Last year, Mohamed Mursi became Egypt’s first freely elected president. Mursi won with 51.7 percent of the vote — slightly more than the 51.1 percent that Barack Obama won in 2012. Mursi was the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist organization that had been banned and persecuted in Egypt for 60 years.
Mursi’s overthrow last week put the United States on the spot. Could Washington support the removal of a democratically elected government, even one we did not like?
The Mursi government may have been elected, but there are other requirements for a democracy. A democratic government has to guarantee minority rights. It has to accept the opposition as legitimate. It has to be willing to abide by the rules. And the truest test of a democracy: The government has to give up power if it is defeated at the polls.
The Mursi government failed all those tests except the last one. That’s because it was only in power for a year and got removed by the military before it could stand for re-election. In that one year, however, Mursi asserted near-unlimited power over the country. He appointed Islamic radicals to key positions. He rammed through a new constitution that enshrined the principles of Islamic law. He arrested opponents and allowed attacks on religious minorities. He neglected the failing economy. He angered the military by calling for Egyptian intervention in Ethiopia and Syria.