Thursday, November 27, 2014

Bring Back Egypt’s Elected Government

NEW YORK – Putting an end to Egypt’s deepening polarization and rising bloodshed requires one urgent first step: the reinstatement of Mohamed Morsi as Egypt’s duly elected president. His removal by military coup was unjustified. While it is true that millions of demonstrators opposed Morsi’s rule, even massive street protests do not constitute a valid case for a military coup in the name of the “people” when election results repeatedly say otherwise.

There is no doubt that Egyptian society is deeply divided along sectarian, ideological, class, and regional lines. Yet the country has gone to the polls several times since the February 2011 overthrow of Mubarak’s 30-year rule. The results have demonstrated strong popular support for Islamist parties and positions, though they also make clear the country’s schisms.

In late 2011 and early 2012, Egypt held parliamentary elections. Morsi’s Freedom and Justice Party, created by the Muslim Brotherhood, secured a plurality, and the two major Islamist blocs together received roughly two-thirds of the vote. In June 2012, Morsi defeated his rival Ahmed Shafik, Mubarak’s final prime minister, by a margin of 52-48% to win the presidency. In a national referendum in December 2012, a 64% majority of those voting approved a draft constitution backed by the Muslim Brotherhood (though turnout was low).

The secular argument that Morsi’s lust for power jeopardized Egypt’s nascent democracy does not bear scrutiny. Secular, military, and Mubarak-era foes of the Muslim Brotherhood have used every lever at their disposal, democratic or not, to block the Islamist parties’ democratic exercise of power. This is consistent with a decades-old pattern in Egyptian history, in which the Brothers – and Islamist political forces in general – were outlawed, and their members imprisoned, tortured, and exiled.

Claims that Morsi ruled undemocratically stem from his repeated attempts to extricate the popularly elected parliament and presidency from anti-democratic traps set by the military. After the Islamist parties’ huge victory in the 2011-2012 parliamentary elections, the military leadership and the Supreme Court (filled with Mubarak-era judges) worked to derail the new parliament and prevent it from establishing an assembly to draft a new constitution.

The key action came in June 2012, when the Supreme Court, staffed entirely with Mubarak-era holdovers, nullified the results of the parliamentary elections on specious grounds. The military was set to reassert full legislative powers.

Morsi’s subsequent victory in the presidential election therefore set up an epic battle over the future of the parliament and the constitution, as Morsi attempted to protect the democratically elected parliament while the military fought to dissolve it. In the end, Morsi insisted that the elected parliament create a constitutional assembly, which produced the draft approved in the December 2012 referendum.

As is typical of political revolutions, Egypt’s economic situation has gone from bad to worse in the course of these power struggles. Revolutions tend to confront new governments with steeply rising social demands (for wage increases and higher welfare spending, for example) at a time of capital flight, financial turmoil, and deep disruptions of production. In Egypt’s case, the crucial tourist sector contracted sharply after the revolution. Unemployment soared, the currency depreciated, and food prices rose dangerously.

None of this is surprising, and little of it can be managed by a new government that lacks experience, market confidence, and full control of the levers of power. Historically, outside parties have thus played a decisive role. Will foreign governments and the International Monetary Fund extend vital finances to the new government, or will they let it flounder and drown in a tsunami of currency depreciation and inflation?

Here, the feckless West – torn between its democratic rhetoric and its antipathy to the Islamists – showed its hand. The result was equivocation and delay, rather than commitment and assistance. The IMF has talked with the Egyptian government for two and a half years since Mubarak’s overthrow without so much as lending a single cent, sealing the Egyptian economy’s fate and contributing to public unrest and the recent coup.

It appears from press reports that the West finally gave the green light to the Egyptian military to overthrow Morsi, arrest the Muslim Brotherhood’s leadership, and repress the Islamist rank and file. US President Barack Obama’s unwillingness to stand up for Egypt’s elected leaders, or even to label their overthrow a “coup” (thereby protecting the continued flow of US funds to the Egyptian military), shows that when push came to shove, the West sided with the anti-Islamists in subverting democracy. Of course, in classic Orwellian fashion, the West did so in democracy’s name.

The coup and the West’s complacency about it (if not complicity in it) could devastate Egypt. The Islamists are neither a marginal political group nor a terrorist force. They represent a large part of Egypt’s population, perhaps half or more, and are certainly the country’s best-organized political force. The attempt to repress the Muslim Brotherhood and to deny Morsi the presidency to which he was elected will most likely lead to massive violence and the strangulation of democracy, however the West and Egyptian anti-Islamists try to justify their actions.

