World affairs expert reminds Egypt about the problems with coups

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by Cynthia Price
Legal News

With a clear sense of irony, Brookings Institution Doha Center Research Director and expert on Islamist political parties Shadi Hamid told a group of curious Americans on a World Affairs Council teleconference Monday, “I think we’re seeing very clearly now in Egypt the problems with coups.”

Hamid, a native Pennsylvanian now living in Qatar who often writes for, and is quoted in, the media, went on to say that not only is it “generally not a good thing for militaries to step in,” but also, coups lead to “the inevitable crisis of legitimacy.” Referring to Egypt’s government as it stands just a few weeks after the military ousted President Mohamed Morsi, Hamid pointed out the obvious, that a coup causes problems for the general populace in a country due to destabilization and possibly repression, and the less obvious — that often those behind the coup face some extreme hurdles before the balance of power settles down.

Morsi, a candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, was elected in a vote that took place after his own predecessor, the long-serving Hosni Mubarak, was deposed in a non-violent revolution in early 2011.

A year after Morsi’s election, people again took to the streets to protest how he was running the country. On July 3, Lt. Gen. Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi announced on television that Morsi would be replaced because he refused military demands that he set up a reconciliation government.

Not long after that, the Muslim Brotherhood, which did not take kindly to having its democratically-elected candidate replaced, called for its own supporters to protest the military action. Hundreds of thousands called into question the legitimacy of the newly-sworn-in President, a judge named Adly Mansour.

Shadi Hamid’s view on that has to do with a long familiarity, both academically and personally, with the Muslim Brotherhood. On the educational teleconference call, he noted that some of the things Morsi advisors had been saying were proven true: to some degree, everyone was out to get them. But he added, “Mainstream Islamists are going to have to realize that one of their mistakes was seeking power too quickly, that they succumbed to the temptations of power if you will.” He said that after revolutions there are often widespread economic crises and, of course, the remnants of the old regime, factors likely to bring down those who take power.

He quoted Rashid al-Ghannushi, a Tunisian moderate Islamist as saying, “The most dangerous thing for the Islamists is to be loved by the people before they get the power and then hated afterwards.”

Hamid also noted that with a coup there is inevitably repression. “We’re seeing some very troubling repressive measures,” he noted. “But if you have a new political order and they’re trying to establish their own legitimacy, they can’t have the Muslim Brotherhood going around claiming that Morsi is still president and calling on the army’s rank and file to refuse orders. In some sense we have to condemn the repression, but you can’t support a coup and say you’re against what happens after.”

Another potential problem resulting from the coup is a very serious one for the United States: so far, the U.S. government has refused to call what happened a coup. “I think it’s a serious mistake, the Obama administration’s unwillingness to call it a coup – this was not just a coup but a textbook coup,” Hamid said. “Of course that has legal implications. If it is certified as a coup, the U.S. would be obligated to discontinue aid.”

He explained that while the dollar amount of aid ($1.5 billion) pales in comparison to, for example, the recent $12 billion commitment of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and  Kuwait who hope to establish more “stable” governments in the region, U.S. assistance is in the form of military aid, which no one else can provide. He feels the continuation of such aid puts the U.S. in a position where it loses leverage, since if the ousting of a president democratically elected is not enough to put an end to such funds, legitimate governments the world over will begin to wonder what is.

All of which leads to the repercussion of the coup that Hamid finds the most dangerous: that those involved with the more moderate Muslim Brotherhood  who see its conciliatory, mainstream approach fail are vulnerable to recruitment arguments of radical Islamic organizations. “This is real ideological ammunition for extremist groups,” he says. “They’re telling people, ‘We’ve tried the ballot box, but the only true way to pursue the Islamist state is by the bullet.’”

In addition to his position at the Brookings Doha Center, Shadi Hamid is a fellow at Brookings’ Saban Center for Middle East Policy. He was formerly the Director of Research at the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) and a Hewlett Fellow at Stanford University’s Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law.  His publications include articles in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Foreign Policy, The New Republic, Slate, Forbes, The National Interest, Policy Review, Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, and many others; he is currently a correspondent for The Atlantic. Hamid was educated at Georgetown University School of Foreign Service for his undergraduate and master’s degrees and received his Ph.D. in political science from Oxford University

Dr. Lori Murray, Distinguished Chair for National Security at the U.S. Naval Academy, and President Emeritus of the World Affairs Councils of America (WACA), facilitated the teleconference call, intended to expand the knowledge of interested parties who are part of the World Affairs Councils, and listeners around the U.S. asked cogent questions of Dr. Hamid.

WACA is a national organization which facilitates a non-partisan network of local councils “dedicated to educating, inspiring and engaging Americans in international affairs and the critical global issues of our times.”

The local World Affairs Council of West Michigan hosts an in-person lecture series each year with national and international speakers and frequent lectures by local experts on national issues. The Council offers its members opportunities to participate in such teleconferences as took place Monday, sponsored by the national group, and the annual opportunity to play WorldQuest™, “the Ultimate International Trivia Game.”

There are three other councils in Michigan: Detroit Council for World Affairs, Great Lakes World Affairs Council, and the International Affairs Forum in Traverse City.

Each year, WACA surveys its members and comes up with six top issues to determine the national programming from which local councils choose. The 2013 issues are U.S. Education--Competing Globally, U.S. Energy Policy, U.S. Economic Competitiveness, China, the Middle East, and Afghanistan/Pakistan.

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