Reality Check for Egypt

07/18/2013 06:58 pm ET | Updated Sep 17, 2013

Who is the Muslim Brotherhood kidding? Their bleating over the ouster of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi is like listening to children who murdered their parents then complain they are orphans. Jihadis in Syria and Islamists in Egypt are denouncing democracy as a fraudulent concept when in fact they are the victims of their own incompetence and fraud. A wide array of Egyptians united to demand Morsi's ouster. These anti-Morsi protesters grasped the truth about Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the mockery they made of any democratic processes.

Morsi's candidacy for president was the first tip-off that Muslim Brotherhood promises were rhetoric, not commitments. The candidacy broke a pledge not to field a candidate for that office. Morsi won a democratic election and proceeded to vindicate the caustic quip that Islamist support for democracy means one person, one vote, one time. Morsi and his Brotherhood masters -- from whom, despite being president, he followed orders -- presumed a mandate to do as they pleased.

We have long catalogued the Brotherhood's real goal was an Islamic Republic, not a functioning democracy. The facts speak for themselves.

One key Morsi adviser labeled the holocaust a fantasy foisted by U.S. intelligence as an excuse to declare war on Hitler and drop atomic bombs on Japan. Another denounced the UN's Violence Against Women Declaration as a "cultural invasion of Muslim countries." Morsi rammed through a constitution that failed to ensure religious tolerance or democratic pluralism. He blatantly ignored court orders declaring illegal his appointment of a new, Islamist Attorney General. He issued a decree rendering him immune to judicial review.

Morsi tried to crush the independent judiciary through action in the Shura Council -- the upper house of Parliament -- to rid the judiciary of dissenting judges. Imagine if Barack Obama passed legislation ordering Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas to step down. How do you suppose Republicans would react? What if Rick Santorum became president and forced Ruth Ginsburg and Elena Kagan to hit the road. Would the Democrats submit quietly? No wonder Morsi alarmed Egyptians.

Morsi's arrogance was breathtaking. He sought to silence free expression through control of the arts. He ordered the arrest of satirist Bassem Youssef. His ally, M.P. Gamal Hamed, called for banning ballet as "prohibited in Islam." Egypt depends upon tourism for jobs, an industry that has accounted for 5-6 percent of the country's GDP. The Morsi approach? He appointed Abdel Mohamed al-Khayat as Governor for the Luxor area. Khayat is a former member of al-Gamaa al-Isalmiya, the terrorist group that in 1997 slaughtered 58 tourists visiting ancient monuments outside of Luxor. What was Morsi thinking? He sanctioned repression of Christians and, as the military moved, was turning his attention to Shiites.

His allies did not flinch from using violence to repress dissent. This past December, over 100,000 protesters marched on the presidential palace, demanding cancellation of the referendum approving the draft constitution. Islamists responded to an anti-Morsi sit-in with random street battles that left 10 people dead.

Do not confuse the Brotherhood's agenda with religious piety. Morsi & Co. are not religious figures -- a fact Egyptians grasp. They are ruthless Islamists who use religion for politics. Muslim Brotherhood strongman Khairat el-Shater is a rich businessman, not a cleric.

While dividing Egypt, the Brotherhood failed to created jobs, stabilize Egypt, and re-energize the economy. They did not secure the much-needed IMF loan, making Morsi a puppet to regional financial supporters like Saudi Arabia and UAE, which have promised $8 billion in aid. It made big promises to Morsi as well, which went unfulfilled.

Morsi offered no solutions to the nation's social or economic problems that have provoked dissent. Hostility to a regime rooted in force and cronyism motivated the 2011 protests against Mubarak. That dynamic still drives the Egyptian people, their hopes and aspirations.

Millions of Egyptians placed their safety at risk in launching new public protests against Morsi's creeping dictatorship. Egyptian National Front leader Hamdeen Sabahi was correct in turning aside semantic nonsense about whether the military staged a coup, although reports suggest that it may have worked behind the scenes to withhold gasoline supplies to foster dissatisfaction with Morsi. A military coup aims to seize power for the military. Sabahi declared: "It is not a coup. It is a people's revolution. The ones who took the initiative were millions of Egyptians not the military."

To those wondering what devout Muslims may think, Sabahi made clear that protestors did not seek to establish a secular government. Egypt is Islamic. Egyptians want religion to play a role in public life. Still, there are limits. Turkey is not seen as a model. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan may be more able than Morsi, but is echoing Morsi's mistake in believing that winning an election provides a mandate for majority authoritarianism. Eygpt's had enough of that mindset.

Egyptians want accountable and responsible leadership that cleans up government, creates economic growth, and provides opportunities. It wants inclusive leadership that fosters a religiously tolerant, politically pluralistic society.

The military? It wants to preserve its power and perks. Some say it owns 40 percent of Egyptian industry. Prosperous business requires economic stability. So no surprise Morsi worried it. Yet saddling itself with responsibility for Egypt's failing economy is the last thing Egypt's military wants. Egypt was imploding politically. Minister of Defense General Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi faced a violent revolution, especially as Morsi intensified the Brotherhood's power grab. Morsi forced the military's hand.

What should the U.S. do? Our key strategic interest lies in preserving Egypt's treaty with Israel, a key to regional stability. Egypt's internal politics are another matter. Everyone will blame the U.S. no matter what it does. We should focus on potential outcomes. The new President, Adly Mansour, and his new Prime Minister, Hazem el-Beblawi, promise a new constitution and new Parliamentary elections. Alas, Mansur is repeating Morsi's blunder in failing to forge a broad coalition and communicate that he is doing so. His "One Nation" initiative was forged behind-the-scenes, without broad coalition-building, and unveiled as an imperial decree. It was Morsi redux. That approach didn't work for Morsi and it won't work for Mansour or the military.

New elections raise tough issues. Should the Muslim Brotherhood be allowed to compete? George Washington University professor Nathan Brown told the Christian Science Monitor that Egypt should welcome the Brotherhood to the new process. In principle, that's great. But what if the Brotherhood -- still the best organized grassroots operation in Egypt -- ostensibly agrees, wins (a possibility) then tries a second power grab?

The Brotherhood has created its own conundrum. Egyptians will rightly ask what guarantees the Brotherhood will provide that, should it win a new election, it will respect democratic principles. The Brotherhood's record suggests that it will say anything to win. Why should anyone believe its real agenda has changed?

Egyptians need to strike their own balance. We cannot solve their problems. U.S. interests are best served, as national security expert Steve Yates has observed, when it projects power and a sense of purpose. That needs to be done clearly and intelligently. History favors those who support accountable, responsible government, and democratic processes. Our values are enshrined in that belief.

But whether Egypt elects to move forward, with leadership that offers security, prosperity, freedom, and hope, or falls backward into a future of poverty, fear, repression, and despair, is a decision that only Egyptians can make. We must speak up for our values. But we must respect that, for better or worse, Egyptians, not the international community, bear responsibility for what happens next.

James P. Farwell has advised the U.S. Special Operations Command on national security issues and is the author of Persuasion & Power (Washington: Georgetown University Press, 2012).

Darby Arakelian is a former CIA Officer and a national security effort. The authors have co-written a forthcoming book, Communication Strategy. The views expressed are their own and not those of the U.S. Government, or any of its departments, agencies, or COCOM.