07/05/2013 05:44 pm ET Updated Sep 04, 2013

The Egyptian Coup Is a Bad Precedent for All Democracies

You may not like the Muslim Brotherhood. You may not support its religion-infused politics, its arrogant brand of Islam, its views of the U.S. and Israel, and its handling of the Egyptian economy. Moreover, you may not like President Mohamed Morsi's high-handed treatment of competing groups, the constitution, and the rule of law, let alone the degradingly populist way that he won election.

Nevertheless, the Egyptian military's removal of the Brotherhood's duly elected representative after only one year in office is a coup. And it is disingenuous for the here-to-fore level-headed diplomat, Mohamed ElBaradei, to re-characterize this military overthrow as a "recall." In addition, it is especially disingenous -- even corrupt -- for ElBaradei to support what he terms "extra-constitutional" intervention when ElBaradei or one of his Constitution Party surrogates is a likely political beneficiary.

Sorry, Mr. ElBaradei, in a recall there would be an election, with campaigning and candidates. Just as we had in California with the recall of Governor Gray Davis. Because there is no such legal instrument in Egypt does not justify a military takeover as the next best thing.

Naively hopeful policy experts are saying this is a one-time event, a "reset," necessary to clean out radical Muslim intolerance from Egyptian politics. I can theoretically see their point, but I think it is also a horrible precedent, no matter how repulsive one finds Mr. Morsi and his allegedly dictatorial rule.

The vaunted Egyptian army could have done a lot of different things short of a coup. First, they could have called a special election, with candidates and campaigning. Secondly, they could have more gently urged Morsi to form a new, more inclusive, Cabinet. Finally, they could have unilaterally instituted impeachment proceedings or a recall.

But, to completely disrespect the results of a free, fair, if imperfect, democratic election is not only a bad precedent for Egypt, it's a bad precedent for all democracies. The protesters in Brazil and other fragile democracies are going to be emboldened by such a draconian military intervention. And if the U.S. allows this in Egypt, Brazil, and elsewhere, how long before it comes home to roost?

Let's say, come 2017, that there is still no amnesty for undocumented immigrants, DREAMers are sent packing, and our border with Mexico is dramatically stiffened with 20,000 returning U.S. war vets and serious high-tech surveillance (basically what it would take to genuinely secure the border). You can bet that there will be tens of millions of angry protesters in American streets. Would such a policy, and such a popular reaction, justify a military overthrow based on the rhetoric -- used by Egypt army chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah-el-Sissi -- that the U.S. president "did not meet the demands of the masses of the people"?

Should the U.S. military have overthrown Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon for their misguided war in Vietnam? Or overthrown George W. Bush for the overreaching Patriot Act, his use of extraordinary rendition, his dramatic expansion of executive power, and for the lies and deceptions that lead the U.S. into Iraq? Or should our military now overthrow Mr. Obama for expanding the NSA spying program, for his stepped up drone strikes on foreign lands, for his failure to close Gitmo, for the politicization of the IRS, for his bailing out of large banks, and the rapid rise in income disparity on his rabidly populist watch?

Absolutely not.

Elections have consequences. They must be respected for any democracy -- even an imperfect one -- to survive and thrive.

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