Mohammed Morsi is a man who is a product of revolution. Had it not been for the Arab Spring in 2011, he would otherwise forever be known as a mild-mannered chemistry professor whose most notable achievement was a paper on “High-Temperature Electrical Conductivity and Defect Structure of Donor-Doped Al2O3”.
But instead Mr Morsi is the President of Egypt. He is the liberator of the people and the dictator of the people, rolled into one. And quite a few Egyptians don’t like this. Roughly 22 million Egyptians, to be precise. That is the number of people who signed a recent petition calling for Morsi to step down.
Certain commentators are seeing this as a clear-cut case of a small minority of Islamists versus the people, but this is a patently false simplification. In reality the situation is somewhat more complex. Western commentators have a tendency to view Arab countries through a European-tinted lens. Here, secularism is what the majority of people want; secularism, democracy and equal rights for women & minorities. This is not the case for the Arab world. Yes, there are a large number of people who do not support Islamist rhetoric. But (and this is something the West will never understand) the majority of Egyptians have no interest in an imported liberal democracy. This is not the culture of the Middle East.
The religion may have changed from worshipping Baal to worshiping Allah, the leaders may be military officers rather than crowned pharaohs, but the culture of all eastern societies is little changed from ten thousand years ago. They want hierarchy, not equality; they want greatness over equality and freedom. They still idolise Saladin and Mohammed, not because they were paragons of virtue but because they were grandiose, because they conquered continents and killed thousands. Democracy is not a natural concept for an Arab; the idea of mob rule is far more frightening than that of a dictator, especially if the dictator is one who promises greatness.
And we return to Egypt. Egypt is no longer a colony. We cannot dictate to it what its’ government should be, especially if it means imposing a system of government contrary to its’ wishes. Some people tend to view “democracy” as a panacea, as something which will make everything better. Well, here’s a secret; it doesn’t. At best it perpetuates a status quo; at worst it turns countries towards mob rule and chaos.
Egypt wants an Islamist government. It is not up to us to tell them otherwise. As long as it does not harm us, they are more than welcome to choose whatever form of government they want. In fact, there are only two grounds for the western world to oppose Morsi. The first is if Morsi’s rule is patently harming his people; the other is if his actions will harm the rest of the world.
Let’s examine them in order. The main (but unspoken) criticism of Morsi is his inability to handle the economy, but this criticism simply shows the immaturity of the opposition. The economy of any country is a massive and complicated thing; Egypt in particular is a multi-layered organism which cannot be simply fixed by waving a magic wand. The Arab Spring has had a massive effect on Egypt’s domestic economy and (more importantly) on her foreign trade. Such things need time to resolve; those people who expected Morsi to fix it as soon as he came to power are deluding themselves. He needs time to sort out the country, and his plan to restore Egypt’s economy is the only viable solution (much more so than the statist opposition). But with the obdurate protestors holding the country to ransom, it becomes a Catch-22; the protestors won’t leave till the economy is resolved, but the economy won’t be resolved till they leave.
We can also dismiss the old bromides about the Copts and Egyptian women. Women in Egypt are treated awfully; sadly this is no different to any Arab country, or for the matter Mubarak’s rule. Morsi is not going to significantly improve their lot, but I would be forgiven for thinking that a strong rule of law is going to make the streets safer than the anarchy which appears to be the alternative. As for the Copts, contrary to the usual patronising nonsense which Western outlets immediately grab onto, the Copts of Egypt are doing fine; they are not some sort of submissive race of victims, and they give as good as they get. For Fox News et al to suggest so is insulting to them. The Coptic people make up more than 12% of the population, they are not facing extinction, and President Morsi is certainly not responsible for any persecution. In fact, the President has continued the tolerant and moderate policies of his predecessors towards the Coptic community, and I trust him implicitly with their fate.
This then leaves us with the other question; is he a danger to the rest of us. And again, the answer is an unequivocal “no”. There are certain people who assume that, as Morsi is a Muslim, and so was bin Laden, the two are identical. This is unsurprisingly tosh. Morsi is as worried about radical Islam as anyone else, and he has been fastidious in dealing with it. Egypt will not become some sort of incubator for terror; au contraire Egypt will now become an efficient machine for fighting Islamism whilst still retaining an Islamic identity. The elephant in the foreign policy room, of course, is Israel, but even here Mr Morsi’s record stands up. He might have employed the usual anti-Semitic canards against Israel in his misspent youth, but all that does is put him the same category as almost all other Arab leaders, and certainly most other Arabs. Firstly he has matured since then. But more importantly he is absolutely committed to the ’79 treaty. I don’t care if that is because of ideological reasons, or (more likely) because the Egyptians are no longer capable of even attempting to fight a force like Israel; all that matters is that the southern border of Israel is secure. Some people haven’t fully grasped this; Morsi might be pro-Palestine, but that doesn’t necessarily make him anti-Israel.
So, why exactly are these kids protesting in Tahrir Square? There is a simple answer to this; they are impatient, naïve children who have no idea how to participate in democracy, and when confronted with the fact that Morsi is the democratically elected President all they do is shout a lot. And now the military has got involved and is pandering to these people, not out of any altruistic desire but simply to cement their power. As I write this, reports are coming in that Morsi is under house arrest or has simply disappeared. Whilst the protestors might be cheering, this is just bad news for everybody. It’s bad news for Israel, which is seeing ridiculous instability in the south at a time when it really doesn’t need it; it’s bad news for conservatives and Islamists, both of whom are going to be disappointed by any transitional agreement. And most importantly it is disastrous for the Egyptian people, the vast majority of whom just want stability and a functional government to sort out their country. The protestors are obstructing the progress of their nation, and they will be forced to deal with their consequences soon enough. Call me pessimistic, but at this point a civil war doesn’t look too unlikely.