How one can defend Egypt’s coup
On June 3, when Gen. Abdul Fattah al-Sisi announced the deposing of Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s elected president, I dismayed at the fanfare in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. “This is a coup and I condemn it,” I first noted on Twitter. Then I explained: “Of course, coups are not just about statements on TVs, but also witch-hunts, arrests, torture and the radicalization of opponents.”
I just should have added “massacres,” for that is what just happened the other day, when Egyptian soldiers fired on a peaceful crowd, killing 51 civilians, including women and children. Woe on this carnage, woe on its perpetrators.
I very much hope that such horrors will not be repeated, and Egyptians will move on from these dark days with minimum damage, heading to free and fair elections as soon as possible. Meanwhile, though, I am curious about watching who justifies the coup in Egypt and how.
In the West, both within the governments and the media, there is the typical double-standard mood: Normally, we would oppose military coups, for we believe in democracy. But when these coups are made against Islamists, whom we don’t like for various reasons, then they are just fine.
No one voiced this line in the past week as clearly as David Brooks, the New York Times columnist whose writings I used to enjoy. In a piece titled “Defending the Coup,” he openly argued that Islamists should be pushed out of power wherever they are elected. “The goal,” he declared, “is to weaken political Islam, by nearly any means.”
But why? Why are Islamists that awful — and why, for example, are nationalists, Marxists, authoritarian secularists or the Egyptian “feloul” not?
Brooks gave the answer by referring to Adam Garfinkle, the editor of The American Interest magazine, who argued that mainstream Islamic theology refused causality and thus crippled Muslim minds. That is why, Brooks concluded, Islamists “lack the mental equipment to govern.”
“Hmmm,” I said, when I read this, “Perhaps it was President George W. Bush who had the perfect mental equipment to govern, especially when he said God told him to ‘liberate’ Iraq.” I also wondered about the “mental equipment” of far-right Zionist Jews, whose religious zeal to build settlements in Palestinian lands has almost killed the chances for peace in the Middle East.
My point is that while religious dogmas can really curb rational politics, this is a problem relevant to not just Islam but other major religions as well. But, for some strange reason, this does not make Mr. Brooks, and the like-minded, call for military coups against the religious right in the U.S., Israel, or elsewhere.
Moreover, it is not just religious but all sorts of dogmatisms that defy reason and reasonable politics. Just look at what nationalism and communism – both secular ideologies – have done to the world throughout the 20th century. Or recall that Stalin’s belief in causality did not stop him from promoting Lysenkoism, one of the greatest pseudo-science programs.
The way to build to democracies is not to exclude all such dogmatic believers, which would leave you a very little, if any, “rational” people to work with. No, democracies are built by including everybody, who, by the practice of competing within a fair game, becomes growingly more reasonable over time. This evolution took place in America itself, from the theocracy in Massachusetts to today. It can take place in Egypt, as well, but only if it is allowed.