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Egypt’s coup de quoi!?

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Khaled Diab

Khaled Diab

What happened in Egypt was not a ‘coup’. It was the millions on the streets, not dressed in khaki, who democratically ejected Morsi. Now they must finish the job of removing the military from politics.

As an Egyptian abroad, I cannot but bow my head in admiration and appreciation at what my compatriots have achieved back home… again. In the space of less than two-and-a-half years, millions and millions of ordinary men and women with no previous experience in revolt have bravely and unflinchingly stared down and defied authority… and shaken its authority to the core.

They endured hardship, intimidation, violence and constant uncertainty to topple a tyrant, send the generals scurrying to take cover behind the veil of a flawed democracy, and bring down a would-be dictator-in-the-making.

The sight of millions and millions of people setting aside their daily worries and rivalries to come out again and again and again to tell their leaders – Hosni Mubarak, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the Muslim Brotherhood – never again will we tolerate dictatorship has been truly inspiring to behold.

And it is not just the big picture. Zoom into the imposing, awe-inspiring crowds and you witness thousands of individual stories that can bring tears to your eyes, make your chest swell with pride, storm your brain, flood your emotions, raise your spirits with a chuckle and even restore your faith in humanity (at least for a while).

And all this from people who, until 25 January 2011, were seen, and saw themselves, as apathetic, even docile, in the face of authority. “Why do the Egyptian people not rise up?” was a common question, famously asked by Alaa al-Aswani, but also other concerned Egyptians, including myself.

Today, Egyptians have not only rewritten their political rulebook, but they need to think about revising their phrasebook of popular proverbs. Out will go such defeatist sayings as “Keep away from harm and sing to it”, “Shut the door that brings in a draught” and “The eye cannot rise above the brow”.

With all this in mind, it is unsurprising that millions were swept up in an irresistible tsunami of elation, and partied all night long. But a collective hangover is bound to set in once people wake up to the Herculean tasks still ahead – and the worrying signs of new clouds forming up above and on the horizon.

But not everyone was celebrating. The Muslim Brotherhood and the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), and their supporters were, in contrast, actively grieving. This is, of course, understandable. After decades of waiting underground and then in the wings, they not only lost their newfound grip on power, they also saw their president arrested, as well as other leading Brothers, and a number of Islamist broadcasters shut down, not to mention Al Jazeera Mubashir.

This sends out troubling signals of a return to the bad old days when the Brotherhood was barely tolerated, outlawed or outright persecuted. We must be vigilant that this never occurs; that the Islamists remain part of Egypt’s political landscape and that they are allowed to make future bids for power. Not only is this what freedom and equality are about, it also avoids their grievances boiling over to create a more toxic conflict.

Muslim Brotherhood sympathisers are understandably – though hypocritically, given how Mohamed Morsi tried to turn the presidency into a Brotherhood fiefdom and all the antidemocratic measures he passed – crying foul, and claiming that what happened in Egypt was a ‘military coup d’etat’.

While I can see why Brotherhood/FJP supporters would use such a charged term in this context. Less understandable is why the term is being bandied around by so many in the Arab and Western media. In fact, given how much blood, sweat and tears millions have invested in ousting Mohamed Morsi, many Egyptians must feel insulted that their defiant efforts are being so apparently denigrated.

Although some who use the ‘C’ word do so out of vested interests, many others do so out of genuine concern. Coups are usually antidemocratic and lead to the rise of dictators and authoritarianism. And I see where the confusion is coming from: the army serves a 48-hour ultimatum and then deposes the democratically elected leader.

Indeed, the army did forcibly remove Morsi from office, but this was not the product of a secret plot in murky underground sleeper cells, but was the response to what have been described as the biggest protests in Egyptian, some say human, history. And the millions of people out on the streets who forced the military to take such drastic action were not wearing khaki, as far as I could see.

If we’re going to describe the events of the past days as a ‘coup’, should we also call the entire Egyptian revolution a ‘palace coup’. After all, even if the 18 days of protest put the sword in front of Mubarak, it was the SCAF which pushed him to fall on it. Moreover, the army has not yet really gone away, given that it set the rules of the ‘democratic’ during the transitional phase, the red lines it set, and how it is believed to still hold major backroom influence over Egypt’s political machinery.

Besides, all the hand-wringing over the unceremonious jettisoning of Egypt’s first democratically elected leader overlooks the crucial rider that Morsi was also democratically ejected. Democracy is ultimately about the will of the people. Just as voters give politicians mandates, they can withdraw them – and they don’t need to wait to do it via the ballot box if the need is pressing, and they can deliver their vote of no confidence via the streets.

And what a spectacular vote of no confidence it was. When he was voted into office last year, Morsi managed only a puny 13.2 million votes, even though he was running only against one candidate, Ahmed Shafiq. Meanwhile, with turnout at just over half and many actively boycotting the vote, the ‘no’ candidate got about as many votes as the two hopefuls combined.

