I promised myself (and some friends) I would not comment on the situation. As always, much more prepared people on the ground were going to take charge of dissecting what just happened and what could happen in Egypt. But I casually found the perfect title for the post and decided to write a short post, mainly highlighting what I´ve been reading these last hours. Many people are still wonder whether we can label the events of July 3rd. The main labels, representing the two mainstreams of the opinionionators call for using the words revolution or coup, others in the middle believe it is possible to mix both notions, thus giving birth to strange expressions such as “coupolution” and “coup-ception”. Arabic speakers, on their part, tend to use the word “inqilabution” (inqilab is the Arabic word for coup). Then comes the difficult choice of a suitable epithet: military coup? popular coup? military revolution? These digressions even sparked the creation of the hashtag #whatdoesacouptastelike, which I earnestly urge you to follow. I personally believe that if it looks like a coup, it smells like a coup, it tastes like a coup and above all it feels like a coup, it is a coop. But, what is the matter with that? People (well, at least the millions who were demonstrating in the street and a sizable proportion amongst my Facebook friends) seem to be satisfied (I would even dare to say happy) with the outcome. In this sense, I completely agree with Mada Masr, which is back for good (yay!) and is publishing incredibly insightful articles on the events, like this one about the use of the term coup, in which they cite “The fact that you don’t like or support a coup doesn’t stop it from being one. The fact that there was a popular demand for a coup doesn’t stop it from being one. The fact that power was handed by the military to an unelected civilian that no one even knows does not make it less than a coup“.
A lot of comments criticizing Western media or, for that matter, the West in general (as if we were as homogeneous as its authors claim the Egyptians not to be) have sprung up. Leaving the often unfair bitter criticism aside, some of them stress good points, like this one, whereby “we’re all skeptical (downright distrusting in my case) of the the military, but this IS a popular democratic removal of Morsi. That is not a failure, although what comes next might be. On one point we all agree, Morsi and his so-called Islamist goons cannot continue to hijack this country“. The always optimistic Economist has bluntly titled its new issue “Egypt’s tragedy”. Many may have objected, but I find it fairly accurate. A tragedy is “a play dealing with tragic events” (we can agree Egypt´s current situation is not really buoyant) that “has an unhappy ending” (nobody would have expected the military to be back on track again two years ago), the ending “especially concerning the downfall of the main character” (good-bye, Mr Morsi!). But the tragedy may have not even reached its third and last act…
Was anyone seriously expecting the military’s intervention? Because, as delusional and naive as I often am, I wasn´t, not in the least. In the post I wrote trying to arrange my ideas, I said “taking into account their moot performance prior to Morsi’s elections, the Army would clearly need undisputed popular legitimacy to step in as they did before, pretty aware of which are the challenges and risks: its undemocratic nature making it incapable of building up the broad consensus needed for reform; the current nonexistence of a person/political able to establish control any better than Morsi they could hand power to; the possibility of their reputation being seriously tarnished if they prove incapable of securing Egypt’s streets…” And I have to say I stick to my guns. The Army feel legitimized enough by 33 million people who on June 30th decided to take to the streets, ready to shout good riddance to all these sheeps who had been plunging the country into desperation. Defense Minister Al Sissi was clear when he warned they would not stand still and watch the country slide into chaos. He gave the Muslim Brotherhood 48 hours to assess their situation, get their act together and maybe accept some sort of elegant retreat. Which they did, as Morsi and his team’s sensible offer before the expiry of the deadline (communiqué) prove. But it was too late, the Army could not give up at this point. That would have further alienated the masses and tainted their now immaculate image.
For months, the generals had been wisely putting together their case for intervention, sidelining from the political scene, holding back from criticizing Morsi´s lamentable moves, keeping quiet during the most critical movements waiting for the population to genuinely demand their intercession, quietly replicating the opposition´s main pleas, labeling their decisions as “efforts at a national reconciliation” and, the last straw, refusing to call their intervention a coup. Last Wednesday, with all eyes on him, Al-Sissi repeated the military has no interest in politics and was ousting Morsi because he had failed to fulfill “the hope for a national consensus“. Chapeau! My brilliant friend Alexandre Goudineau has clearly explained what was the real turning point in the relations between the Army and the Muslim Brotherhood: “the choice of evicting General Tantawi from his command was certainly as much an internal coup within the military elite“. But what was in principle an smart sensible necessary move actually represented the beginning of the end for Morsi himself for, as Alex puts it, “the new elite proved much smarter than the old one“. Despite cordial relations between both factions and the advantageous position the Army was granted by the Constitution, the tacit agreement between the two forces had restoring the order in a deeply divided unstable country as its main, and probably only, raison d´être. The dire situation of political and economic instability Egypt was going through hardly befitted the Army which, lest we forget, controls more than a third of the Egyptian economy. This ongoing revolutionary process the Army played a decisive role in sparking has finished by threatening their losing a significant part of its political and economic influence should they not act. And last but not least, it cannot be forgotten than both the Army and the security services, used to be in full control, felt never at ease with an Islamist Commander-in-chief.