At this point, the correct course for the West would be to call on Egypt’s military to reinstate Morsi; to offer prompt financing to help stabilize the Egyptian economy; and to support true pluralism, not the kind that reverts to military coups when elections produce inconvenient results.

True pluralism means accepting the strength of Islamist political forces in the new Egypt and other countries in the region. Short of this, the West will most likely end up as an accomplice to Egypt’s continuing downward spiral into violence and economic collapse.

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    1. CommentedNecati Alkan

      With all due respect Prof. Sachs but I think you don't know what you are talking about. Islamist parties are not, can not and will not be democratic. And there is no distinction such as "liberal" and "radical". They are all the same. They use democracy to undermine it. This applies to Egypt, and other Islamist-ruled countries such as Turkey. What Alamanach writes below my comment-

      "They inserted language that effectively made Islam the law of the land, with all the non-democratic implications that that can entail. ... and became increasingly deaf to any dissenting opinions"-

      The same is 100% applicable to Erdoğan.

    2. CommentedV S

      James Madison wrote: "A pure democracy can admit no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will be felt by a majority, and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party. Hence it is, that democracies have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have, in general, been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths""

      Hence, the need for a republic with features such as freedom of religion and freedom of speech and minority rights, etc which protect individual liberty and property.

      Can the Islamists allow such basic freedoms? Otherwise, what's the point?

    3. CommentedTalal Serhan

      It seems that people in the West have forgotten that the political and social diseases can be transmitted between countries, such as epidemic diseases. If they do not support and help fledgling democracies, they risk their own countries and their people to be exposed to the infection by totalitarianism.

    4. CommentedMurat Yulek

      Jeffery Sachs is right.

      It should also be noted that by providing full support to military takeover the US is also badly damaging its reputaton in the region.

    5. CommentedWim Roffel

      Sachs is wrong. Democracy is impossible without a certain level of freedom and civil rights. By protecting sectarian killers and even encouraging them and by protecting Islamist insurgents in the Sinai from the army Morsi went far outside what is acceptable behavior in a democracy.

    6. CommentedGregory Abdur Rahman

      Thank you for standing up for Muslims in Egypt Dr. Sachs. At least you are a man who shows you believe in your principles and you aren't into the facade that Western governments use when it comes to Muslims and the Middle East. You are right. They only behave when the elections go the way they want. When someone they don't like wins an election, they find ways to subvert democracy, no matter who it hurts.

    7. CommentedHamid Rizvi

      DR. Sachs as always a pleasure to read the voice of sanity coming out of the Western press. The situation in Egypt is a moment of great sadness. Accusations of the Islamic World about the protagonist of the west speaking with forked tongues is on display in Egypt. Every time the World collectively takes a step forward to mend and move on the West strikes to take the process back. It seems the Islamic World cannot exercise it rights for democracy unless the candidates are blessed by the West. Back door diplomacy, threats and warnings then urge the West’s all reliable Military friend’s to spring into action and game over. Democracy is pushed over from the cliff while the military repeats rhetoric fed to it by Washington. Then, they all sit around the fire place and wonder out loud but “why don’t they like us”? Dr. Sachs you already know and have written so, unless these Islamists are given the space and the time to fail on their own even the moderates on the sidelines will join their ranks for the jihad of the worst kind. Here is my question to the powers in the West; When is the West going to learn?

    8. CommentedDominic Albino

      The idea that the military takeover will cause violence that Morsi's continuation could have prevented is backwards. The takeover by the military to restore order and stability was the only hope to avert major chaos and preserve the civil institutions foundational to functional democracy. With 17 million people in the streets, the extant regime's capability to maintain stability was already overwhelmed. Once you have chaos, you have lost democracy as well as the hope of transitioning to it. On the other hand, by stabilizing the country first under military control, there is still a real chance to achieve democracy in the middle-run. See recent work on this: and

    9. CommentedAbdisalam Mohamed

      I absolutely concur with Sachs. In order to safeguard the common interest of the Egyptian people, the solution and the first urgent step is to bring back Morsi into power as he was the first democratically elected president in Egyptian History.

    10. CommentedSid Knight

      Sachs demonstrates again that the only sane voice we can expect out of Columbia is that of Joe Stiglitz. Sola Scriptura; sola Joe Stiglitz.

    11. CommentedEdward Ponderer

      Yes Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood were voted into power democratically. But so was Vice Chancellor Hitler and the Nazi Party. Would it have been undemocratic for the army to pull him out of power just before the burning of the Reichstag?

