The situation in Egypt seems to change almost by the hour, but the trend lines suggest that the military junta that has been calling the shots ever since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak (an ouster in which the junta was more than complicit) is determined to castrate any sources of potential threat to its dominance. They have forced Egypt's top judiciary to issue a judgment that disbanded the recently elected Islamist-dominated parliament. Now, after a presidential election regarded to be the first essentially free and fair one in a major Ara country, they have decided that the power of the new president (who according to the latest reports will be the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate, Muhammad Morsi) will be quite circumscribed by prerogatives that the junta (SCAF - Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) insists that it must retain. SCAF seems to be trying to calm things down by insisting that it will indeed turn over effective power to the newly elected president.
And if you believe that . . . .
For months, commentators such as Rami Khouri have been trying to remind us that that march to democracy that the "Arab Spring" seemed to have launched would be long and slow, but nonetheless inexorable. We can only hope that Khouri et al will be proved right on that score, but as Egyptian journalist Sara Khorshid notes in today's NYT, at this point the SCAF regime has used its position of power to stack the deck and deal itself by far the strongest hand.
And the United States, despite its high-falutin' pro-democracy rhetoric in re Syria and Libya, has been content to stand by and watch. As Khorsid notes,
Despite the army’s blatant power grabs, the Obama administration has had no qualms about restoring American military aid, waiving a Congressional requirement that links military assistance to the protection of basic freedoms, so as to preserve the United States’ longtime alliance with Egypt’s rulers.
America could have sided with the Egyptian people if it had wanted to. But the question is whether the American government really has the will to see Egypt become a democracy.
On the basis of his highly praised 2009 Cairo speech and similar expressions of "Yes We Can" hopefulness for the world scene, Mr. Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. As critics pointed out at the time, he'd done next to nothing to really earn it. And as Mr. Obama's adopted mode of peace-making "drones on" (so to speak), perhaps it's folly to hope that at this juncture he'll utter more than a sotto voce tsk tsk as SCAF dashes the hopes of Tahrir Square. And after all, SCAF = stability . . . a military machine that relies on US weapons-makers (thereby sustaining American jobs), and that understands that its continued supply of kaboom-toys also means dampening down the Islamist-dominated anti-Israel Egyptian "street." Obama, SCAF, Congress are all on the same page, on both scores.
Yet, as Ms. Khorshid concludes,
If the Obama administration genuinely supports the Egyptian people in their pursuit of freedom, then it should realize that democracy will take root only through the revolutionary path that started on the streets in January 2011 — not through the dubious ways of the Mubarak-appointed military council.
She's right. And if Barack Obama has any hope of restoring some portion of that bright shiny luster that got him elected in 2008 (and that he'll surely need if he's to win in November 2012), he'd best acknowledge that. . . and do something to show both his fellow Democrats and Middle Eastern democrats that the 2009 Cairo speech that helped get him that Nobel Prize was something more than super-heated oratory.