Prominent Middle East expert James Zogby tells Newsmax the upheaval that overthrew longtime leader Hosni Mubarak in Egypt was always a military coup and not a revolution — but he hopes that democracy will eventually take hold.
Zogby also says this is the “worst time” for the United States to cut aid to Egypt or grow impatient with the progress toward democracy there.
Zogby is founder and president of the Arab-American Institute and author of the book “Arab Voices.”
The Egyptian military has sparked new turmoil in the country by dissolving the recently elected parliament and diluting the power of the presidency on the heels of Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi’s proclaimed victory in the election.
In an exclusive interview with Newsmax.TV, Zogby declares who is actually in power in Egypt: “The military is in power, and actually the military has been in power and never lost power."
“President Mubarak was deposed basically by the military that said this has gone far enough, and they pulled off what was probably one of the more successful coups in that they almost fooled people into thinking that it wasn’t a coup, it was really a revolution.
“The military created the sense that they were with the people. But I said back then that the best we would get out of this would be Turkey 30 years ago, that is the military in control, creating some space for a democratic process, but not enough space that they would surrender their power.
“They’re the single largest economic force in the country and they’re not giving that up. They see themselves as the Turkish military saw themselves, as the safeguard of secularism, of the political process such as it is. They don’t want to turn it over to the Muslim Brotherhood, and they’re being very zealous in guarding against that.
“Now they’ve taken the ultimate step. They’ve disbanded the parliament and they degraded the power of the presidency so that they are fully in charge.
There will be a president with less power than the Mubarak presidency and there will be an election to a parliament after a new constitution has been written. So the military is in control and has been in control all this time.
“Democracy works but it is a process and it’s not a pretty one at times. And we’re at the beginning of the unfolding of a democratic process in Egypt. It’s going to take time and support and we ought not to be too impatient.”
He notes, however, that democracy is not the paramount issue in the minds of most Egyptians.
“When we poll in Egypt, the No. 1 factor, the No. 1 issue on people’s minds is not democracy, it’s jobs and the economy. So you have the Muslim Brotherhood and the military not wanting to do anything that’s going to disrupt foreign investment, disrupt tourism.
“Egypt’s taken a terrible hit in tourism and foreign investment and they need to get back on their feet, because there’s going to be a worse situation if the economy goes into a state of collapse.”
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In addition to the military and the Muslim Brotherhood, “there is a third emerging pole, this revolutionary youth movement that was in Tahrir Square,” Zogby says.
“They now realize that they stopped too soon; they didn’t win a victory; and they’re laying out for themselves a five-year plan. It may end up being a 10-year plan.
“But they are organizing themselves as they were not before as a political party, a force that can win elections in the future.”
Proclaimed presidential winner Morsi is trying to be seen as a uniting force rather than an Islamic radical, “and that is a good sign,” Zogby tells Newsmax. “But there are still significant sectors of the population who do not believe the Muslim Brotherhood right now.”
Asked if Christians in Egypt, who comprise about 10 percent of the population, should be concerned about Morsi's success, Zogby responds: “I think he’s trying to send a message that we’re not going to isolate you, we’re going to treat you as equal citizens of the state. I think they need some convincing. They have every reason to feel vulnerable right now.
“But if the military and Muslim Brotherhood are competing over who will do the best job to convince the Christian community that they’ll be protected, I think they might be in a good place right now.”
He also says it would be a “tragedy” if Christians feel threatened and begin to leave the country, as occurred in Iraq and could happen again in Syria.
Commenting on America’s possible role in Egypt, Zogby says: “As we hope that the parties in Egypt don’t overreach and overreact, I hope that on the American side there is not an overreaching or an overreaction.
“This is the worst time for Congress to be cutting aid, the worst time for statements that are too stern and too strident to be coming out of Washington.
We need to be taking a long, hard, supportive look at how we can play a role assisting Egyptian in its No. 1 concern, which is to grow the economy, to get jobs, and to put people back to work, as we need to do here.
“This is not the time for people to say this is a massive disappointment. If you say this is a disappointment it’s because you never understood what happened in the first place.”
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