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Democracy in Egypt Can Wait

Author: Charles A. Kupchan, Whitney Shepardson Senior Fellow
August 17, 2013
New York Times

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WASHINGTON — The Egyptian military's bloody crackdown on supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood is yet another sign of the dark side of the Arab awakening. Across the Middle East, glimmerings of democracy are being snuffed out by political turmoil and violence.

That reality requires a sobering course correction in American policy. Rather than viewing the end of autocracy's monopoly as a ripe moment to spread democracy in the region, Washington should downsize its ambition and work with transitional governments to establish the foundations of responsible, even if not democratic, rule.

Ever since the Egyptian military seized power last month, the United States government, backed by much of the country's foreign policy elite, has demanded the restoration of democratic rule. President Obama instructed Egypt's generals "to move quickly and responsibly to return full authority back to a democratically elected civilian government." The Republican senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina visited Cairo to press the new government to restore democratic rule and have called for cutting off aid if it doesn't.

But while Washington must unequivocally condemn the violence unleashed by the Egyptian military, clamoring for a rapid return to democracy is misguided.

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