Contrast this with the estimated 17 million people who took to the streets on 30 June, and the millions more after. That’s not to mention the 22 million signatures the Tamrod petition managed to collect.

Those who argue that the electorate should have kept their grievances for the ballot box ignore the fact that the street is a legitimate democratic forum – in fact, it is the purest form of direct democracy – as reflected by the constitutional protection of people’s right to protest in every mature democracy.

And those who refuse to acknowledge that Egyptians don’t yet live in a stable system like the UK’s – which hasn’t experienced a coup since Oliver Cromwell dissolved the Rump parliament in 1653 – do not generally offer much of an alternative. What was the population to do in the face of Morsi’s stubborn refusal to cede power? Storm the Bastille, so to speak, with all the loss of life that would’ve involved? Descend into civil war like Syria and Libya did? Perhaps had Syria’s generals forced Bashar al-Assad out, the situation there would be imperfect but far better than today.

While concerns over the potentially dangerous precedent this sets are valid, if a future president faces the same level of widespread and sustained opposition (s)he deserves to go. In addition, a neglected flipside is that if Morsi had been left to nourish his pseudo-dictatorial tendencies, that would have also set a perhaps more dangerous precedent in a country where the spectre of dictatorship has still not gone away.

Some might see this as little more than a debate over semantics. But this is hugely politicised terminology, which can be used, in the wrong hands, to de-legitimise the revolution and the unprecedented opposition to Morsi.

I should stress that all of the above does not mean that Egyptians should trust much less express undying devotion to the military, as a worrying number of people are doing. The people and the army are not a “single hand”. After six decades of military or ex-military dictators, we can safely say that the army got us into this mess in the first place. Moreover, while some in the SCAF undoubtedly act out of an interest in the greater good, collectively the generals are out to preserve, as much as they can, what is left of the military’s privileged status.

This underscores the crucial point that Egyptians should not just say ‘no’ to Morsi, but also to the military. Egypt is under new management, and that management is the people.

____

Egypt’s latest experiment with democracy has highlighted a number of important flaws, that the presidency is still too powerful and that the party politics of the established opposition is fairly dysfunctional. Instead of trying to impose an unsuitable Western form, I believe Egypt should dare to dream and move forward towards its own unique model, one based on direct democracy, with a ceremonial president and elected representatives but no parties. I will make the case for this in my next article.

About the author

Khaled Diab

Khaled Diab

Khaled Diab is an Egyptian journalist, writer and blogger. He writes for a range of leading publications in Europe, the Middle East and the United States. He has spent half his life in the Middle East and the other half in Europe. His website is www.chronikler.com. Follow him on @DiabolicalIdea

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  • Dave Alexander

    I`m sorry but this seems just like an apologist article and does not suit the optics of the situation. Saying that the military were acting democratically because the protests gave them a mandate to act a thinly veiled excuse to oust a democratically elected leader. One might not agree with his policies one might protest and give express great displeasure, but an ideal democracy should not resort to intervention. When the Iraq war protests were at the height during Bush`s reign the closest thing to military invention even contemplated were impeachment proceedings. The true democratic course is to show the one`s displeasure at the ballot box, and grin ones teeth and bare the policies, saying to oneself, not again not again.

    • me

      That would be a valid argument, if Morsi hadn’t been infringing on the judicially, and behaving unilaterally, trying to build up a regime. calling this a coup ignores everything we Egyptians have been doing for the last two months trying to get the army to move. I seriously don’t appreciate having my efforts side linned, and all the credit given to the military.

  • Adiba Mina

    There are over 80 million people in Egypt and there were also the ex President’s supporters marching as well. Do they not count as people too. Oh I forget, they do not count. Their votes do not count either it seems.

    • me

      then why did you support the Mubarak ouster. He had less people against him, then those against Morsi.

      Also, there are 50 million people with the right to vote. 33 million, according to google, were on the street on june 30th. I believe that is 2/3

      • Adiba Mina

        I did not support Mubarak ouster or not support it, it happened before I could blink, to be honest and he was not elected.

        The opposition lost two votes, lost and they continually were on this man, throwing petrol bombs at his palace. I was in Egypt and they did not let up.

        I also have two friends in Egypt, one in opposition who shows me pictures of his march and another in support of the ex President. Throngs of people. So out of all the people on the street, who can tell from pictures in the media who supports and who does not, especially when both sides are carrying Egyptians flags. At a distance you just cannot tell.

        The Opposition just could not win at the ballot box. So they went the thug way.

        So if someone can prove that each an everyone of those people marching were into a coup to overthrow the government, then you can say popular… but you cannot prove it.

        • Hisham Yehia

          Please get your eyesight checked!!

