This part of David Brooks’ defense of the coup in Egypt is telling:
When you elect fanatics, they continue, you have not advanced democracy. You have empowered people who are going to wind up subverting democracy. The important thing is to get people like that out of power, even if it takes a coup. The goal is to weaken political Islam, by nearly any means.
One of the serious flaws with this argument is that the coup isn’t likely to weaken political Islam in Egypt or elsewhere over the long term, but will push Islamists out of the political process and encourage fanaticism to flourish unchecked. The coup will give many Islamists in other countries a clear lesson that they may as well not participate in any political process. Even if Egyptian Islamists don’t resort to violence in opposition to the coup and the next government, potentially creating yet another cause for jihadist recruitment, some Islamists in other countries may conclude that taking up arms is the only way left available to them. This quote from The New York Times article on various Islamist reactions to the coup expresses this very well:
“Didn’t we do what they asked,” asked Mahmoud Taha, 40, a merchant. “We don’t believe in democracy to begin with; it’s not part of our ideology. But we accepted it. We followed them, and then this is what they do? [bold mine-DL]”
This is the reaction that should worry us, because there are few sources of resentment against a political system more powerful than the feeling the system is inevitably rigged against your group. Brooks is saying that the goal should be to rig the system against them and to do almost anything that is required to rig it that way. What makes this even more foolish is that Morsi and his allies were already failing. It would have been only a matter of time until they would have been defeated at the next election, and then there would have been no question that they had been rejected on the grounds that their tenure had indeed been a disaster. The coup allow Morsi and his supporters to claim that they have been robbed, and it is unlikely that they are going to take that lying down. That is a recipe for continued strife and instability, which are exactly what Egypt can least afford.