Skip to main content

In Egypt, get ready for extremist backlash

By Mohammed Ayoob, Special to CNN
July 4, 2013 -- Updated 1036 GMT (1836 HKT)
Members of the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy clash with riot police during the swearing in ceremony of Adly Mansour as interim president in Cairo on Thursday, July 4. Egypt's military deposed Morsy, the country's first democratically elected president, the country's top general announced Wednesday. <a href='http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/04/middleeast/gallery/egypt-after-coup/index.html'>View photos of Egypt after the coup.</a> Members of the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy clash with riot police during the swearing in ceremony of Adly Mansour as interim president in Cairo on Thursday, July 4. Egypt's military deposed Morsy, the country's first democratically elected president, the country's top general announced Wednesday. View photos of Egypt after the coup.
HIDE CAPTION
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Photos: Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Photos: Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
Protests in Egypt
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
61
62
63
64
65
66
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Mohammed Ayoob: Ouster of Egypt's Morsy could mean end of democratic experiment
  • He says Morsy erred in too much accommodation and not bringing military to heel
  • He says democracy will remain a mirage as long as Egypt's self-interested military is in control
  • Ayoob: Moderate Islamists' lesson: They won't be allowed power

Editor's note: Mohammed Ayoob is University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of International Relations, Michigan State University, and Adjunct Scholar, Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. His edited volume, "Assessing the War on Terror" will be published later this year, and his book, "Will the Middle East Implode?" is scheduled for publication in early 2014.

(CNN) -- In a move likely to have long-lasting consequences, the Egyptian military has ousted President Mohamed Morsy, suspended the constitution and appointed the head of the constitutional court, an implacable foe of the president, as interim head of state.

This act could well foretell an end of the fledgling democratic experiment in the most populous Arab country which, by overthrowing its long-term dictator just a couple years ago, had inspired democracy movements around the Arab world.

Mohammed Ayoob
Mohammed Ayoob

Morsy's gravest mistakes have resulted from a deliberate policy of accommodation and not, as is commonly believed, confrontation. He has allowed the military to retain its corporate autonomy and remain beyond civilian control. Furthermore, he included in his cabinet a large number of non-Muslim Brotherhood figures who jumped ship very quickly Monday when the going got tough, thus portraying the image that the government was on the verge of collapse.

In hindsight, it appears that he should have brought the military to heel soon after he assumed power and was at the height of his popularity, just as the military was at its lowest point in public esteem. He should have appointed a civilian defense minister, preferably from the Brotherhood and firmly brought the military under civilian control.

Should the U.S. call it a military coup?
Egypt protesters were against Obama, too
Egyptian ambassador: This was not a coup
People cheering after Morsy's ousting

This may well have led to a confrontation with the military brass, but Morsy had a much better chance of winning this fight a year ago than he did now. If he had won that fight he would have been in control of the military as the constitutional head of government. If he had lost, the military's real intentions would have been laid bare quickly and the farce of military neutrality put on public display.

Furthermore, just like other democratically elected chief executives who function within party systems he should have exercised his right to induct into his cabinet almost exclusively members of the Muslim Brotherhood, thus ensuring the loyalty of the executive branch. In particular, he should have appointed a Muslim Brother as the minister of the interior in charge of the police, with orders to quickly root out those remnants of the Mubarak regime who continued to hold office while conspiring against the elected government.

Morsy paid a heavy price for this last mistake, with the police refusing to protect the Brotherhood's offices in Cairo and elsewhere when anti-Morsy demonstrators began to burn and loot the party's headquarters. To add insult to injury, Morsy's minister of the interior announced in advance of the protests that the police would not provide protection to the Brotherhood's offices.

The military is once again projecting its image as the facilitator for a transition to civilian rule as it did at the time of Mubarak's overthrow. But, democracy in the true sense of the term will remain a mirage as long as the military is seen as the agent for political transition. For, the only transition that the military brass likes is the transition of power to itself. Everything else is but sound and fury, signifying nothing.

