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The Brighter Side of a Military Coup

The presidential election and the military’s “creeping coup” have dominated the headlines in Egypt, but this week’s events in the Sinai remind us that there are plenty of reasons to pay attention to the country besides its elections. A band of militants crossed into Israel from Egypt and staged a ambush that claimed the life of an Israeli Arab construction worker, precipitating a standoff with Israeli forces. Shortly after this incident, there was a renewed spat of violence between Hamas and Israel, the first in over a year. It ended late this week with a ceasefire brokered by Egypt.

Some see the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire as a welcome sign of continuity with the Mubarak regime, which frequently assisted Israel in controlling the Sinai and keeping Hamas in order. The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood within Egypt threatens to complicate that tradition. Earlier this week, one expert attributed Hamas’s renewed energy to the Muslim Brotherhood’s empowerment in Cairo:

Waleed al-Modallal, a political scientist at the Islamic University of Gaza, said Hamas had emerged from recent internal elections “stronger and more organized” at a time of regional change, and that it had been buoyed by the rise of Islamic political power in Egypt and other areas.

Regardless of who it allows to win the Egyptian election, Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) is clearly curbing Islamic political power at home and across the border (with Hamas). For weeks Via Meadia has expected the military to preserve the status quo, in which the generals remain in control and continue Egypt’s role as an anchor for regional stability and an antidote to Islamism.

This status quo, of course, comes at the expense of genuine democracy, but the roaming gunmen and roadside ambushes plaguing the Sinai this week are reminding both Egyptians and Israelis there are worse things than shady politics. The SCAF, through some distinctly undemocratic means, does seem bent on keeping order. Revolutions tend to be messy, and Egypt looks as if it’s on the brink of shifting back to a relatively orderly dictatorship.

America can’t and shouldn’t control what happens in Egypt. From our point of view both alternatives — messy, corrupt and chaotic democracy, or corrupt, stagnant and sometimes brutal dictatorship — have upsides and down.  On balance, we probably prefer the risks and costs of democracy to those of dictatorship, but we will have to work with whoever wins the power struggle in Egypt, and at least the prospect of more stability in the Sinai is a consolation prize if the generals win out.

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