17

The Problem is Authoritarianism, Not Islam

PRINCETON – Is Islam fundamentally incompatible with democracy? Time and again events compel us to ask this question. And yet it is a question that obscures more than it illuminates.

Turkey, Egypt, and Tunisia are very different countries, but one thing that they share are Islamist governments (at least until recently in Egypt’s case). To varying degrees, these governments have undermined their democratic credentials by failing to protect civil and human rights and employing heavy-handed tactics against their opponents. Despite repeated assurances, Islamist leaders have shown little interest in democracy beyond winning at the ballot box.

So those who believe that the removal of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s government was justified have a point. As the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule became increasingly authoritarian, it trampled on the ideals and aspirations of the Tahrir Square revolution that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

Nonetheless, the support that the military coup received from many Egyptian liberals is difficult to fathom. Clever word games cannot hide the essence of what happened: a government that came to power in a fair election was overthrown by the army.