The generals have however not been the only actors in this tragedy (apart from the Egyptian people, that is). Other institutions have long shown their eagerness to settle scores with the Islamists. This was the case of the police, a body that from the start has seen itself as the main scapegoat of the 2011 uprising. This was also the case of the judiciary, a body continuously attacked by the Government because of its Mubarak-era credentials, leading to innumerable efforts to reform and restructure them and counter-attacks by their part in the form of sentences trying to erode the Brother’s power. Let´s not forget either the key role played by the media, or rather certain media, in demonising the Brotherhood’s tenure in power, more often than not delighted to highlight each and every gaffe committed by the President and its entourage. And we also have the role played by the so-named “elites”, including many of the crony corrupt capitalists allied with the old regime, accused of being the financial backbone of the opposition, who in my opinion actually vie for power, and do not really fight for a true democracy, or even change in the actual sense of the word.
Was this coup democratic, if you put aside the blatant contradiction in terms? Democracy is supposed to be the “people’s rule”, whether by ballot, by means of a revolution… The ballot box is never a magic wand, and in Egypt it clearly hasn’t prevented sectarian clashes, corruption, social inequality, arrogance and extreme anger in society. Mere elections don’t necessarily reflect democracy. Even democratically elected governments can become dictatorial, hence the need for revolution. And besides, Morsi was elected in a real, Western-approved election (although institutions like the Carter Centre indeed showed their reserves), but he only won 51 per cent of the vote while millions of people boycotted the vote. I can see the point whereby, by aiding a peoples’ revolution, the Egyptian army definitely saved what political scientists call direct democracy. Indeed, the generals were wise not to act until the people started demonstrating in the streets, until many bluntly called for them to use their force as a means to oust Morsi and his cohort. However, it maybe doesn’t matter as, on the other hand, people can’t eat democracy. people can’t eat that legitimacy Morsi held so dear, people can’t eat sharia, as ElBaradei put it.
The main question hinging on my head these days has been: was there an alternative to this nightmare story line? In truth, I don’t believe so: there was no other solution in such an scenario of what could be called “binary politics”. And both the people and the Army were aware of that. Even the Brotherhood had a hint of that. First because, right after February 2011, revolutionaries were never listened to again. Their frustration grew by the day being witness to their revolution, the one they cherished so much, was being kidnapped by many: the Islamists, the “official opposition”, the officers who convinced Mubarak to step down, the West, the Gulf countries… Worse still, after the overreaching November Decree, all the Muslim Brotherhood could do was further pushing away and alienating the youth, once they realized it could not be contained. The Brother’s growing authoritarianism did not help in the least: as Nathan Brown puts it, “Morsi and the Brotherhood made almost every conceivable mistake—including some (such as reaching too quickly for political power or failing to build coalitions with others) that they had vowed they knew enough to avoid“. The aged opposition was not better at this, incapable of both agreeing on a coherent agenda for change and of representing a real threat to Islamists. And then we have the remnants of the former regime (the “feloul”), label in which I would clearly also include the Army, who after the second round of the Presidential elections felt somewhat legitimated to not abandoning the race. Each actor decided to resort to clan-based politics, proving crystal-clear its overall inability to articulate a sensible blueprint that could in one way or the other resolve the stalemate. But January 2011 helped opening a lid that had been built up since the 1950s (or even forever), and the overthrow of Mubarak convinced thousands of Egyptians they were not doomed to stay silent in the face of bad governance, and that they were going to be always able to hold their leaders accountable and, if necessary, take action. That was and remains the main gain of the Revolution. But that is also a double-edged sword, as it leads to the emergence of youths that have never experienced democracy before believing they have the right to overthrow anything not to their liking. They have gotten their way now… Will they get used to that? Will others consider than investing in a peaceful democratic process is simply not worthwhile?
Another question is… is this really an “interim period”? Are Egyptians really in the learning curve of democracy or are they showing they have a much better understanding of the term than most Westerners do? Indeed, few things are more genuinely democratic than peaceful demonstrations announcing the withdrawal of confidence from the President, by the same people who elected this President? What is more democratic than the popular impeachment of a President that betrayed the mandate entrusted to him and above all breached his promise of representing all Egyptians. Last year, when Morsi won, I heard many people say that the revolution was dead and that the 2011 victory of the Egyptian people had been stolen by the Muslim Brotherhood. Egyptians have just proven all these people wrong. For 30 months, the Egyptian population has been showing to the world that it is not willing to let anyone, be it civilian or military, seize their revolution. Nervana brilliantly puts it: “in 2011, Egyptians promised to return to Tahrir if their politicians let them down, and they fulfilled that promise – and in style – on June 30. I have no doubt that they will rise again, and again, if the army or anyone else dares to undermine them or crash their dream“.
