National Journal's National Security Insiders are split exactly down the middle on whether Egypt's military takeover that forced President Mohammed Morsi from office will lead to successful democratic elections.
Fifty percent of Insiders said it will. "The military stayed in power for nearly a year and a half after [former President Hosni] Mubarak was ousted, but lost prestige as it governed poorly," one Insider said. "This time, the military will stay in power half as long and use free and fair elections to allow it to leave power gracefully. Dishonest or noninclusive elections would draw strong protests and undermine military prestige."
"This may be the exception to the rule that military takeovers seldom lead to democratic elections," another Insider said. "In this case, Egypt's continued economic viability depends on the military fostering a transition to a democratically elected successor government. If they fail in this, Egypt fails."
Still, some optimistic Insiders were uncertain about how successful these elections would really be. "Well, they were 'successful' last time, but the outcome only facilitated a new form of authoritarianism. Perhaps Democracy Round 2 will lead to a more liberal and stable society."
An equal faction disagreed, insisting that the ouster of the democratically elected president and member of the Muslim Brotherhood did not bode well for democratic transition. "By definition, we've already witnessed successful elections. Even if the next polls go off without a hitch, we have the Army setting the precedent that, when popular opinion against an Islamist government surges, the military will pretend to side with the people while actually siding with anti-Islamist movements," one Insider said. "This might take decades to sort out, if we look at Turkey as a successful model for Islamist-military relations."
The Muslim Brotherhood will boycott the elections since they know they will lose, another Insider said. "This is the time-honored way for opposition parties to delegitimize the democratic process. The elections should go forward anyway, with or without the Muslim Brotherhood." One Insider believes Egypt is headed toward martial law. "The Muslim Brotherhood is not going to stand for this coup. We have a fight on our hands."
Meanwhile, in Washington, the debate continues over whether the United States should cut off aid to Egypt, as the White House avoids labeling the ouster a military coup, because that would automatically trigger a suspension of the $1.3 billion annual aid package.
Three-quarters of Insiders said America should not sever aid to Cairo. "The goal of U.S. aid to Egypt is not to promote democracy but to help keep the peace in the Middle East," one Insider said. "And as bad as the situation is today, it can only get worse if the Egyptian military is further weakened." The aid, another Insider added, "is the only reason the U.S. gets its phone calls returned at this point; cutting that off is akin to cutting the only thread that links us."
Military aid gives the United States clout to encourage the Egyptian military "to allow honest, inclusive elections and then return to the barracks," one Insider said. "After the next transition, the U.S. should reduce military aid but offer more assistance to fund reforms, especially privatization of state economic assets, many controlled by the military. This is vital for Egypt's economic future." If the U.S. cuts off assistance, another Insider said, it will be replaced by parties in the Persian Gulf or by the Chinese and Russians.
But 25 percent of Insiders said the U.S. should cut off aid. "The law is pretty clear: If there is a coup, aid is suspended," one Insider said "It's the law, and unless we enforce it, other budding democracies will face the same threat from their powerful militaries."
As another Insider put it, "If the military doesn't take the threat of a cutoff seriously, American leverage vanishes to zero—it's as simple as that."
National Journal's National Security Insiders Poll is a periodic survey of more than 100 defense and foreign policy experts. They include: Gordon Adams, Charles Allen, Thad Allen, James Bamford, David Barno, Milt Bearden, Peter Bergen, Samuel "Sandy" Berger, David Berteau, Stephen Biddle, Nancy Birdsall, Marion Blakey, Kit Bond, Stuart Bowen, Paula Broadwell, Mike Breen, Mark Brunner, Steven Bucci, Nicholas Burns, Dan Byman, James Jay Carafano, Phillip Carter, Wendy Chamberlin, Michael Chertoff, Frank Cilluffo, James Clad, Richard Clarke, Steve Clemons, Joseph Collins, William Courtney, Lorne Craner, Roger Cressey, Gregory Dahlberg, Robert Danin, Richard Danzig, Daniel Drezner, Mackenzie Eaglen, Paul Eaton, Andrew Exum, William Fallon, Eric Farnsworth, Jacques Gansler, Stephen Ganyard, Daniel Goure, Mark Green, Mike Green, Mark Gunzinger, John Hamre, Jim Harper, Michael Hayden, Michael Herson, Pete Hoekstra, Bruce Hoffman, Linda Hudson, Paul Hughes, Colin Kahl, Donald Kerrick, Rachel Kleinfeld, Lawrence Korb, David Kramer, Andrew Krepinevich, Charlie Kupchan, W. Patrick Lang, Cedric Leighton, James Lindsay, Justin Logan, Trent Lott, Peter Mansoor, Ronald Marks, Brian McCaffrey, Steven Metz, Franklin Miller, Philip Mudd, John Nagl, Shuja Nawaz, Kevin Nealer, Michael Oates, Thomas Pickering, Paul Pillar, Larry Prior, Stephen Rademaker, Marc Raimondi, Celina Realuyo, Bruce Riedel, Barry Rhoads, Marc Rotenberg, Frank Ruggiero, Kori Schake, Mark Schneider, John Scofield, Tammy Schultz, Stephen Sestanovich, Sarah Sewall, Matthew Sherman, Jennifer Sims, Constanze Stelzenmüller, Frances Townsend, Mick Trainor, Suzanne Spaulding, Ted Stroup, Richard Wilhelm, Tamara Wittes, Dov Zakheim, and Juan Zarate.