If the Egyptian military is allowed to get away with this unconstitutional act it may spell the end of democracy in Egypt for a long time to come. It will also be the last nail in the coffin of an Arab Spring already teetering on the edge of the grave with a bloody civil war raging in Syria, brutal suppression of democracy activists in Bahrain, and near-chaos in Libya and Yemen. One wonders how long Tunisia, which is also ruled by an Islamist party faced with street protests, will be able to hold out as a bastion of democracy.

Morsy's overthrow will also seriously erode the credibility of the moderate Islamists. The moderates had been winning the intra-Islamist battle on the issue of whether Islam and democracy are compatible and, more importantly, whether Islamist parties that come to power will be allowed to govern without hindrance by domestic and external forces opposed to them.

The Egyptian Brotherhood itself had undergone a remarkable transformation, with political pragmatism trumping ideological purity and leading to its internalization of the values of compromise and the political give and take that lies at the heart of democracy.

It is true that Morsy left himself open to charges, especially on issues relating to the status of women and the role of Sharia in Egyptian law, that he was pandering to some of the more extreme views of the Islamist constituency -- ultra-conservative Salafis as well as members of the Brotherhood. Nonetheless, his election was the crowning act in this drama signifying that the Islamist mainstream saw no contradiction in working within a democratic system and accepting the rules of the game while remaining true to its faith.

The major lesson that Islamists in the Middle East are likely to learn from this episode is that they will not be allowed to exercise power no matter how many compromises they make in both the domestic and foreign policy arenas. This is likely to push a substantial portion of mainstream Islamists into the arms of the extremists who reject democracy and ideological compromise.

A segment of this rejectionist camp is also not averse to taking up arms against the "system" that suppresses them as well as against its foreign supporters. It is almost certain that some elements among the disillusioned mainstream Islamists will decide to join this militant trend and resort to arms -- thus increasing the odds of this volatile region descending into greater anarchy and turmoil.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Mohammed Ayoob.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 1539 GMT (2339 HKT)
Mike Downey says the Giants and the Royals both lived through long title droughts. What teams are waiting for a win?
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 1832 GMT (0232 HKT)
Mel Robbins says if a man wants to talk to a woman on the street, he should follow 3 basic rules.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 2103 GMT (0503 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say more terrorism plots are disrupted by families than by NSA surveillance.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 2125 GMT (0525 HKT)
Time magazine has clearly kicked up a hornet's nest with its downright insulting cover headlined "Rotten Apples," says Donna Brazile.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 2055 GMT (0455 HKT)
Leroy Chiao says the failure of the launch is painful but won't stop the trend toward commercializing space.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 1145 GMT (1945 HKT)
Timothy Stanley: Though Jeb Bush has something to offer, another Bush-Clinton race would be a step backward.
October 28, 2014 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
Errol Louis says forced to choose between narrow political advantage and the public good, the governors showed they are willing to take the easy way out over Ebola.
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Eric Liu says with our family and friends and neighbors, each one of us must decide what kind of civilization we expect in the United States. It's our responsibility to set tone and standards, with our laws and norms
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1145 GMT (1945 HKT)
Sally Kohn says the UNC report highlights how some colleges exploit student athletes while offering little in return
October 26, 2014 -- Updated 1904 GMT (0304 HKT)
Terrorists don't represent Islam, but Muslims must step up efforts to counter some of the bigotry within the world of Islam, says Fareed Zakaria
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Scott Yates says extending Daylight Saving Time could save energy, reduce heart attacks and get you more sleep
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 0032 GMT (0832 HKT)
Reza Aslan says the interplay between beliefs and actions is a lot more complicated than critics of Islam portray
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1119 GMT (1919 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says control of the Senate will be decided by a few close contests
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1212 GMT (2012 HKT)
The response of some U.S. institutions that should know better to Ebola has been anything but inspiring, writes Idris Ayodeji Bello.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
ADVERTISEMENT