      In fact, true democracy is an ideal that as never manifested and drifts further from us in the 21st Century. In the West this might mean dilution through the nonviolent form of money that can wield all the power of an army of lawyers and the mass psychology afforded by a mercenary media. In the new Middle East "democracies," its a potentially most violent game of grab the flag--totalitarian ideologues & their cronies vs. military juntas.

      But time is running out, if we don't institute true democracy, it will be forced upon us most painfully. The interdependence of globalization will force us to consensus of the real needs of all -- like slaves chained neck and leg together on a ship better be sure that no one falls over the deck.

      On the other hand, we can intelligently orient to an integral perspective in upbringing and education, and use the media in a self-help mode to change our values so that our most prized possession become our actions of mutual responsibility. Then we can peacefully evolve into a new global Humanity of undreamed of good. If something has to be forced down your throat, better utopia I'd say.

    12. CommentedNirmalan Dhas

      The facts of the matter are that a sufficient number of people in Egypt are dissatisfied with specific aspects of the government of Mohamed Morsi to the extent where they were willing to risk life and limb to bring about its ouster. The armed forces decided to support the opposition. The government was pushed out of power. Jeffrey Sachs maintains that this ousting of an elected government is unacceptable. On the other hand Pascal Vander Straeten responds to Jeffreys position by very pertinently pointing out that Hitler was also democratically elected in 1933.
      It seems an appropriate moment to consider our commitment to Democracy. As far as I can see the rule of the majority is not always the best. Whether the human species is ready for it or not, it has come to a point where it has to make decisions that are very much against the desires of the majority of its individual members if it is to survive. The rule of the majority has brought the human species to the brink of self destruction. It is time that those who are able to perceive what lies ahead decide whether we wish to follow the majority lemming-like or whether we are going to collaboratively work on the task of building paths to a credible future. How long will it take for those who do perceive what lies ahead to realize that the assumption that the majority must come to share this awareness before any credible action can be initiated is a luxury that can no longer be afforded?

      Democracy implies something called a ‘social contract’ where the state guarantees or at least accepts responsibility for the security and welfare of its citizens. Given the volatility that we have entered no state will be able to discharge the responsibilities it has accepted as can already be seen by the way the state volatile weather patterns even in some of the most developed countries. The practical value of a state that clearly cannot deliver what it is expected to deliver remains to be decided and this task is likely to lead to the ‘renegotiating of this social contract’ which will happen as much on the streets as in the board rooms and legislative chambers.

      The task of maintaining dynamic equilibrium within earthsystems such that the continuation of life is supported and sustained and its conscious evolution through and beyond human being and its universal spread are facilitated and supported falls to the human species or at least to those human individuals who can perceive this and are willing to accept this responsibility. This task cannot be engaged by the hierarchical pyramid in which the majority of the human species has placed its faith. This task can be engaged only by the network.

      Within this context, defending democrats or dictators is of little relevance and what is importance is that those who can perceive what is happening link up all over the face of the planet in order to collaboratively respond in ways that build pathways to a credible future.

    13. CommentedKHALID RAHIM

      Would the Generals in the Pentagon remove President Obama if the people came out in the streets of Washington DC. No! Every Joe and Jane in the Pentagon will quote the Constitution and the Congress will call the demonstrator as lunatics.

    14. CommentedCharles Villette

      The Egyptians probably need to agree on a bill of rights before moving on to anything else. For that they do not need a constituant assembly, nor parties, nor the military: just a nasserist historian, a doctor in law, a high ranking muslim cleric and a coptic patriach, discussing in relative quiet.
      Once they have made their bill of rights known (it does not even need to be "promulgated"), then the parties and the military can set about to argue how the president is elected, whether he can dissolve parliament, whether he is the head of armed forces, what the parliament and the judiciary do, etc...

    15. CommentedMariam Kamel

      Hello from Egypt!
      30 June being perceived as a military is for sure one of the West's mistakes still counting.. Being Egyptian the matter goes like this:

      After 25 Jan Revolution, Mubarak's regime needed a safe exit and the only way was to make good deal with the only organized movement in the country, Muslim Brotherhood (MB). That way, power was overhanded to the MB, in a the so-called presidential elections, that people now know for sure it was a dirty game. The MB actually guaranteed a safe exit to all Mubarak era's figures.

      On the other hand, the people didn't say "NO" to Morsi after he won. He was given a chance but things got from bad to worse over his presidency year on all levels: Cutting electricity, train accidents, fuel shortages, stupid racist decisions, media molestation, and the list goes on. Let alone the economic situation!

      Now there was no more time to waste on this mess. MB is an illegal and racist group supported by armed militias, whose crimes are now apparent all over Egypt, and especially Sinai.

