August 21, 2013 9:38 pm

The bitter truth: Morsi’s opponents screwed up

From Mr Edward Mortimer.

Sir, I hate to take issue with my former UN colleague Ezzedine Choukri Fishere, who wrote by far the best explanation of Egyptian liberal support for the military intervention in your pages on July 5 (“The second revolution is about securing the first”). But now, in “Egyptians will no longer put up with authoritarians” (August 21), he goes too far.

Apparently there is a “western bias towards the Muslim Brotherhood”. No. There is a bias among western governments towards stability, and towards regimes they think they can do business with. In Egypt, for a long time that meant a bias towards Hosni Mubarak, and before him Anwar Sadat. One reason for supporting Mr Mubarak was the fear, which he assiduously cultivated, that if he fell the Brotherhood would replace him. But no western government lifted a finger to help him once he lost control of the street to protesters and his own army decided he had to go. Then there were 18 months of turbulence, followed by an election with a wide range of candidates, from which the Brotherhood’s man emerged narrowly victorious – and at first appeared willing to govern pragmatically as well as pursuing liberal economic policies that western governments considered sensible. That appearance was not sustained and, by June this year, western governments (like their friends in Saudi Arabia and the UAE) were deeply worried about the way Egypt was going. None of them condemned the military intervention outright. They even avoided using the word “coup”, which surely they would have used if the deposed government had been secular or liberal. That, perhaps, could be interpreted as reflecting an “orientalist” view: democracy is a nice idea but didn’t work in Egypt because of Islam. But it’s hard to see how Professor Fishere can attribute such a view to those of us who did call the coup a coup, and who now express horror at the lethal force used against protesters by the new authorities.

The bitter truth, which Prof Fishere and his friends – “the 75 per cent of us who voted for Mr Morsi’s non-Islamist rivals in the first round of presidential elections” – need to face up to, is that they screwed up. They were too slow to grasp the dynamics of a two-ballot electoral system, and failed to agree on a candidate with enough support to reach the second round, thus allowing Mr Morsi to win. When he began to behave undemocratically they mounted an impressive campaign of civil disobedience. They should have persisted with that, and prepared to do better in the next round of elections, rather than asking the army to overthrow an elected government, and now trying to disqualify the former governing party by labelling it “terrorist”. Democracy cannot be built that way.

Edward Mortimer, Burford, Oxon, UK

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