      • sensi

        Ah the ridiculous “33 million” forged figure, a plain deceptive propaganda pushed by your beloved military the days leading to the coup, with the head of the armed force inventing such a quote from CNN, others anonymous military source claiming that there were “up to 14 million”, etc, pure fabricated lie, all that in order to claim that they had some kind of legitimacy while responding to “the people”, while it was a minority of sore losers having lost the elections. Please provide us one single serious news report mentioning those alleged “33 millions”, you won’t find one.

        • me

          CNN is biased. If you don’t believe the 33 million calculate it yourself. Each person takes up about 0.5m2. divide that by the total area covered by the protests and you’ll have the number of protests.

          • me

            16 mil m2 were covered. ( you can get this information by looking at pictures from google earth) Its not very difficult math for any idiot prepared to do it.

          • sensi

            Lol? Google earth and you have real time report about the demonstration surface? Don’t make me laugh, demonstration numbers are always inflated by their organizers even in liberal democracies, but in Egypt it is the Head of the Army the propagandist in chief doubling the figure of even the most favorable and partisan military reports…

          • sensi

            CNN isn’t biased per se, your army Head of States just invent forged quotes from them to justify its coup d’Etat. I am sure you will be able to tell us the m2 took by the demonstrations in order to calculate this figure…

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  • sensi

    People are just too stupid and immature to notice that they have just killed democracy, every other democratically elected official can now be toppled by the autocratic army and an electoral minority of sore losers who just have to cripple the country for a few months before calling the partisan military junta for a coup, they will celebrate for now but it is more than a Pyrrhus victory, just wait and see…

    • fpleti2

      I believe that is why it is called a coup.

      For democracy to be successful one must have an educated electorate.

      • me

        Says the person who wasn’t there, but instead is getting all their information from American media…yea…educated…

        • fpleti2

          It is perhaps best that Egypt follows its own course into the oncoming darkness that is dictatorship. The generals know best and they will instruct the people how to act. Egypt understands this type of governance as evidenced by the people embracing Mubarak for thirty years. Do what the generals say and that will suffice to be Egypt’s form of democracy. Given these same generals 18 months ago were scorned and derided by the electorate that now screams for their intervention.

          Does that strike you as an educated or uneducated electorate?

    • me

      That would be true if the army hadn’t acted in response to the people. Please stop side lining the two months I spent trying to get my army to step in. The could not have done it if it weren’t for me.

      • sensi

        Don’t make me laugh, the army was all part of that staged “popular request” all made from the elections losing oppositions and the mubarak pals among the State, ludicrously forging the numbers of supposed demonstrators in order to claim some kind of legitimacy and “popular support” for their coup…

        • me

          darling, if you can’t be bothered to look at the crowds yourself and calculate the numbers assuming that each person takes up .5m2 , then you hardly have the right to talk about the army.

          • sensi

            Meh, the Head of the Egyptian army claimed “33 millions according to CNN” which is a blatant lie and a forged misquote, while others “anonymous military sources” were claiming “up to 14 million”. I am alone to see plain propaganda and discrepancy there? Stop being a dog of Pavlov and a tool for propagandists.

            Your army is a disgrace, corrupting and profiting over Egypt economy and people like a mafia, having denied any Egypt democracy for decades with their military junta dictatorship before killing it those last weeks with a coup d’état.

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  • JA JA

    Can you put LIPSTICK ON A PIG, and then take her out to dinner?

    According to the author of this article, this is possible only in Egypt. Mr. Diab, I hope you enjoy your dinner with your date. Although I have to warn you, things will get too complicated after second base!

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  • sam enslow

    “Coup” is not a moral word. Coups can be good or bad and even necessary. There are, however, legal reasons that make the word one that everyone in the US and Egypt wants to avoid. In this case the coup happened because of a well known error, elections took place prior to having a constitution. What happened here would be close to what we call a “recall petition” enforced by the military. Ideally, there should have been a refrendum on the matter. Trouble is that was impossible.
    The fear of ousting Morsy by coup or any extra-legal means involves radical Islam both in Egypt and other countries. Many Salafi’s and other believe power can only be gained through force. Great efforts have been made to get the Taliban and others to participate in the political process. Some did. But now the dangerous ones can say, “Look what happened to Morsy and The Brothers.” Patterson’s suggestion was valid and it appears the youth of the Rebel group could have won legislative elections and a new government reduced Morsy to greeting visitors. However, I doubt elections would have ever happened under The Brothers or if they did, they would have been Stalinist in nature.
    There is a knee jerk reaction to anything the US says or does here. This too is incorrect, the validity of an idea has nothing to do with the sincerity of the person expressing it.

    • sam enslow

      I need to add something. I wish Egyptians would look at the nature of the governments fully supporting it (kings) and those who have voiced concerns (not objections). They are democracies.

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  • peter

    disgusted by this obviously biased smear.


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