The persistent talk and speculation as to what the U.S. should do about the crisis in Egypt is irrelevant. What will happen in Egypt will happen regardless of what the U.S., or any other country, does or doesn't do about it.
Egypt is seized by the forces of change-albeit a painful change that could, and possibly will, cause much damage to that country. It is the price it pays for decades of political, economic, and social stagnation. Egypt's present experience is the result of a lack of gradual change that should have taken place over time and in stages.
In order to perpetuate their position of power, Egypt's rulers prevented socio-political change to take place. And as time passed by, the opposition gradually retreated to increasingly radical positions. It was the fear of this radicalization that General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi toppled Mohamed Morsi's government.
The crisis in Egypt is the culmination of that country's post-World War II development. In Egypt, as in many other countries, post-World War II development was a truncated process of modernization. Egyptian leaders brought about only economic and administrative changes, expunging from the procedure such vital components as the democratization of the political system and institutionalization of an independent judiciary.
This process of partial modernization strengthened the Egyptian leaders grip over the population. The lack of political pluralism and the rule of law helped centralize political authority in the hands of governmental elites, leading to pervasive corruption and nepotism. The abnormality undermined progress and froze out social innovation.
The concentration of economic activity in the hands of a few created large, elite-controlled fortunes that did not benefit the national economy as most of the profits were transferred abroad.
Over time, however, the introduction of even partial reforms, combined with a growing educated class and the impact of modern communication, caused changes in people's perceptions and created new aspirations such as social mobility, heightened spiritual and material expectations, and political freedom.
What transpires today in Egypt is the result of this process-the culmination of decades of oppression and misuse of power.
As change and true democratization did not happen gradually, the opposition to the establishment has hardened. The tension between the rulers and the ruled has reached destructive levels and the opposing parties are locked in a sequence of violence and counter violence.
Fighting uphill battles for change and often for survival over long periods of time, the opposition has adopted increasingly radical platforms, such as politicized Islam, which, if successful, will not lead to democracy and pluralism but will introduce another form of totalitarianism cloaked under the mantle of religious fundamentalism.
The collapse of trust and hardening of the fronts between Egypt's ruling elite and the Muslim Brotherhood will prevent the two sides from reaching a compromise in a negotiated resolution of their divisions.
Two things must happen before a settlement of their differences could be negotiated:
- The ruling elite must recognize that under today's conditions legitimacy based on social control and enforced by military and police forces is neither feasible nor acceptable. The exercise of political power must rest on the people's free will. Both Egypt's leadership and its opposing forces must understand that non-participatory rule is not only unjust, but also inefficient.
- The successful construction of a just social order presupposes the consent and creative participation of each member of society. Such participation, however, can only occur in a democratic society with pluralistic institutions and an unshakable commitment to the principle of human rights.
Since the death of President Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1970, American policy towards Egypt has been supportive of its governments. That policy has been a blessing for its leaders and a curse for its reformers. It is time for the U.S. to step back and let the Egyptians settle their problems among themselves. What the U.S. could and should do is to persuade other countries to also refrain from interfering in Egypt's crisis. Saudi Arabia's promise to provide the coup leadership with $12 billion will merely fuel the fires of unrest and hatred.
It's going to be hard enough for the Egyptian people to work their way out of the crisis. The rest of the world should only lend Egyptians a helping hand after they have settled their problems and themselves ask for support in rebuilding their country. It is very likely that the present confrontation of the ruling elite and the opposition will last for some time and cause extensive destruction to their country.
The time to offer assistance to Egypt is when the Egyptians have reached a settlement and are ready to rebuild their lives and country.