July 19, 2013
Whether one uses euphemisms such as ouster, removal, or deposal, the fact remains that Egypt underwent a coup – there is no other way for my own legal mind to reconcile with what occurred in Cairo just over a fortnight ago. However, I also believe that a coup by any other name was also inevitable for manifold reasons:
1. Ever since their birth in Ismailia in 1928, the Muslim Brotherhood have been working toward the moment when they would hold the political levers of power – principally in Egypt but also in Jordan, Morocco, or Tunisia, amongst other countries. However, once they achieved their goal with the (admittedly) proto-democratic election of former president Mohamed Morsi, they used every possible rule to consolidate, let alone expand, their own powerbase at the expense of everyone else: Salafists, liberals, secular men and women, or Christians and other minorities. But Egypt is not the UK or Sweden, and at this critical period of its history, such a wholesale grab of the executive, legislative, and judicial organs of the state was not only scabrous to the whole idea of institutional democracy, but also ruinous for the future of the country.
2. Hand-in-hand with this unquenchable and exclusivist thirst for power came also the tell-tale signs of an increasingly faltering economy. As David Kenner blogged in Foreign Policy recently, Egypt suffers from double-digit unemployment, 17 percent of Egyptians struggle to secure enough food and 31 percent of children five years of age or younger suffer from malnutrition. Add the inflationary increase in the prices of basic commodities or the dearth of ingredients like petrol and electricity, and most ordinary Egyptians experienced disappointment when the Muslim Brotherhood did not match its long-held rhetoric with action.
3. Moreover, trying to master too rapidly a political game of chess, the Muslim Brotherhood used their Freedom & Justice party to issue a cornucopia of nods, winks, and blandishments to their former protagonists (and gaolers) in the army or police in an effort to firm up their own staying power. They also became obsessed with the fulul (remnants) of the Mubarak regime, as well as with any person or movement they suspected was trying to dislodge or challenge their hold on power.But those overwrought issues aside, what struck me is the critical role played by the younger and professional generations of Egypt – an inexhaustible pool of men and women at the vanguard of the mass movements congregating under umbrellas such as April 6, Tamarod (Rebellion), or Mosireen (Resolute) – who poured out into the streets in their millions to demand the removal of Morsi and the dismantlement of his structures of governance. However, they also realized that they could not do it alone, and so they resorted to the military in relieving Egypt of the Muslim Brotherhood in order to correct the political compass of their revolution. The army – previously loathed for its vile excesses against Egyptian citizens – wanted to preserve its own huge economic interests in Egypt, and so it used those millions in the streets as the plausible justification to muscle in and stamp its authority again.But this is where I disagree with a piece in The New York Times by David Kirkpatrick, who suggested that the “Egyptian liberals embrace the military, brooking no dissent”. I would argue that this coming together of the military and those progressive movements – erstwhile foes in 2011 and sudden bedfellows in 2013 – was tactical and almost compulsory for both sides. However, thinking that this is a natural alliance between two polarities is simply misunderstanding the very nature of those uprisings. Crudely put, what we observe today is not an end per se but a means to an end. In fact, I am confident that those civil society movements in Egypt struggling to create a new gobbet of democracy that is neither henpecked by the military nor abused by religious radicalism will rise up against the army (and police). They will do the same against any other group that attempts to manipulate the political circumstances to their advantage and strive to reinstate the status quo ante of 2011 or even mould a replica of that broken chapter.Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood are now maintaining their own sit-in in front of the Rabi’a al-Adawiya Mosque in Nasr City as a counterpoint to the protestors’ longstanding epicenter at Tahrir Square. This standoff cannot continue forever as it inexorably bleeds Egypt of the two key ingredients that epitomize this revolution so well: economy and security. If the army manages to use its vantage point sensitively to midwife a system of governance that is inclusive of all political currents, including the Muslim Brotherhood (despite their own diatribes or the expostulations of others), then it will have accomplished its promethean task and should then withdraw to the barracks again. However, if it tries to manipulate the unrest by extending its clamp on Egyptian society, those millions of young men and women who rose up against it in 2011 and against the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013 – and pretty much copyrighted the revolution to their image – will not hesitate to pick up the gauntlet once more.What I believe needs to happen politically in the short run is not too forlorn from the roadmap on offer. It consists of amending the constitution so that the separation of powers, as much as the definition of rights and responsibilities for all answerable citizens, are clearly drafted in the revised document. Subsequently, there should be internationally-monitored legislative and presidential elections. Such a process would help with the emergence of an Egypt whose future will not only become steadier after many turbulent years, but also one where the concepts of legality and legitimacy will no longer contradict each other but coalesce under one political roof.By definition, revolutions are lengthy and painful processes – just cast a historical eye at the many excesses and uncertainties in the UK, France, and the U.S. – and it is quite true that the future of Egypt can easily skid in any direction. After all, it is hard to expect any leopard to lose its spots. Yet, if applied judiciously and with a sense of patriotism that is harnessed toward the public good rather than geared toward feckless factionalism or religious bigotry, the eventual outcome ahead could well affect Egypt, let alone the future of a topsy-turvy MENA region.As Egyptians recycle their revolution by ushering in a new phase, or else simply by improving its priorities, they should recall the repressive regimes that have been controlling Egypt in one form or another since the 1950s. This includes the wanton behavior of the military during the Mubarak era with its humiliating and offensive practices, as well as the preternatural dereliction of duty by a Morsi government that was at times almost enshrouded in mystery. I recall vividly Khaled Saeed in 2010 and the Maspero killings or ‘the girl in the blue bra’ of 2011, and I suspect all Egyptians do too. Are those not enough catalysts for everyone to pull together and overcome their grievances?
Otherwise, history alas has a knack of repeating itself – and not always for the better.