What Does Egypt's Coup Say About Nation's Democracy?
REBECCA SHEIR, HOST:
As Egypt grapples with its future, an important question arises: Did Mohammed Morsi's ouster represent an undoing of the democratic process, or was it a victory for freedom and the voice of the people?
Our next two guests have considered that question and have two very different perspectives. Maha Azzam is associate fellow at the International Affairs think tank Chatham House. And Raghida Dergham is columnist and senior diplomatic correspondent for Al-Hayat.
Dergham recently wrote a column for that newspaper in which she called Morsi's overthrow a restoration of reform and freedom.
RAGHIDA DERGHAM: The first chapter of the revolution was confiscated by the Muslim Brotherhood, and promises were made and broken, including that they would not transfer the presidency, they would not have a parliamentary majority, that they would not seek monopoly over power. And, in fact, they did all that. And the outcry by the people of Egypt and the overthrow of second president within a year is a testimony to the eagerness and the thirst of the Egyptian people to actually truly have their freedom and their rights. And the separation of religion from state has become a very important call from the Egyptians, at least the majority that went to the Tahrir Square.
SHEIR: Now, Maha Azzam, I think it's fair to say you see the ouster in a different way. In your view, has democracy suffered a blow?
MAHA AZZAM: I think it's been an enormous setback to the democratic process in Egypt. I see the reality of the situation as having overthrown Mubarak. The people of Egypt went to the polls in the first to all intents and purposes free and fair elections. And in that election, they voted for President Morsi. So despite the fact that the Islamists formed the new government and had the presidency - and that was something that was objected to by some - they won through the ballot box. And Egypt was on its way to moving towards democracy. And I think that what we've seen is a coup d'état that has really undermined the democratic process.
DERGHAM: Modernists and seculars are also part of Egypt. They asked for the change that they sought, and they were dismissed and excluded from the process by the Muslim Brotherhood. We must be looking at different pages of history because this is a battle over the constitution of Egypt. And what the Muslim Brotherhood wanted to do is to impose their own version of that constitution, which is imposing their own religion on the state. And there was no equality there. There was exclusion.
And this is no coup d'état. It's become like sort of a word that is thrown around in a very irresponsible way from my point of view. This is the army of the people that acted to say we want to avoid bloodshed.
SHEIR: President Obama has avoided calling it a coup. So, Maha Azzam, I want to ask you, you say that Morsi's overthrow sets a bad precedence for the United States. Why do you think so?
AZZAM: Basically, the message that's coming out loud and clear is that if the Islamists win elections, then they're not going to be allowed to succeed. And the United States and other Western allies are really not going to interfere in any way. I think there's also something to be said about the whole issue of secularists and Islamists. The secular liberal opposition has chosen to promote their views through nondemocratic means. They've acted as spoilers throughout the time of President Morsi.
And also, it is not only them. I think what we're facing in Egypt today is an attempt by the old regime to make a comeback. The institutions of the state in Egypt are those that functioned under dictatorship. Those institutions are decaying. Whether they are the Ministry of Interior, the judiciary or even the media, they serve a dictatorship. And they didn't want change, and they didn't want reform. And that's why they resisted President Morsi.
I think what we're seeing now is a past struggle, not just with the secular liberal lead. It is a struggle against an old state that was defiant to any kind of change and reform. The state that essentially was extremely corrupt and remains extremely corrupt.
SHEIR: Raghida Dergham, would you like to respond to that?
DERGHAM: Reducing the modernists and the secularists of Egypt to the old regime is an absolute insult to the Egyptian people and to the seculars and modernists. This is not about what did the Muslim Brotherhood do to the Muslim Brotherhood in power. This is what the Muslim Brotherhood in power did to the rest of Egypt and to the seculars.
And to just add one more point here, the Obama administration was seen to embrace the Muslim Brotherhood, and, in fact, they did. And, in fact, they sidelined the secularists for a year. And I think this approach of saying, oh, it's the United States that's got to uphold democracy by going on to embrace only the Muslim Brotherhood is really shortsighted. This is about 30 million people who went to the street.
So let us really put it in perspective. This is an outcry against nepotism. And the first chapter of the Egyptian revolution was against autocracy. The second chapter is against theocracy.
SHEIR: We have time for one last question that I want to post to both of you. Raghida, if I could turn to you first. Looking ahead now to what this ouster means for long-term governability in Egypt, have ballot-based politics been replaced with street-based politics?
DERGHAM: This is a very important transition in the Arab region, and it is still finding its way. Of course, ballots are important. Of course, elections are essential to democracy, but it is not the last stop. So I think it's going to be a combination of both, and I think the Egyptian people have shown us the way the Arab region will change.
At the same time, I want to emphasize that it is the army that is also called upon to make sure that it lives up to the road map that it sponsored. And elections must be held as soon as possible. And I think the Egyptian Army is at the very crucial testing point. And I think if they stick to that road map, too, the return of the civil rule in full, then we are going to witness something really beautiful in Egypt. And I think what happened already, for me, is something we should rejoice about.
SHEIR: Maha Azzam, what's your stance? Will people in Egypt be heading to the streets instead of the polls?
AZZAM: I think they have little choice because those that did turn to the ballot box and to the polls were then frustrated by the very fact that the military intervened. And that intervention is no small thing unless a correction happens very quickly. Unless there is a resort to the polls whereby, again, all political parties can participate without any restrictions, then I think the whole process of democracy has been undermined.
And what we're going to see is a resort to the streets over and over again. And the danger of violence happening increases enormously. So what has happened in Egypt, I think, is a very dangerous precedent and will (unintelligible) badly for the future of democracy in our part of the world.
SHEIR: Well, we'll have to leave it there. Maha Azzam, associate fellow at the international UK-based think tank Chatham House, thank you.
AZZAM: Thank you.
SHEIR: And Raghida Dergham, columnist and senior diplomatic correspondent for Arab newspaper Al-Hayat. Thank you for being with us.
DERGHAM: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.