Everything Egyptians are fighting for is the end of patriarchy, be it in Islamist attire or military uniforms. Despite of what has been said, they are not that short-sighted, and a sizable majority does not trust the military quite as much as it once did. The thing is that the Army has proven to be pretty perspicacious: won’t they know better how to monopolize power this time, and thus overstay their welcome? Indeed, some really believe this “coup/engineered revolution” has actually led to a counter-revolution which will in turn lead to more fissure within the Egyptian society. Revolutionary language is being appropriated and re-appropriated, and so is revolution itself.
What I am most worried about right now is… what now for the Brothers? Now that they are out of power, it seems a witch hunt against Political Islamists has been declared, maybe out of fear of a backlash from them. First, travel bans were put on Morsi and other top Brotherhood leaders. By the end of the night of July 3rd, Morsi was in military custody and blocked from all communications, and many of his senior aides were under house arrest, arrest coincidentally ordered by the new Mubarak-era prosecutor general. Others are being rounded up. No immediate reasons were given for the detentions, although earlier unconfirmed reports indicated that deposed president Morsi might be charged with treason. Others may be accused of insulting the judiciary or inciting crimes againt the people (while paradoxically Mubarak and company have not really been tried for that). The Brotherhood’s satellite television network has shut down, along with two other popular Islamist channels. Even people working at a branch of the Al Jazeera network considered sympathetic to the Brotherhood were arrested.
If this time around the transition is to produce positive results, it clearly should be based on a truly inclusive approach and should, above all, include the Muslim Brotherhood, together with other Islamists. Before and after June 30, all sides spoke about blood and martyrdom. Sending a message to Islamists whereby they have no place in the political order will certainly sow fears amongst them that they will be subjected to another bloody crackdown. This will undoubtedly spark violent resistance by Morsi’s followers, as the events that are taking place just as I write this post show. The Muslim Brotherhood and their huge network of grass-roots supporters will not simply leave as Mubarak did. After all, it has been a mainstay in Egyptian politics for decades. They were underground and harshly repressed for 84 years, during which their willingness to take over not only the political system, but the whole country grew year after year, chiefly as a result of a decades-long thirst for power. A wakeless sense of victimhood that runs very deep in the psychology of the Brotherhood will certainly not help. So, let’s hear to what FRIDE’s Head of The Middle East Programme Kristina Kausch has to say: “a lesson from last year Egypt: inclusiveness is a precondition for democratic politics. Celebrate, then get Muslim Brotherhood back in the game (if still possible)“.
Apparently, the Army does want all actors to be present in Egypt’s near future. When announcing the new road map, Al-Sissi was flanked by Egypt’s top Muslim and Christian clerics as well as a spectrum of political leaders including Mohamed ElBaradei, Galal Morra, a renowned Salafi leader and the leader of the Tamarrud Movement. This road map, which bore resemblance to those proposed by the April 6 Youth Movement and the Nour Party, has allegedly been devised by all of them: the Constitution has been suspended, the interim President is now Adli Mansour, Chief Justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court, and parliamentary and presidential elections under an interim government will be held more sooner than later. Mr Mansour, who was appointed by Mubarak two decades ago, actually said that Islamists are part of the nation and will, when the time comes, be welcome to help building the nation. Liberal and secular groups have also declared they are opposed to any exclusion of Islamists. But almost no one is denouncing what the Brothers, as hateful as they have been until now, are currently going through. Everybody is aware, and thus afraid, of the fact that, if the Brotherhood is allowed to compete in parliamentary elections, there is a huge chance of them retaking its dominant role in the legislature and taking their revenge.
Even though Winston Churchill said the best argument against democracy was a five-minute conversation with the average voter, the new road map will also have to take into account the millions who welcomed Morsi’s ouster, who were not revolutionaries but just fed up random citizens: they were not getting their hopes up about the future and were not really into the revolutionary theory. These masses basically want both bread and the possibility to live in peace, as well as maybe their offspring being given the opportunity to thrive. The opposition has not up to this point proven able to listen to what they say and, worst of all, are tainted by all shades of bourgeois liberal and nationalist tendencies. And that is why they may still not ready to be raised to power. So… what now? Should current leaders disappear from the political scene and pass the baton to figures who, albeit inexperienced, can really speak up in the name of the people? Or is it wiser to opt for a tiered transition, similar to the one that took place in 2011 but having learnt the lesson? Should true revolutionaries be kept in the margins? The answer, my friends, as silly as this may sound, is blowing in the wind.