The recent events in Egypt should give all pause to consider the ramifications of what is taking place in a key, strategic region of vital importance to the United States. The removal of President Morsi, while applauded by many, may in fact have unintended consequences, and far reaching ones at that.
The riots and bloodshed in the streets are presumably symbolic of what lays ahead.
Morsi opted for change through politics and was elected, through the democratic process, and in so doing rejected violence as a means of change. He was set to serve two years and another election was scheduled in the near future. In part because of his organizations statements and violent history, initially his election was a cause for alarm for many, both within Egypt and around the world. Regardless of concerns by many (including me), his efforts as president were consistently aimed at providing stability internally and respect internationally. He made no provocative moves toward Israel and was not advancing an anti-West agenda. Morsi was trying to establish the political legitimacy of his new, fragile government.
Clearly, many Egyptians have thought otherwise. Millions protested his government, the military was uncomfortable with him as president, and removed him during these early stages of his term. These groups did not want him in power and rejected his election (and therefore the will of a democratic process). It is critical to note, however, the people of Egypt did, in majority fashion, vote for him to serve in this capacity. As many say, "elections matter." His removal from office has now prompted confusion, and violence has ensued as citizens and international observers now claim the military removal of a democratically elected president amounted to a coup.
The Muslim Brotherhood, a group that has resorted to violence in the past, wanted to become part of the political process after Mubarak was ousted. Instead of taking up arms, this previously violent group sought to implement its agenda by taking part in the process, and had their leader, Morsi elected. Now that the Egyptian military has removed him (and kept him in an undisclosed location) and arrested many members of his organization, the resort to the democratic process may seem futile to many who espouse jihadism. This removal will likely cause jihadists in the region to look at the current situation and find resort to democracy useless and a dead end. I expect jihadists to use this situation to show that elections and engaging in the political process only leads to disaster. The other alternative? Violence and terrorism.
Policy makers need to contrast this situation with another complex region of the world – the Irish – UK "troubles." The Irish Republican Army had for decades engaged in terrorism to secure freedom, basic human rights and legitimacy. Gerry Adams, the group's leader in the 1990s, recognized that engaging in violence was not producing any concrete results and only was creating further bloodshed and diminished legitimacy of their objectives. He pushed for IRA members and the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland to become part of the political process. His election, along with many of his allies, to Parliament, has dramatically reduced the violence in the region and the IRA is almost irrelevant as a "quasi-military" or terrorist entity. Gerry Adams and the leadership of the IRA chose peaceful politics and democracy over violence and terror. Prime Minister Tony Blair certainly abhorred the IRA tactics of the past, but he recognized the chance for lasting peace by supporting the Irish Catholic rejection of violence and involvement in the democratic process. He supported Gerry Adams and his desire to serve in Parliament. The results speak for themselves. The "troubles" in Ireland are all but a faint memory of the past.
Leaders in Egypt, the West and around the world should look to Ireland before celebrating too resoundingly the removal of Morsi. Other jihadists in Egypt and worldwide are watching what is taking place and will likely be reluctant to seek peaceful means of change and not resort to politics. Perhaps, permitting and encouraging those whom have engaged in violence in the past, to serve in the political arena can pay long term dividends.
Glenn Sulmasy is a homeland and national security fellow at the Center for National Policy in Washington D.C. He is the author of "The National Security Court System – A Natural Evolution of Justice in an Age of Terror." The views expressed are his own. Follow him on twitter @glennsulmasy