Yesterday, the Egyptian military moved into Cairo to seize the government after President Morsi, the first democratically elected president of Egypt, refused to respond to the demands of protesters. We asked our Aleteia Experts what they think the situation means for the Egyptian people, the Christian minority, and Arab world politics.
A Cause for Celebration?
“It is nothing short of miraculous that Morsi has been removed from office through the dedicated and brave efforts of pro-democracy freedom-fighters in Egypt,” Ashraf Ramelah, president and founder of Voice of the Copts, told Aleteia. “The Egyptian people are the world’s heroes. Their sacrifice and tenacity and desired outcome could prove enormously positive in halting the wave of Islamist aggression and Islamist penetration of nations throughout the world.”
While Ramelah isn’t sure of the safety of Egyptian Christians, at least in the short-term, he sees a chance for a better future. “Christians in Egypt will most likely suffer retaliation from Muslim Brotherhood sympathizers, perhaps worse than in recent days. It remains to be seen if police or military will provide protection for them in this unprecedented situation. It is difficult to say. For Copts especially, this unique moment (the first in 60 years) holds a genuine promise for a future of equality and human rights.”
Joseph Wysocki, professor of government and political philosophy at Belmont Abbey College, is cautiously optimistic. “The coup against President Morsi has, at least for the moment, the support of Coptic Pope Tawadros II,” he points out. “However, one ought to be cautious in proclaiming this the beginning of a lasting victory for Christians in Egypt. To be sure, the hostile Muslim Brotherhood’s removal from power may provide some temporary relief. But ultimately, the Christian minority’s long-term security lies in some form of a stable constitutional regime. Arbitrarily held power is especially dangerous for minorities.”
Catholic author and commentator Russell Shaw isn’t as positive. “The naivete of much American reaction to the ‘Arab Spring’ has been astonishing,” he told Aleteia. “Time again, what it has meant in practice has not been the advent of a robust democracy but the replacement of one authoritarian regime by another–the main difference being that the second group of authoritarians were Islamists. Christians have suffered greatly from this.”
“Wherever the country is headed, however, I don’t look for democracy to break out there anytime soon.”
The Future of the Rule of Law
“Constitutionalism obviously takes a blow here.” Wysocki told Aleteia. “General Sisi has suspended the constitution in temporarily handing over power to the head of Egypt’s constitutional court. This encourages resorting to “illegitimate” means of change. However, if a better constitution is approved relatively quickly, this problem might work itself out.”
Wysocki points to the beginnings of the United States as a reminder that the formation of a new government can start off shaky: “After all, the United States Constitution was not approved according to the legitimate process laid out in the Articles of Confederation. Sometimes the best one can do is just muddle through.”
But Wysocki does have concerns about what this could mean for the legitimacy of law in Egypt. “Even if major regime change had followed the proper constitutional process, the current Egyptian Constitution has only been in place for eight months. Changing a constitution too often, even if to improve it, can pose serious problems.”
Lawrence DiPaolo, associate dean and associate professor of Sacred Scripture at the University of St Thomas, thinks the situation underminds the influence of the United States. “The United States is setting a particularly odd precedent,” he told Aleteia.
“We allowed the democratic process to run its course in Egypt… Now, roughly a year into President Morsi’s presidency we have shifted our horse yet again and are backing the military. We are in effect telling the world that democracy is a good thing, provided of course you elect who we want otherwise all bets are off.”
The Muslim Brotherhood
“There are two organized groups in Egypt,” DiPaolo explains, “the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian Army (as the Air Force and Navy are of no consequence at present). The next decade will decide which of these two will run Egypt.
“We are confronted with either an Islamic theocracy which will do little to help the Coptic Christians of Egypt, and indeed may actively seek their emigration, or yet another string of despots, backed by the military, who will continue the decades long pilfering of the Egyptian coffers. The people of Egypt lose either way.”
“The Muslim Brotherhood has now taken a major blow,” Ramelah told Aleteia. “[W]hile it remains stunned the interim pro-democracy body in the person of the head of the highest constitution court must ban the organization once again from operating inside Egypt – a move which will humiliate members and organization heads and send a message to people and governments of free countries that Brotherhood influence and motives will not be tolerated.”
Fr. Mitch Pacwa, president and founder of Ignatius Productions, points to the history of the Muslim Brotherhood. “Hassan al-Banna founded the movement that became the Muslim Brotherhood as a way to promote Sharia, including the Muslim requirement to care for the poor.”
“However, the attraction to Arab nationalism, fueled by anti-British sentiment (since they de facto ran Egypt), rejection of King Farouk as a foreign puppet whose extravagance went contrary to their sincere concern for the poor, the Islamic Brotherhood engaged in much anti-government activity from at least 1948 until they became the government.”
“After crackdowns by then President Gamal abd-el Nasser, the Brotherhood sought refuge in Saudi Arabia, where Wahabi Islamic radicalism was added to their theology. They repeatedly opposed the secular governments of Nasser, Anwar Sadat, and Hosni Mubarak. They did not fear prison or death and their strong religious commitment drove them to seek more adherents.”
“Given the Muslim Brotherhood’s past, one can be sure that they will turn to violent opposition in fairly short order,” Fr. Pacwa told Aleteia. “They will prefer the further destruction of Egypt over a change of their attitudes, and they will seek revenge, power, and further control.
“The future of Egypt is not bright or safe.”
The following Aleteia Experts contributed to this article:
Lawrence DiPaolo, Jr. is Associate Dean and Associate Professor of Sacred Scripture at the University of St. Thomas.
Fr. Mitch Pacwa is an American Jesuit priest and the president and founder of Ignatius Productions.
Ashraf Ramelah is the president and founder of Voice of the Copts.
Russell Shaw is former Secretary for Public Affairs of the U.S. Catholic bishops conference. His books include American Church: The Remarkable Rise, Meteoric Fall, and Uncertain Future of Catholicism in America and To Hunt, To Shoot, To Entertain: Clericalism and the Catholic Laity.
Joseph Wysocki is Assistant Professor of Government and Political Philosophy at Belmont Abbey College.
Brantly Millegan is an Assistant Editor for the English edition of Aleteia. He is studying for a MA in Theology at the St Paul Seminary School of Divinity in St Paul, MN and is a co-founder and co-editor of the online journal Second Nature. He and his lovely wife Krista live in South St Paul, MN with their two small children, Elijah and Adelaide. His personal website is brantlymillegan.com.