      The same people who said No to Mubarak, is the same who said No to military rule between Mubarak and Morsi, and the same who said No to fascist rule of Morsi. The people will simply say No to anyone who have no power to rule the people wisely and to their own goodness.

      Say hello to Democracy and Legitimacy!

    16. CommentedCharles Villette

      Sachs makes too little case of the millions of protesters calling for Morsi's resignation and the extremely low electoral turnout for Morsi's constitution. Representative democracy has always been the best way to canalize revolutionary fervour into collective will and thus to end a revolution. The coup was a grave setback, though Morsi's government was a failure. So the revolution must go on.

    17. CommentedPascal Vander Straeten

      Democracy. How many foolish things have been done in the name of democracy? Remember Hitler in 1933? He was also democratically elected, and see what happened after. Western people are the most naive political animals in the world as they are so obsessed by democracy. Of course democracy is a safeguard for freedom and liberty, but what if through democracy you invite the 'big bad wolf' (being an extremist that does not care at all about freedoms and liberties but that uses democracy as a means and as an end). There is the difference! Democracy should be an end/ objective and never ever solely a means. Would you really think that Morsi would guarantee the freedoms and liberties to the Christians and other minorities? And thinking that people writing those articles in Project Syndicate are leading intellectuals .... No wonder the West is burdened by so many bad political decisions. The writer of the article is solely looking to conform to an ethical good night sleeping but without thinking about the ramifications for the people.

    18. CommentedJose araujo

      When the elected official tries to change the rules of the game, and isn't a democrat, what is the legitimacy of the elections.

      Hitler was elected, did that make him a democrat?

      Before democracy is installed in a country, separation form religion and power must be achieved, any attempts to bring religion into policy are a threat to democracy.

    19. CommentedStephen R. Ganns

      Dr. Sachs makes the case against his academic and non-pragmatic argument:

      “As is typical of political revolutions, Egypt’s economic situation has gone from bad to worse in the course of these power struggles. Revolutions tend to confront new governments with steeply rising social demands (for wage increases and higher welfare spending, for example) at a time of capital flight, financial turmoil, and deep disruptions of production. In Egypt’s case, the crucial tourist sector contracted sharply after the revolution. Unemployment soared, the currency depreciated, and food prices rose dangerously.”

      The suggested keynote has been some nebulous concept called “soft power” and the misguided idea that “democracies” don’t fight with each other or some such nonsense. Freedom and democracy are the ultimate goals yes: but freeing people into chaos without planning an infrastructure is a fool’s errand. The Egyptian military is the best equipped organization to handle this delicate transition. These situations are too fragile (in human costs) for incompetent management. Witness Egypt, Libya, Iraq or Afghanistan.
      It’s been as if U.S. foreign policy has been: take a full understanding of every successful principle in Sun Tzu’s Art of War—and then do the exact opposite

    20. CommentedAlamanach .

      Egypt-- I know another country by that name. In the Egypt I've been watching for the past few years, the Muslim Brotherhood took the lead in drafting the constitution, and they chased away any group not in sympathy with them. They inserted language that effectively made Islam the law of the land, with all the non-democratic implications that that can entail. Mursi went on to grab power-- even dictatorial power for a little while there-- and became increasingly deaf to any dissenting opinions. That's the Egypt I have seen. What Egypt are you talking about?

        CommentedV S

        Carlos, there is a difference between people not liking an elected govt after agreeing to a constitution and people not liking a govt's meddling with the constitution. Your analogy with Canada doesn't hold, because of that. First of all you need 100% of the population accepting the constitution, not just the majority, then you can have elections to find the majority. Morsi replaced the constitution with what he wanted. Instead you need a constitution agreed upon by 100% Egyptians, and then elections under those laws. Then it won't matter who comes to power.

        CommentedCarlos Rodriguez

        "They inserted language that effectively made Islam the law of the land"

        Governments are elected by people largely because of their values. If Islam happens to be the value system for which Morsi's government was elected, then it only makes sense that Morsi follows through with the platform that got him into presidency in the first place.

        This is how democracy works. In Canada, a lot of Canadians REALLY don't like Harper (the prime minister). In 2006, he was elected into a minority government while obtaining only 36% of the popular vote. In 2011, a no-confidence motion lead to a new general election in Canada, where Harper then won a majority government while obtaining only 40% of the popular vote. A no-confidence motion is when a vote is held to force someone to resign. Did I mention people REALLY don't like Harper?

        In the end, we still have Harper: that's just the way a representative democracy works, and those who don't like Harper just shut up and wait for the next election. That's how it's done.

