Tarek Masoud on Democracy in Egypt

July 8, 2013
By Doug Gavel and Jenny Li Fowler, HKS Communications

Egypt’s new leaders are forming an interim government after the military intervened on Wednesday (July 3) to depose Mohamed Morsi – the country’s first democratically elected president. Military officers ousted Morsi, suspended the constitution and installed interim president Adli Mansour to temporarily lead the government.
Both supporters and opponents to Morsi’s government have been gathering in Tahrir Square each night since his removal.

Tarek Masoud, Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) associate professor of public policy, gave us his perspective on the unfolding situation on July 7.

Q: What does this political crisis portend about the current state of democracy in Egypt?
Masoud:It's hard not to conclude that democracy is now on hold in Egypt. No timeline has been set for electing Morsi's permanent replacement, and given the violence taking place now, it is difficult to see elections being held any time soon. There is talk of rewriting the constitution, but it's not clear what this will involve or how long it will take. Whatever happens now, there will be a large segment of Egyptian society that views it as fundamentally illegitimate. How the new government will generate public consensus around the new process is anyone's guess, but it has to be job number one. There are lots of Egyptians -- and not all of them Islamists -- who are uneasy both with the way Morsi was removed, and the alacrity with which the state apparatus has tried to get on with business as usual, appointing an interim president, prime minister, and government as if one of the most dramatic and traumatic events in recent Egyptian political history did not just take place.
Q: Could Morsi have remained in power had he done more to protect minority rights?
Masoud: All Egyptian governments have failed to protect minority rights. What got Morsi thrown out of office was his belief that he did not need to build coalitions to govern, that the inability of liberal and secular elements to win at the ballot box meant they were inconsequential. And he vastly underestimated, and needlessly antagonized, elements of the state bureaucracy, which ultimately turned against him. He was repeatedly advised to seek accommodation with his rivals, but instead he chose confrontation, publicly ridiculing his opponents and then wondering why they didn't take him seriously when he called for dialogue.
Q: What will the military do next in order to try to stabilize the situation?
Masoud: The military apparently believes that stabilizing the situation will require the rounding up of Muslim Brotherhood leaders, who have been urging their followers to resist what they are calling a "coup against legitimacy." It's possible that a crackdown on the Brotherhood will quiet the situation momentarily by disrupting the movement and scattering its followers, but one fears that this would merely be a prelude to a violent regrouping. What is needed is to find some mechanism of including the Brotherhood in Egypt's future, but doing so will require more political skill and imagination than anyone in the Egyptian political elite has right now.
Q: How can and should the United States respond to these events?
The United States has little leverage here. The 1.2 billion we give to Egypt in military aid would more than happily be matched by Saudi Arabia or the UAE, both of which are pleased to see the end of Morsi and Muslim Brotherhood rule. Moreover, any American attempt to interfere in Egyptian domestic politics would only inflame sentiment against the U.S. further -- after all, one of the main grievances of the Tamarrod (rebel) movement that got so many people into the streets was Morsi's cozy relationship with the Americans, which they viewed as reproducing a longstanding and unpopular pattern of Egyptian dependency on the U.S.

Tarek Masoud, associate professor of public policy

Tarek Masoud, associate professor of public policy

"It's possible that a crackdown on the Brotherhood will quiet the situation momentarily by disrupting the movement and scattering its followers, but one fears that this would merely be a prelude to a violent regrouping," said Masoud.


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