Obama administration officials tried to walk back the remarks—”He didn’t stick to the script,” an unnamed source growled to the WSJ—but it was too late. The media pounced, the remarks were quickly torn apart on Twitter, and Team Obama is again struggling to regain its balance on Egypt, trying not to call what happened a coup while hoping that the military doesn’t get too much more blood on its hands in restoring order to Cairo and Alexandria.
Let’s get the obvious parts out of the way: No, the Egyptian military is not restoring democracy in Egypt. You can’t “restore” something that never existed, and it takes a lot more than a couple of elections to make a democracy. Democracy requires a host of institutions, tacit agreements, and social norms most of which don’t exist in Egypt. It also depends on a certain basic level of economic progress and prosperity, also not exactly likely to sprout up on the banks of the Nile anytime soon.
The army wasn’t trying to build democracy, either; it was restoring order and protecting the deep state, more or less in accordance with the will of a large number of middle class and urban Egyptians. That’s the beginning and end of it. Americans desperately want somebody to be the pro-democracy good guys. But right now at least, democracy doesn’t seem to be on the menu at the Egypt café.