Ouster Of Egypt's President Reverberates Through Middle East

For a look at what events in Egypt could mean for the rest of the Middle East, David Greene talks to Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Institution's Doha Center.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

We are following the events unfolding in Egypt this morning following yesterday's military coup that removed the Islamist President Mohammed Morsi from power. With Egypt holding a leading role in Middle Eastern affairs, we wanted to get a sense of how this leadership change might reverberate through the region.

And to do that, we're joined by Shadi Hamid. He's with the Brookings Doha Center. And Shadi, welcome back to the program. Thanks for coming on.

SHADI HAMID: Hi. Thanks for having me.

GREENE: Now, you've been monitoring these events from Doha, a Middle Eastern hub. What reaction are you seeing so far in the region?

HAMID: I think for Islamist groups across the region, this move is going to have very severe implications. One of the important gains of the last 30 years was Islamist groups coming to terms with the democratic process and committing themselves to working through elections and the political process. But now you're going to start hearing a very important question, and one that we'll have to watch closely, which is we tried democracy, we want elections, but even after that, we were prevented from governing and we were blocked.

So that's dangerous, because it could push Islamists to consider withdrawing from the political process altogether. And to be honest, it's really a gift to al-Qaida and other extremists who have been making, you know, a particular argument for years that change can't come through democracy and that violence is the only way. So I'm very concerned about those kinds of reverberations going forward.

GREENE: You're saying that this might strengthen the message of jihadist groups like al-Qaida. That sounds pretty ominous.

HAMID: Well, I hope I'm wrong, of course. But one of the arguments that the Brotherhood was making against al-Qaida was that Islamists could come to power through working within a political process. That argument is being undermined. And you can kind of imagine now the Brotherhood trying to make the case to angry supporters to stay within the political process, to give democracy a chance. But then, they'll respond: Why? We tried that already.

GREENE: And let's think about some of the countries in the region. I mean, I wonder about Syria. This might seem to give some strength to President Bashar al-Assad, and his argument to remain in power is really a bulwark against Islamists.

HAMID: Well, one of the major players in the Syrian opposition is the Muslim Brotherhood, and other Islamist groups play a very important role, as well. So to the extent that this is a setback for political Islam writ large, that's something that benefits Bashar al-Assad's message. He can kind of make the case and say, look what happens when Islamists are given a chance to rule. Stay with me. I'm the one who can guarantee stability and personal freedoms. We don't want those big bad Islamists, like what happened in Egypt.

GREENE: And Shadi, what do these events tell us about the Arab Spring now?

HAMID: Well, in some ways, these crises and conflicts were inevitable, that you had autocracy for 50 years in most of these countries. You take the lid off, and a lot of things that were submerged before are now coming out, and that means real ideological divide about fundamental issues, about the role of religion in public life, about identity, about what it means to be an Egyptian.

We hope usually that these debates can peaceful and happen within a process, but sometimes they're violent. So, in a sense, the Arab Spring has taken a dark turn. If you look across the region, you see conflict, political violence and essentially citizens turning against each other. In Egypt, you have families that had Morsi supporters and Morsi opponents.

How that dinner table conversation is going to work now, God knows, but that's the kind of thing that can really tear people apart.

GREENE: Shadi Hamid is the director of research at the Brookings Doha Center. Shadi, thanks as always for joining us.

HAMID: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

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