    21. CommentedSaruvash Adam

      Similar thing happened in the Maldives on February 7th of 2012. The first democratically elected president was forced to resign due to a cunning coup brought by security forces and they put his vice president as a facade. The ousted president represent almost half of the population but the US instantly recognised the coup govt. I don't understand how they ride, but its hypocritic for one thing. The maldives is due to have elections in September and if the ousted president wins again, the judiciary controlled by the dictator who ruled for 30 years won't be hesitant to usurp him yet again.

    22. CommentedGary Tucker

      I agree wholeheartedly on the need for the Islamist parties of Egypt to be a part of a pluralistic society.

      But as demonstrated by the current Republican/Tea Party of the US, there is a point at which "It is our way or the highway" stops being governing and becomes self serving political childishness.

      I am sorry I missed your many eloquent and impassioned speeches over the past two years calling on the Morsi government and the Muslim Brotherhood to be much more of a pluralistic society in the early stages, especially while the economic and social fabric of the Egyptian citizenry was so dire. Any links to many of your speeches and articles on the topic would be of great interest to both myself and other readers I am sure.

      As to going forward, I believe that the only compromise position that would bring the Morsi government back at the behest of the military and the opposing forces, would be for a much more detailed plan going forward for economic success and not religious extremism to be established and institutionalized. And indeed a recognition on the part of the Islamist parties that pluralism is a two way street. I did not once, in your current impassioned article, see any reference to the Morsi government needed to acknowledging that concept. Indeed it seem to me that in the weeks leading up to his removal he more and more rejected true pluralism at every turn.

      But as to moving forward. I believe that the only way to truly not only create a pluralistic society but an economically viable one is for Egypt, Libya and Tunisia to start immediately to create a single unified nation. As both Tunisia and Libya are also currently led by or highly leaning towards an Islamist government it is not like anyone would not be aware of the united strength of such parties in a newly united single nation.

      But what the new nation would have is, hopefully, a much more direct focus on economic advancement as opposed to ideological conflicts at the expense of all other concerns.

      Such a combined nation would have the financial foundations to begin massive infrastructure and economic reconstruction.

      By having to combine the upper levels of the national government from among three nations, it would be a great opportunity to remove or re-assign to governorate levels many of the current entrenched bureaucrats.

      Also between reconciliation programs and the ability of literally millions of citizens of the new nation to live in another part of the nation would be a great way to bring the massive diaspora now stranded outside of all of these countries back into the system. A full 1 in 6 Libyans living in Libya before the revolution there are now refugees in either Egypt or Tunisia. This cannot stand as a people needing to move forward.

      You can make snap statements as to the return of the Morsi government, but to not follow through on what would be the next steps going forward for both sides is rather feckless itself.

      And again I will be looking forward to some of those articles and statements you have made about Egypt in the past 2 years as to its need to focus on the economy and a pluralistic society for all. I am sorry I missed them in the original form.

    23. CommentedJohn Brian Shannon

      Hi Jeffrey,

      So far the best comment on the present situation in Egypt, that I have yet read.

      Other than to reiterate your points and strongly agree with them, I can only wonder if leaders around the world will support the democratically-elected (although, inconvenient to them) Morsi government -- or, support an undemocratic (but convenient, to them) coup.

      It will surely tell who they are, what importance they actually attach to democracy, and how they expect to be (or will be) treated should similar happen in their own country or region.

      As always, very best regards, JBS

    24. CommentedCraig Hardt

      Your point about the need to establish a culture that respects elected officials and uses legal ways to voice displeasure/oust governments is well taken. I wonder, however, if you are giving the Morsi government and the Muslim Brotherhood a free pass in criticizing the West's inability to devise a coherent strategy on Egypt.

      The IMF has negotiated with Egypt, but Morsi's government was reluctant to accept the IMF's conditions for the aid. The same goes for the new government, who see friendly Arab governments like Saudi Arabia and the UAE as their best bet for foreign aid with no strings attached.

      It takes two sides to come to an agreement and I would hesitate to take the view that Egypt's stability is so important to the international community that we should rush to fund their government's commitment to an unsustainable economic model.

    25. CommentedFaruk Timuroglu

      I agree with Mr. Sachs about West’s fecklessness and complacency but disagree about Morsi's being democrat. West, in particular U.S. has been trying to control Arab Spring with mollifying effect of religion. Thus hopping that Muslim Brotherhood as a well – actually only – organized political group could deliver. West new well that religion is the constitution and the law for Ikhwan, which is called theocracy not democracy. West began to see that Morsi policies polarize the nation rather than mollify its longing for pluralism, democracy and better living standards.