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
December 27, 2014 -- Updated 0127 GMT (0927 HKT)
The ability to manipulate media and technology has increasingly become a critical strategic resource, says Jeff Yang.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1617 GMT (0017 HKT)
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
December 25, 2014 -- Updated 0633 GMT (1433 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
ADVERTISEMENT