The Worst Thing the West Could Do is to Cut Relations With Egypt

On Monday, interim Egyptian President Adly Mansour called for a referendum on a revised constitution, parliamentary elections within six months, and a presidential election after that. The West ought to applaud his plan, and incentivize Egyptians to follow its course. Now would be the worst time to cut off aid or to express reservations.

It may be tempting to cut off aid to the new government because the previous president was ousted with a military coup – and the American government may be legally mandated to do so. But it appears that the armed forces are positioned to foster a democratic transition. They are certainly more likely to do so than the Muslim Brotherhood's government ever was.

Let’s review what happened: The Egyptian people staged what was likely the largest political demonstration in human history, and did so in opposition to a radical Islamist government. The military then took control of the country, and is saying it will transition the government toward democracy.

This has been the dream of the West since 9/11: moderate Muslims standing up to radicals and establishing both elections and a civil society. While Egypt’s new leaders do not exactly hold Jeffersonian democratic principles, and should not be seen with rose-colored glasses, this may be the best development in the Muslim world in centuries.

Opponents to continued Western aid will argue that we should not support the coup of a “democratically elected” leader. But the argument is based on a false premise. Whether deposed President Mohamed Morsi was democratically elected is questionable, as a fully functioning democracy was not in place at that time.

There was reason to believe that Morsi's election would be the first and last. Just a month before the election that brought Morsi to power, 10 of 23 presidential candidates were barred from participating, including Omar Suleiman, an ally of former President Hosni Mubarak, and opposition leader Ayman Nour. There were also reports of electoral fraud, and behind-the-scenes power-sharing negotiations between Islamists and the military. In the year after his election, Morsi did quite a bit to subvert democracy. His government cracked down on activists from human rights groups and other NGOs, including Freedom House. Dozens of workers were arrested, including Americans. Most troubling, last November, Morsi passed an edict that protected his decisions from judicial review.

The conventional wisdom seems to be that the West must choose either the non-democratic but pro-Western military, or the democratically elected, but anti-American Muslim Brotherhood. But the notion that the two sides in Egypt present a choice between values and interests is false. Western interests are in line with Western values. The Muslim Brotherhood's fundamental goal is the establishment of a theocratic government. As such, the rule of a Muslim Brotherhood president would have been both a challenge to the West and a subversion of democratic values. With Egypt's history and Morsi's record, there is no reason to give him the benefit of the doubt, or to call him a "democratically elected" leader as if it were an undisputed fact.

True democracy will indeed lead to security, but that wasn't an option under the stewardship of the Muslim Brotherhood. That is why the West must support the new government.