committed is the US to democracy? ”
    Here or abroad?
    Our track record is pretty poor on both fronts.

  • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

    What’s a Liberal Muslim? One who offers the condemned a blindfold before she’s stoned to death?

  • John Howard Wilhelm

    I would like to make the point that the 2012 Egyptian presidential election itself failed. It was a free but not a fair election. The top-two runoff system used in that election is notorious for not giving representative results. Both polls before the election and the results of the election itself strongly suggested that had Morsi faced in the runoff either of the candidates who came in forth and fifth in the first poll, he would have lost handily.

  • iccheap

    A troubled election in the Middle East? Gasp………

  • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

    We used to ‘tolerate’ dictatorships – actually we materially supported them. How is this any different?

  • hennorama

    Mr. Hamid seemed to be describing many U.S. Congressional elections, wherein the outcome is virtually assured in advance due to gerrymandering.

  • J__o__h__n

    The Muslim Brotherhood was the only large organized group which is why they won elections. It was obvious to me at the time of the protests that the progressives in the square wouldn’t be the ones replacing Mubarak. It would either be the Islamists or the military.

  • J__o__h__n

    An elected theocracy is not a democracy. Democracy requires more than just elections.

  • hennorama

    “The TEA party effect” — my thoughts exactly.

    • Ray in VT

      How long do you think that it will take for someone to allege that he just said that the TEA Party is like Islamists?

      • hennorama

        Ray in VT — seems like very few are listening, so I’ll make the over/under 5 minutes. Which do you want?

        (2:28 PM GMT Wednesday, May 28, 2014)

        • Ray in VT

          Seeing as how the time has already passed I’ll take the over.

  • Coastghost

    Surely it’s not much of a stretch of historical argument or an abuse of odious comparison to suggest that Obama’s treatment of Mubarak’s regime is reminiscent of Carter’s treatment of the Shah’s regime: high-minded moralism led to critical decisions to cut ties with a local strongman we’d previously supported. (No, the Shah was no saint, but the ayatollahs since his day have been arguably more bloodthirsty. Mubarak was no Nobel Peace Laureate, but sub-Messiah Obama’s irresolute foreign policy has itself led the entire region affected by the Arab Spring into a protracted descent into near anarchy.)
    What good is moral strenuousness which is capable only of yielding even more deplorable outcomes? Fairly clearly, neither Carter nor Obama demonstrated comfort with or confidence in wielding Presidential power.

    • jimino

      Your “analysis” of who to blame is seriously flawed. These outcomes result from blindly promoting democracy as a goal in and of itself.

      You never know who or what the electorate will put in office when you unleash and promote democratization, a hallmark of the Bush administration’s policy as articulated and fostered by Condoleza Rice.

      Unfortunately, their ignorant policy of promoting democarcy as a goal in itself, without focusing on how it would work out, gives us the problems that so concern you.

      • Don_B1

        Notably in pushing for early elections in Palestine after the death of Mr. Arafat.

  • spiral007

    Look here guys. Let us face it if the results of an election fit our needs and goals (Ukraine) they are democratic and of good form. If they do not (including Indian election) then they are of the flawed kind. For us the fundamental objective is that what serves our national interest as perceived by our political and commercial elite. I could not believe one of your commentators or may be the host calling the outcome of Indian elections as something less than desirable!!

  • John_Hamilton

    The premise of this conversation is that what happens in Egypt matters here because we are Americans, and what matters everywhere matters to Americans. If tempted, we might do something there.

    We might want to ask the converse. Does what happens here matter to Egyptians? This may seem meaningless, but our government extends billions in military aid to the Egyptian government. Since Egypt has a military government, our military aid in effect props up a military government.

    So, the health of the military government in Egypt depends on the largesse of the American people, as expressed through our various “elected” governments. If something changes, our largesse might change. In a condition of an unsustainable infinite-growth economic system in an overall context of increasingly serious effects of climate change, our largesse might not be such a given.

    And, of course, climate change is not confined to the “U.S.” In the future it is likely that military aid will be the least helpful input to the Egyptian government and/or its people. Water will likely be their chief concern.

    This subject will come up again on OnPoint, and on various other discussion shows – Charlie Rose, Fox, CNN, etc. They will all confine their discussions to current parameters. Adding climate change and unsustainability removes expertness from the experts, which then removes the whole purpose of interviewing experts. That in turn removes the purpose of the show, which then removes the reason for listening.

  • Omaha Guy

    The US supported the election of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), not the Muslim Brotherhood. When it became clear that the MB lied to everyone about how they were going to rule moderately, the US could not support it.

    The Muslim Brotherhood came to power legitimately, but then shown they were determined to take apart the process of electing anyone else in the future.

    So, it is just fine that they sit the next few elections out. They lied to us about being democratic. They lied to Egyptians about being moderate. They are liars. Let them mature some more, and let them join the democratic process when they are ready.

    • Bill O’Brien

      if it is not an exaggeration to say that the mb was clearly determined to take apart the democratic process, then maybe you have a point.

      but i suspect it is an exaggeration. ..in which case that’s not much of a democratic process that they’ve got going there and that the mb isn’t ready for.

  • Ed75

    It seems there isn’t a real vision of what future anyone has decided to aim at.

  • J__o__h__n

    Bishop Tutu wasn’t advocating a theocracy. Religious beliefs often shape society, but at this time Islam continues to or aspires to control every aspect of society in a way that Christianity has not been able to inflict on people since the Enlightenment.

    • Coastghost

      And now we’re all happy citizens of Laputa.

  • X Y & Z
  • Bill O’Brien

    you’re right. and i’m not religiously committed to democracy, but trying “something else” sounds better than it usually turns out to be.

  • coldything

    Democracy is not easy. For a people who have not experienced it before, they will likely elect the wrong ones a few times before they get it right.

  • Magdi Abdelhadi

    All your guests are signing from the same hymn sheet. Whatever happened to that good old “fairness and balance” — or may be that does not apply to the evil Egyptians who overthrew the democratically elected religious fascists, the political wing of Al-Qaeda, which is called the Muslim Brotherhood. Your coverage of Egypt is appalling. Try to improve.

  • Magdi Abdelhadi

    And here’s an excellent piece by a senior journalist who REALLY know what he’s talking about : http://english.alarabiya.net/en/views/news/middle-east/2014/05/29/Sisi-wins-the-turnout-is-low-and-critics-reign-supreme.html

  • Potter

    All well and good to say that the generals should not have ousted Morsi but that is hindsight. Remember all the people in the streets. They did not want what they knew was going to continue. The problem is or was that the generals, the military, should have called for an election which also included the Muslim Brotherhood, and it should have been sooner or at least without the crackdown.

  • Regular_Listener

    John Donvan is a good host – thumbs up.

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