Tailgating with the ‘divided’ Pharaohs: A democratic coup?

Posted on Jul 22 2013 - 10:32pm by Ahmed Seif

In my last article, I drew an analogy between American tailgating and Egyptian protesting. I started the article by giving my account of the Jan. 25 revolution and its reasons, and ended it by telling what kind of change it brought about in Egypt’s political life. Throughout the article, I exhibited the impact the revolution had on the United States’ foreign policy. In this article, I take the same line as I did in the previous one. Today, though, I speak of a different revolution.

Following Mubarak’s ouster, Egyptians were happily ready for a democratic election for the first time. Yet, to everyone’s surprise, out of the thirteen candidates, the first round of the election ended with the selection of the least expected candidates as runoff participants: Mohamed Morsi and Ahmed Shafiq. With the winning of those two, the ring would feature a face-off between two utterly polarized ideologies: Islamism and Secularism. It was not these long grappling ideologies that marked Egypt’s new political era. They had existed in clash even since colonial times. What was new, however, is the fair chance given to both at an electoral faceoff. Ahmed Shafiq, the first winning candidate, is secular Egyptian air marshal who was supportive of Mubarak and integral part of his government. He was accused of attempting to frustrate the revolution and being complicit in the killing of the protesters through his silence. The second winning candidate, Mohamed Morsi, who is an Islamist product of the Muslim Brotherhood, was fresh on the scene. However, skepticism arose concerning his political affiliation to the Muslim Brotherhood, who had been accused of hijacking the gains of the Jan. 25 revolution. In short, the political affiliations of both candidates led Egyptians to conceive the election as a choice between two evils. As Egyptians were making up their mind, an unprecedented divide between supporters and opponents started to grow.

The long-standing suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood by Mubarak’s regime was the greatest factor in the support and sympathy Morsi received from the public. In addition, the fact that Ahmed Shafiq is “a holdover” of a regime considered autocratic by all Egyptians’ standards, caused even some of the most secular voters to align themselves with the Islamist candidate. In other words, Morsi was backed up by his supporters, and his opponent’s opponents. To say that all voters, or even most of them, were ideologically supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate is far from the truth. After a hard fought race, the ballot box democratically declared the “lesser evil.” Mohamed Morsi became Egypt’s first elected president. Emphasis on “democratically.”

The struggle over power, though, was far from over. With every passing day, the divide was widening. I can truthfully say of Morsi’s rule that it was no less than a failure. I base this judgment on what I saw as wild unprofessionalism, failure to assess Egypt’s priorities, alienation of the opposition, blind and exclusive support of the Muslim Brotherhood, from which he appointed most of the country’s top officials, refraining from the unequivocal condemnation violence committed by his supporters, embarrassing statements made at home and overseas, lack of appreciation to severe issues such as gas scarcity and prolonged electricity cuts, and a refusal to acknowledge problems at the same level of their severity. And just as quickly as he made political allies at home and overseas before the elections, Morsi soon lost his secular who supporters who gave him their votes unhappily. With the increasing unpopularity, I, free of any external ideological influence, sincerely think, based on my interpretation of the scene, that there were also numerous attempts to undermine his presidency. Gradually many of supporters decidedly became, or were inched along the spectrum to become, fervent opponents of him. If you were to bet, you would bet that there were no any seculars left who were still on his side. In the morning of June 30, 2013, the streets became fully packed with protesters once again, only this time divided in terms of their stance towards Morsi. Anti-Morsi protesters, an estimated 30 million, were calling for his immediate resignation. Pro-Morsi protesters, on the other hand, who did not seem to be as numerous on the streets as the opponents were, held counter protests to in attempt to prevent the resignation from happening.

Amid atmosphere of volatility, the president gave a speech that was seen by many (including me) as instigative. He attempted to portray the scene as a dichotomy of either him or a potential civil war. In doing so, he greatly emphasized the mandate he had as elected president, trying to solicit further sympathy from his supporters. The next morning, June 3, Commander-in-chief General Sisi unseated the president, put him under home arrest, suspended the constitution, and appointed an interim president. The divide widened. The violence escalated and has continued to this very day.

The question now: Is this a coup d’état? Egypt’s military, top officials, liberal media pundits dismiss this intervention as a coup for the fear of the international ramifications of staging a coup. But the fact of the matter is that it is, by definition. What is yet to be realized, though, is that a coup can be popular and democratic. So instead of asking naively “Is this a coup?” I decided to take the intervention being a coup as a given and rather ask “Is this ‘coup’ democratic?”

An article by the name of The Democratic Coup d’état in The Harvard International Law Journal discusses this question deeply. It points out seven attributes to a democratic coup: the military coup is staged against an authoritarian regime; the military responds to popular opposition against that regime; the authoritarian or totalitarian leader refuses to step down in response to the popular opposition; the coup is staged by a military that is highly respected within the nation, ordinarily because of mandatory conscription; the military executes the coup to overthrow the authoritarian or totalitarian regime; the military facilitates free and fair elections within a short span of time; and the coup ends with the transfer of power to democratically elected leaders.

It is utterly true that the military chose to side with one segment of the people over the other, partly because its interests coincided with their interests, and partly because the Egyptian military, as I understand it, would not be happy to operate under an Islamist regime. But if you were to make your final judgment based on these seven attributes, you will end up concluding, as I have, that this coup, though distasteful for many, is actually democratic. And at the end, I will let you decide for yourself.

Now Washington – very briefly. It is interesting to see this divide in the Egyptian people reflected at the heart of Washington. In his statement on Morsi’s dismissal, President Obama expressed he is “deeply concerned by the decision of the Egyptian Armed Forces to remove President Morsi,” and called on “the Egyptian military to move quickly and responsibly to return full authority back to a democratically elected civilian government as soon as possible.” Yet this statement by Obama completely contrasted with another by a U.S. congressional committee in which they seemed to show support for the ouster.

Whatever your posture is on the two statements, you will realize that no U.S. official utters the word “coup.” The reason is simple. Whether it is a democratic coup or not, under U.S. law, most aid must stop to “any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup d’état or decree” or toppled in “a coup d’état or decree in which the military plays a decisive role.” So, take a wild guess now. What does this mean? It means that the U.S. needs to continue cooperation with Egypt to safeguard its interests in the region. For this cooperation to happen, Egypt offers privileges to the U.S, and the U.S. in return offers money.

Please forget about the romantic myth of “humanitarian aid.” It is politics!

Ahmed Seif is a graduate student of English, from Alexandria, Egypt.