Surprise, surprise, surprise

I hate saying I told you so, but…

Remember my post on Egypt a month ago (When will Egypt learn?)?  In it I wrote that the Sisi government appears to be making the same mistakes that the Sadat and Mubarak governments before him had committed.  In the face of a very real threat from a branch of the Islamic State and other indigenous groups in the Sinai Peninsula, the military and others are pairing some very good measures with some very bad ones.

And there are no worse ones than their maniacal obsession with the Muslim Brotherhood.  It turns out that some youth are fed up with protesting in support of the ousted Morsi regime and concluding that violence is the only solution.  One law student has gone as far as to say that there is only one way – jihad – and that he is seeking to join up with IS in the Sinai (see Al Arabiya article here).

Now where have we seen this before?  Anyone remember the 1991 Algerian election?  When the Islamist Front Islamique de Salut – FIS – was on the verge of ousting the eternal Front National de Liberation – FLN – at the polls, the army nixed the vote and essentially took over the nation.  What resulted was a long civil war known for its unspeakable brutality on both sides and the deaths of as many as 200,000 people.

At the time, the fear was that if the FIS had won in democratic fashion they would usher in a system of “one man, one vote, one time” – i.e. they would never allow another election and would in essence establish an Islamic dictatorship.  Would they have?  We never found out, did we?

Here’s the problem.  We in the West keep haranguing countries in the Middle East, Asia and Africa that they need to embrace democratic governance and do away with military and autocratic dictatorships.  But when the “wrong” people gain a plurality of votes, we scream about terrorism and Islamofascism.  Is it any wonder that wannabe democrats don’t trust us?

What is the danger in allowing so-called Islamist parties a chance at governing?  If they fail, the populace will given them their marching orders at the next ballot.  It happened in Tunisia when the first post-Ben Ali government under En-Nahda gave running the country a shot and were defeated – and accepted defeat – when Tunisians opted for Plan B.

What was the threat of letting Morsi try his hand?  Egypt is a challenge to govern at the best of times and Morsi would probably been no better or worse than his predecessors over a full term.  We should have allowed him and the Brotherhood to rule, and if they had been good stewards of the public interest and purse, they would have been given them a second go.  If not, Egyptians would choose someone else.

We cannot continue to complain about the rise of terrorism in countries such as Egypt while at the same time turning a blind eye to (or worse, assisting) forces that usurp democracy.  The same thing happened in Iran in 1951 when a democratically-elected leader was ousted in a combined US-UK coup.  And look where that got us.

Maybe I mis-typed when I wrote “when will Egypt learn”?  Maybe it’s not just Egypt.  Maybe it’s us too.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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