In light of the sickening violence now washing Egypt in blood, I am hearing a number of people — from the often brilliant Fouad Ajami to the not-so-much Peter Beinart – speak sternly of the military coup that overthrew democratically elected Islamist dictator Mohamed Morsi. In the Wall Street Journal, Ajami made the characteristically intelligent argument that the coup was not necessary because power was already divided among Morsi, the military, the police, and the judiciary. On Anderson Cooper’s 360 show on CNN, Beinart made the characteristically incoherent and simplistic accusation that those Americans who supported the coup were abandoning (I have to quote from memory here) America’s commitment to democracy, the rule of law, and minority rights.
No one can know whether Ajami is right or not. Would patience have served the Egyptians, as he says? Before he was overthrown, Morsi seemed to be moving to secure all power to himself. If the military had waited, it might have been too late to get rid of him.
Beinart, though, is inadvertently raising an issue that really should be addressed more often: the cry of “democracy” as an excuse for oppression.