1. Will Egypt's military takeover lead to successful democratic elections?
- Yes 50%
- No 50%
"In the age of CNN, the whole world literally is watching. Besides, why would the generals assume full responsibility for the basket case that is today's Egypt."
"That's a low bar. Like last time, they may be free and fair but may not be structured to produce a sustainable outcome."
"But in the likely event that the liberals don't coalesce, or are unsuccessful in governing between now and then, the [Muslim] Brotherhood will win the elections."
"I have no idea how to define 'successful' in this context. But there will be elections."
"With enough pressure it could, but not likely otherwise."
"The military does not want to govern. It was burnt before. It wants to protect its privileges, but that is a very different matter."
"Yes, but also has the potential to empower even more extremist Islamists."
"Tentative yes—certainly hope so; the military is the best hope for progress."
"But not soon. And elections shouldn't be the goal."
"But only if the U.S. exercises tough leverage."
"The Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist parties are likely to boycott elections, which will cast doubt on their legitimacy."
"Or somewhere in between. This is a revolution; it takes time; it will be messy. And nothing like what we might call 'democracy.' "
"The factionalism will continue, as will the violence. U.S. intelligence should have seen the warning signs on the wall and the Obama administration should have taken diplomatic actions to prevent the coup. Instead, it was asleep at the switch."
"Not necessarily, as the last election cycle demonstrated that holding elections does not ensure that the resulting governing coalition or regime will be a successful democracy."
"Egyptian society is too divided for there to be election results that would be generally accepted."
"Probably not. There is little they can offer the Muslim Brotherhood to reengage, and any process without them will further isolate and drive their activities in a direction that no one wants to see."
"Egypt already had a democratic election, and it may well have more in the future, but the military takeover is not what will 'lead to' democracy."
" 'Successful' democratic elections is a term that simply may not apply; there is no determination of what such a term means either to Egypt's well-being or to U.S. policy."
"Egypt is a mendicant state. It's politics is mendicant politics. The wheel goes through another turn, that's all."
"It depends on who is defining the term 'success.' If democracy means a majority rule, then I think we will see a repeat of the last election, which restarts the process of dissatisfaction and conflict."
"Democratic elections, perhaps, but after this week's bloodshed, they're highly unlikely to be successful."
2. Should the U.S. cut off aid to Egypt?
- No 75%
- Yes 25%
"But strict oversight must be instituted, with a credible the threat of cutting them off."
"I would send a signal by withholding some or all based on the outcome of the electoral process. Abrupt termination may have secondary and tertiary effects. How do you spell 'Suez Canal.' "
"Egypt needs reassurence, not penalties, for doing the right thing and ridding itself of an Islamic government that was increasingly undemocratic."
"No, but ought to tie aid further to democratic reforms."
"We should meter the aid based on performance … after making it quite clear to the military that we intend to do so."
"It would relinquish any remaining leverage over the military that we might have."
"Surely the annual cost of aid to Egypt—about one week's cost of the Afghan enterprise—should give us the leverage we continue to need in the Egyptian military."
"The situation in Egypt points to a flaw in any U.S. laws that mandate a specific response to specific local actions, such as a coup. We should have learned by now that sometimes coups are in our national interest and cookie-cutter responses to them are sometimes counterproductive."
"The Egyptian military action has given the country a second chance to institute true reform. We should encourage new elections and the promulgation of a new constitution—one that doesn't consolidate power in the hands of a president who wants to be a dictator."
"Our aid is contributing marginally to the stability of a very shaky society. Pulling it when Morsi began his oppressive consolidations would have been more effective."
"Welcome to realpolitik. We need 'em for stability in the area. We might not give anything for a while, for politics sake. Saudis and the [Persian] Gulf will kick in instead."
"Cut off entirely? No. Reduce as a way to signal disapproval of how its handling Muslim Brotherhood protesters? Perhaps."
"Interim suspension, pending greater clarification of how events will evolve."
"It's the law, and unless we enforce it, other budding democracies will face the same threat from their powerful militaries."
"Yes, cut off aid, but with an offer to reinstate it if honest elections are held."
"It is the law. This was a coup and it can't be defined any other way!"
"A cutoff complies with U.S. law, and it can and should be reversed once some semblance of democratic procedure is restored."
"We are mostly leverage-less anyway. Wean them off aid, but not for the reason of a coup, a self-imposed restriction and a hoop through which we force ourselves to jump."
"A) The law is clear, and failing to invoke it sets a terrible precedent. B) The U.S. waived conditions on aid to Egypt repeatedly over the past decade and never succeeded in persuading the Egyptian government to move on democracy. Under the last military government, 10,000 Egyptians were dragged before military tribunals, dozens were killed by the government, and American NGO workers were put on trial for doing their jobs. Why exactly should we give the Egyptian military the benefit of the doubt now?"
"Contingent upon holding prompt democratic elections."
"Until the elections, if only to show, after years of threats, that we are capable of doing it."
"It would have been better to have cut off aid to Egypt a long time ago, but since domestic politics here have made it possible now, we have to take the shot we've been given."
This article appears in the July 16, 2013, edition of NJ Daily.