According to a Reuters estimate, 200,000 Egyptians marched in support of President Morsi and the Islamist-backed proposed constitution for Egypt. Widespread reports yesterday suggest that the opposition mustered tens of thousands of supporters in Cairo yesterday. As there were both pro- and anti-Morsi demonstrations across Egypt and many had no international press observers, it’s not possible to get some kind of total count of the pro and con turnout nationwide.
Nevertheless, the Cairo numbers support our gut instinct here at Via Meadia: that the mostly urban and upper middle class seculars and liberals are outnumbered. Bad constitution or good constitution, mass opinion in Egypt, though divided, wants the Islamist parties to have a chance to run the country their way.
This will sharpen the dilemma for western policymakers. It’s one thing to support Islamist governments in countries whose constitutions limit the power of political leaders. It’s quite another to support Islamists who reject what western democrats consider some basic human rights and who write constitutions without the kind of limits and assurances westerners think fit.
President Obama has made the strategic decision that the United States should seek the best possible relationships with Islamists in government in places like Turkey and Egypt. It’s hard to criticize him for this, since it is difficult to see what practical alternatives he has. But watching how these regimes seem to evolve once they are in power, it looks as if that path of cooperation is going to get harder, not easier to follow as time goes by.