As Americans celebrate the overthrow of British rule, Egyptians are cheering their first day of independence from a regime that stood for the "retreat of their great civilization into a kind of medieval form of Islamism and religiosity," Middle East expert and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Judith Miller tells Newsmax.
Just don’t call Wednesday’s takeover of the Egyptian government a coup, she tells Newsmax — unless you want to make Egyptians angry.
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"I don't want to even use the word coup. If you want to make an Egyptian mad, call this a coup," she said in an exclusive interview. "It's a kind of softish coup. It's an Egyptian-like coup. But the military is not going to rule. That's the most important thing. This is a transition to another chance to get it right."
Miller applauded the nonviolent protests that precipitated the military's removal of Mohammed Morsi — the first democratically elected president in the country's history. She said Morsi's government had been swept into office a year ago by "a very narrow sliver of the population" only to renege on many of its promises.
"Egypt was rejecting authoritarian Islamism. That's what they were rejecting and I think that is very Egyptian — and something to be proud of," explained Miller, a Newsmax correspondent who once lived in Egypt.
Cairo's Tahrir Square was ablaze with fireworks and lasers on Wednesday as millions of anti-Morsi protesters around the country erupted in spontaneous celebrations with men and women dancing and shouting in Arabic, "God is great" and "long live Egypt."
"People in Tahrir that I was talking to, they are very happy tonight," observed Miller. "They have a real sense of pride in what they’ve done. They forced the military to act in the people’s interest. This is not the kind of military coup we've seen in other countries."
Miller said she does not believe that the Egyptian military will try to hold power for long. "They tried it. They didn’t do well. They didn’t like it," she said.
While the average Egyptian has been hard hit economically under Morsi, Miller said that the No. 1 task facing the interim government will be to restore law and order.
"One thing that was extraordinary to me when I looked at the crowds and listened to what they were saying is the demands for restoration of law and order — something that the people were demanding.
"Order is very important in Egyptian society and they haven't had that," she said, pointing to the Sinai as a "combat zone" where "Bedouins rule and rape and rob and kidnap foreigners for money."
She said any reaction by the Muslim Brotherhood that would be counterproductive to maintaining law and order would simply not be tolerated by the Egyptian people.
"The second task is to get the economy moving because Egypt right now is a basket case — it's an economic basket case run into the ground not by Hosni Mubarak," Miller explained, "but at this point, two years of complete mismanagement of its economic resources, its driving away of capital, its unfriendliness toward foreign investments, and to domestic investments in the country."
Still, she said, the Muslim Brotherhood cannot be dismissed.
"They are extremely good at mobilizing. They will still be good at mobilizing in the next election, I predict. I would hope that they would not be imprisoned and not be suppressed," she said even as the Egyptian military moved to shut down some of the Brotherhood-controlled media in the country.
"I think the Obama administration's desire to bring [the Brotherhood] out of the shadows and into the political system was the right one," Miller said.
"They were the ones who chose to delegitimize themselves by refusing to cooperate with other political parties that disagree with them."
While it's too soon to call the Egyptian uprising Arab Spring II, Miller said that other countries may learn something from the Egyptians even though conditions are very different from country to country.
"I think what we've had here is a real rejection, a visceral body politic rejection by more than half of the Egyptian people of that kind of Islamism," she said. "And if that happens in other countries, I would think that would be a very good thing."
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In Iran, for example, she said the "thuggish" regime has shown a propensity and willingness to "utterly suppress" such an Arab-Spring-like movement.
"But Egypt offers a model now. I mean look at what happened? They prompted military action — the removal of the man who had totally lost the legitimacy he claimed — and they did it by simply going into the streets and protesting," she said. "If the Iranians and the Turks understand the importance of that, perhaps they will work harder at organizing even more people to make a similar statement."
Early indications are that the interim Egyptian government appears to be much more inclusive than Morsi's government, according to Miller, who said the new Cabinet "represents virtually every strain and strand of political opinion in Egypt" that had been excluded under Morsi's regime.
"I consider this a kind of historic day for Egypt which has now made history twice in the modern Middle East," she said. "It should be something that the United States should applaud."
But Miller said it would be a mistake for the United States to cut off its $1.5 billion in aid to Egypt as Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy threatened on Wednesday.
"I don’t think we should cut off aid — especially not now," she said. "President Obama said that he would instruct his government to look at what the law requires, but I would hope that common sense would prevail here and that Egypt — which is suffering economically — would receive the help and support it needs."
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