Why Egypt Needs New Elections as Soon as Possible

The best way to ease the country's bitter divisions is to choose a new leader through a transparent political process, not military rule.
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Reuters

Mohamed Morsi's one-year rule of Egypt was disastrous. He ruled by fiat, alienated potential allies and failed to stabilize the country's spiraling economy. But a military coup is not an answer to Egypt's problems. It will exacerbate, not ease, Egypt's vast political divide.

The Egyptian military's primary interest is maintaining its privileged role in society and vast network of businesses. Like the Pakistani military now and the Brazilian military in the past, its desire to maintain its economic interests will slow desperately needed economic and political reforms.

There is little reason to have faith in Egypt's broken political process at this point. But the best way to ease the country's bitter divisions are immediate elections, that include the Muslim Brotherhood.

"Political inclusiveness is the only way forward," said Lauren Bohn, an American journalist who has covered Egypt. "And many worry they won't see much of that in the days ahead."

First, many different - and seemingly contradictory things - are occurring in the country. The protesters that have filled Tahrir Square, David Ignatius noted Wednesday in the Washington Post, are a genuine citizens' movement.

They are demanding basic rights, an accountable government and dignity. Most important, they will not accept autocratic rule from military dictators or Islamist political parties.

The same can be said of the protesters in Istanbul's Taksim square. The remnants of Iran's Green Movement, who elected a relative moderate as the country's new president, roughly fit that description as well. All these developments are positive and a sign of empowered citizens making legitimate demands of their governments.

But other things occurring in Egypt are not. The country's political elite is deeply polarized. The secular opposition and its Islamist opponents disdain one another. Any semblance of trust or compromise has disappeared.

In Tahrir Square, some protesters carried signs calling for the Obama administration to stop supporting the Muslim Brotherhood's "fascist regime." They scoffed at the idea that the Brotherhood would ever allow free elections. They insisted that they were stopping a Brotherhood plot to turn Egypt into a theocratic state that resembled Afghanistan after the Taliban.

Brotherhood supporters, meanwhile, were heartbroken, seeing the coup as a re-assertion of the military rule they have struggled to endfor decades. They claimed the opposition had a "personal vendetta" against the Brotherhood. And they called the current struggle "an existential battle" with the military they will not lose.

In a trenchant analysis in The New Republic, Nathan Brown, an expert on Islamist political movements, offers a detailed list of the colossal mistakes Morsi made in office. But also warns about what happens next. A crackdown on the Brotherhood, Brown suggests, could result in some of its members embracing violence.

"It would be wise for those who are now victorious in Egypt to remember that the issue is not only what the Brotherhood learns," Brown wrote, "the issue is also what Islamists are taught."

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David Rohde is an investigative reporter for Reuters and a contributing editor for The Atlantic. A two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, he is a former foreign correspondent for The New York Times and The Christian Science Monitor. His latest book, Beyond War: Reimagining American Influence in a New Middle East, was published in 2013. More

He is also the author of Endgame and, with Kristen Mulvihill, A Rope and a Prayer. He lives in New York City.

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