Egyptian Turmoil – Was it really a Coup?

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egyptian supreme court
A view of the Egyptian Supreme Court in Cairo. Recent events in Egypt are being discussed every day in the ‘court of public opinion’ in Egypt — which may result in eventual court action against some of the principals involved. Photo:

Over the past weeks, I’ve been dismayed at the degree of intolerance and rigidity in the positions of quarreling parties within Egypt, with both taking defensive attitudes as they continue to not listen to each other. Hearts stiffened and minds sealed, resulting in further deterioration. In our article today, we discuss the Egyptian case and review ideas and analyse facts objectively, with the aim of creating sound plans and choices.

Before delving into the Egyptian turmoil, it is worth mentioning that I’m not a huge fan of the so-called “moderate” political Islam, and its offshoot parties and movements, especially those in power. Their speeches are teeming with Fatwas, sermons and religious justifications of policies that serve their self-interest, more than they serve legitimate national interests or the interests of Islam at large — which reminds us of the Middle Ages, when the church controlled political decisions, and its speeches filled with guidance and at times threats to anyone who disobeyed the will of the rulers, and who believed they held the absolute and final truth.

After adding the qualifier “moderate” to political Islam, Western governments could differentiate between radical Islamic movements (or the jihadist’s), and Islamic movements willing to accept and engage in politics, primarily through pleasant rhetoric and appealing catchphrases about human rights, democracy, equality and the role of women, the rule of law and good governance.

Returning to the Egyptian case and despite my earlier reservations, what the army committed in Egypt cannot be construed as anything but a “coup” similar to what has happened in many African countries in the aftermath of their independence.

Ejecting a president who was democratically elected through free and fair elections (the first of its kind in decades in Egypt), the suspension of the constitution (which had been voted for by referendum), the dissolution of the Shoura (legislative) Council and the closure of radio and TV stations in synch with scores of arrests without warrant or court orders — these are all signs of a coup.

The attempt to draw an analogy between what happened on June 30, 2013 and January 25, 2011 is erroneous and a misnomer. In the revolution of January 25th 2011, the toppled regime did not derive its power from democratic and fair elections and its supporters didn’t have any real presence when compared to the rebels. As for what happened on June 30th, removing a president and government that took power through free and fair elections and have evident presence and supporters in every city in Egypt, is an entirely different case.

In effect, Egypt’s minister of defense Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, who trained in the UK Joint Command and Staff College in 1992 and the U.S. Army War College in 2006, believes that the military should have more sway over domestic law and order and that the army must be above politics. Lately, he assigned himself first deputy prime minister in addition to his post as defense minister.

Rosa Massagué, who described in her essay Algèria, Palestina i ara Egipte (Algeria, Palestine, and now Egypt) in El Periodico newspaper, that the reason for the exclusion of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in Egypt is the same reason that excluded the National Salvation Front in Algeria in 1992 and the Islamic Resistance Movement “Hamas” in Palestine in 2006, following their victory in parliamentary elections.

The writer argues that the West, and first and foremost the U.S., rejects the arrival of political Islam to power in the Arab region. In antithesis to Massagué’s argument, indications show that “moderate” political Islam has not been refused at all by the West, and it has rather become an acceptable, favorable, and even supported model, especially since the advent of the so-called Arab Spring. For instance, when the Freedom and Justice Party came to power in Egypt, coordination with Western powers never stopped, meetings and mutual visits continued and U.S. support never ceased. Senator John McCain called for an end to U.S. military funding as stipulated by American law soon after the coup.

However, the position of U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry was different, saying that Egypt’s army was “restoring democracy.” According to The Washington Post, Kerry said during a visit to Pakistan, “the military was asked to intervene by millions and millions of people…. the military did not take over, to the best of our judgment — so far.”

According to this hypothesis, what happened in Egypt was not supported or commissioned by the West to overthrow an Islamic rule, but rather an internal dynamic and a national decision. However, the justifications the Egyptian army tried to put forward are marred by impurities. Talking about siding with the people in the face of the MB is mistaken, especially if the classification criterion is the presence in squares and streets. This is because the bias would be to one side’s advantage — at the others expense.

Additionally, saying that the performance of the previous government was one of the weaknesses that prompted the military action to stop this decline is misleading too. Evaluating the performance of a president and government can neither be mature nor reasonable after less than a year in power, bearing in mind the difficult political, economic and social conditions Egypt suffered before and during this year, plus the continuous instability and demonstrations throughout the year.

While Egyptians long for democracy, the Morsi government created a number of institutions and democratic bodies to monitor and hold any government or president accountable for wrongdoing. What has happened in Egypt is a crucial precedent that would jeopardize the whole path of democracy in the country, if not the region. Consequently, no political party will feel safe now if they win future elections, lest their rivals refuse to acknowledge or reject the results outright, and start mobilizing the masses in streets and squares.

Unlike in Egypt, the Italian army didn’t topple Silvio Berlusconi for his wrongdoings, nor did the U.S. Army remove Bush for his economic failures and the unemployment crisis.

After being ousted, the elected Egyptian president faces a number of accusations.  First, he was accused of escaping from prison, yet the question remains how the Egyptian authorities (run by the armed forces) could have accepted the candidacy of an ex-detainee to start with? Nevertheless, Mohammed Morsi was arrested without any charges by Hosni Mubarak’s toppled regime, which was rejected, denied and condemned by almost everybody in Egypt; so why all the fuss? Morsi was not proved guilty of any crime, so escaping the prison of the former regime must be considered a crime in itself.

Second, Gen. Sisi says that he decided to remove Morsi after giving him several chances to contain the crisis and stop the de-escalation in Egyptian political and social stability. Meanwhile, and according to the army and attorney general, Morsi is accused of almost 18 charges. So, if Morsi agreed to compromise with Gen. Sisi, the latter would have turned a blind eye to those crimes.

Simply put, it can be inferred that the sole reason behind this current state of affairs is the lack of political experience of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in Egypt. Unlike some Islamic parties in the region, the MB failed to smooth Egyptians’ fears. The actions and decisions of the Brotherhood government deepened and increased uncertainty. While suspicions mounted, the political exclusion of non-MB actors became evident and new political appointments of MB members and their supporters and allies proved these doubts. Hereafter, their attitude was interpreted as a rejection of any form of political partnership with other segments of the society, especially non-Muslim ones.

Such a tense environment came in tandem with poor political performance and a continued economic downturn, leading to a growing state of polarisation. Tension, incitement and congestion escalated, fiery speech, articles and TV shows, conspiring to attack the other side became common until the eruption occurred.

In a nutshell, one can say that genuine democracy requires practice and partnership, and cannot be confined to only the ballot box. Because democracy cannot be realized through aloof people, mobilising crowds to replace the ballot box is critical. Democratic practices have introduced effective and influential institutions, with legislation capable of monitoring political life for the express goal of avoiding the unsolicited scenarios we see playing out in Egypt today.

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