Editorial: Democracy is the goal in Mideast
In Egypt, the Arab Spring has run into some foul weather.
Voters forced to choose between a former associate of deposed strongman Hosni Mubarak and a member of the frightening Muslim Brotherhood have settled on the latter, apparently electing Mohammed Morsi the nation's next president on Sunday.
Egypt's military leaders, meanwhile, who took power after the ouster of Mubarak, staged a half-baked coup when it seemed clear Morsi would win. The generals closed the Brotherhood-dominated legislature and took control of lawmaking, budget-drafting and other important state functions. Yet the generals also insist they will hand over power to the president-elect rather than establishing a dictatorship.
If that's their plan, why seize so much power? The Obama administration has rightly called for the generals to move ahead in transferring power to civilians. It's important for Washington to remain firm and clear that we are on the side of democracy.
That means honoring fair and open elections, however distasteful their outcome, opposing any extension of military rule, and using peaceful means to advocate these views. It's the same position the United States has taken toward Syria, where the despotic regime of Bashar Assad is engaged in a bloody conflict with reform-minded opponents. Assad and his Russian defenders have placed themselves on the wrong side of history in this. We can't make that mistake.
In Egypt democracy is under threat both from the nation's generals, who took power when Mubarak was toppled, and from the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood's rise isn't surprising. It has a long history in Egypt, and a disciplined political organization. It won the nation's first post-Mubarak parliamentary elections.
Lately the Muslim Brotherhood has insisted it believes in democracy and tolerance. But its ascension is worrisome, given America's interests in the region. At one point Morsi drafted a party platform restricting the presidency to Muslim men and calling for a council of scholars to advise Parliament on legislating consistent with Islamic law.
The question now is whether the Brotherhood can rule Egypt while upholding a pluralistic democracy in which voters might someday turn it out of office. Will the civil rights of Egypt's 8 million Christians be protected? Will a government of the Muslim Brotherhood uphold Egypt's uneasy peace with Israel?
It's impossible to know, but there is no alternative to giving the group a chance. Suppressing the Brotherhood would undermine democracy. Thus, Egypt's military must be made to see that refusing to embark on a democratic transition jeopardizes $1.3 billion in U.S. military aid. The State Department hinted at this yesterday.
As to Syria, President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday jointly called for an end to the violence and a transition to democracy. But it's hard to see how those things can happen while Russia is arming and protecting the Assad regime.
Sooner or later democracy will spread throughout the region all the same. We should do what we can to encourage it for our own good as well as everyone else's.