Should The Egyptian Army Support Jihadists Because Morsi Said So?

I don’t remember seeing anything about it in the mainstream media, but it seems that Morsi was an enthusiastic supporter of America’s own position of funding Jihadists in Syria to overthrow the Assad government. Furthermore, cheerleading for that position may have been what started the growing willingness of the Egyptian military to openly oppose him. According to the Irish Times,

“Army concern about the way President Mohamed Morsi was governing Egypt reached tipping point when the head of state attended a rally packed with hardline fellow Islamists calling for holy war in Syria, military sources have said. At the June 15th rally, Sunni Muslim clerics used the word ‘infidels’ to denounce both the Shias fighting to protect Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and the non-Islamists that oppose Mr Morsi at home. Mr Morsi himself called for foreign intervention in Syria against Mr Assad…”

The Egyptian military seems to have found this idea threatening. They responded to the call for intervention with “a veiled rebuke,” and issued “an apparently bland but sharp-edged statement the next day stressing that its only role was guarding Egypt’s borders.”

Part of the Irish Times’ critique is based on the “merit” of unitary power:

“The controversy surrounding the Syria conference pointed to a crippling flaw in the Morsi presidency: though the constitution names Mr Morsi as supreme commander of the armed forces, the military remains master of its own destiny and a rival source of authority to the country’s first freely elected head of state. The army’s dramatic ultimatum demanding Mr Morsi and other politicians settle their differences by tomorrow afternoon caught the presidency completely off guard. Triggered by mass protests against Mr Morsi’s rule, it amounted to a soft coup by a military that has been a major recipient of US aid since the 1970s, when Egypt made peace with neighboring Israel.”

Everyone understands the benefits of stable government. What no one seems to want to acknowledge is that a man who barely wins office under an untried and untested Constitution, and who then leads the government toward supporting Jihad abroad and populist Sharia at home, might be more damaging toward the rule of law than a military coup—depending on the wisdom and intentions of the military.

In this case, on matters of substance, the current military power structure seems to be the friend of the long-term interests of Egypt, at least more than President Morsi. They want to avoid the development of a sizable number of the male populace who go abroad to train and fight as jihadists and then bring that attitude and ability home with them. In general, they want a more secular nation rather than an open theocracy.

But acknowledging these issues runs afoul of American democratic ideology, in which all legitimacy flows from the voting booth. But the reason why the founding of the United States under the Constitution was never strangled by these kinds of problems was really because, unlike Egypt, they had no powerful standing army. Since George Washington was our first president, despite the rhetoric about civilian rule, his fame in the country as the general, who led the army to victory for independence, meant there was no conflict between the loyalty of the soldiers and the democratic process.

How will Egypt figure all this out? I don’t know. Nor does anyone in the State Department. We should leave Egypt alone and let them sort through their own issues.