Instability continues to spread in the Middle East, with the military coup in Egypt the latest episode to trigger political tremors throughout the region. With its 85 million people and strategically vital location, Egypt is the most important country on the Mediterranean’s southern shore. Continuing the democratization process that began there in 2011 is urgent.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s Islamist government, led by Mohamed Morsi, demonstrated all too well its incompetence and incapacity to ensure an inclusive democratic transition. But the solution offered by Egypt’s military is far from ideal. Coups always tend to exacerbate problems, not solve them, and this one is no exception.
The first consequence is that Egyptian society is even more divided over the question of political legitimacy. Morsi’s supporters cite the legitimacy of his victory in a democratic election a year ago – and the illegitimacy of the army’s coup and detention of the deposed president – while his opponents defend the legitimacy of the massive, countrywide protests against him.
[The economy is] an issue where [Rouhani] has a greater chance of avoiding real gridlock within the system itself. It’s not nearly as dangerous as taking on issues of political prisoners or trying to open up the political space to those who feel marginalized.