THE BLOG

Notes From Casablanca on the Tragedies in Cairo

The Egyptian crisis is of paramount concern to the region: Cairo's historic role as a regional leader and trendsetter continues to profoundly impact the countries around it. Its geo-strategic significance is immense. And the 80-year-old international Muslim Brotherhood movement, so prevalent region-wide, views its birthplace in Cairo as a source of continuing inspiration.

In recent years, the Brotherhood declared repeatedly that it had come to terms with the idea of democratic governance. But once in power, the movement did not manifest respect for the principles of social and political pluralism. Instead, it betrayed a totalitarian style of strategic thinking. The ousted President Morsi also impeded the creative freedom of his country's artists, filmmakers, and musicians. Attempts to "Islamize" society according to similar interpretations of Islam have had deleterious effects in my country, Morocco, as well as sometimes lethal effects in Tunisia, Libya, and Turkey.

According to General Sisi, Morsi reportedly told him that the Muslim Brotherhood would be holding the reins of power for the next 500 years. Clearly, the transition to democracy was not a part of his vision -- and the same may be said of his Islamist counterparts in much of the region. The broader context -- a lack of civil society institutions and a culture of lawfulness and tolerance which are the foundations of democracy -- have not been nurtured. Clannish and other parochial loyalties still take precedence.

But I do not believe that the latest turnover of power in Egypt, however popular among its citizens, will ultimately calm the situation. The resignation from the interim government by Muhammad al-Baradei, a Nobel Prize winner and trusted figure in the country as well as the world, is indicative of the difficulty of blazing a truly democratic trail based on an alliance between a secular elite and a military establishment.

Though the U.S. has condemned the violence and called for a political solution, it is clear that American strategic interests call for Egypt's stability as a prime directive.

Meanwhile, other countries weighing in bring their own perspectives to bear, notably the Gulf monarchies. The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia openly support the Egyptian army today, viewing their own domestic security as having been threatened by the Brotherhood. Egyptian Brotherhood-backed terrorist cells in both countries have been dismantled. But meanwhile, Qatar -- whom Western powers agree to be an additional Gulf power of great importance -- continues to support the Islamists. Though a new emir has come to power in the country, so far he does not appear to have altered its support for the Brotherhood -- whether through direct financial backing or via the pro-Brotherhood messaging one finds on its flagship television network, Al-Jazeera.

Meanwhile, Iraq and Syria continue to be mired in sectarian wars. Libya, Tunisia, and Algeria are marked by struggles of their own against jihadists -- armed and invigorated by the failure of comparative moderates. Even in Morocco, a jihadist cell was dismantled this week; it had reached an advanced level of preparation for attacks on American and French installations in the country.

A comprehensive strategic vision is needed, now more than ever, to help build sustainable institutions of civil society that can pave the way to democratization. In my view, this cannot be achieved through punitive sanctions, which will only stoke distrust toward the United States and its European allies. Rather, the West and its Arab allies should encouraged national reconciliation and serve as a prelude to the long road of reform.

Perhaps acknowledging the difficulty of reform can be a first step toward enacting it. Yesterday I listened with great interest a speech by Moroccan King Mohammed VI on the 60th anniversary of the Moroccan struggle for independence from French imperial rule, as well as his own 50th birthday. It was not a rip-roaring cheer session, but rather a serious, at times somber lecture on the difficulties Morocco has faced thus far in its efforts at political, economic, and social development. The king singled out the role of education and youth empowerment in fostering a culture of pluralism and tolerance. For the first time, as well, he delivered sharp criticism of the country's present Islamist-led government, and urged them to set aside their idealogical agenda and focus instead on the socio-economic needs of the people.

It was especially meaningful, after the king had delivered his speech, to see him join in an added celebration of Moroccan culture and the arts -- conferring recognition of artists, singers, filmmakers, and actors from numerous genres, generations, regions of the country, and both genders. The phenomenon of a head of state rejoicing in the artistic and creative achievements of his population is, alas, anathema to the form of governance the Muslim Brotherhood has sought to impose. But it's what the region needs.