Thus spoke the Egyptians: Why is it not a coup?

Ziad A. Akl
8 Min Read
Ziad Akl
Ziad Akl
Ziad Akl

When we celebrated the end of Mubarak’s rule on 11 February 2011, we did not expect to do it again two and a half years later. This is not one of the articles that talk about how great the Egyptian people are, and start taking you in an endless journey through historical achievements that date back thousands of years before Christ. I believe all of that is useless irrelevant rhetoric. What really matters now is a simple question that is very difficult to answer, and that is simply “what the hell happened?”

Westerners in general, Americans in specific, tend to be extremely occupied with the coup-revolution debate. It is a very confusing debate simply because there are signs that could be interpreted as a military coup. But any attempt to try and understand any of those signs would settle that debate. Mohamed Morsi and the rest of the Islamist movement in Egypt argue that according to the constitution, which people democratically chose, Morsi is the “legitimate” president and any attempt to overthrow him would be a coup d’etat.

While it would look like it makes sense on the outside, it does not make any sense in reality. Democracy is not something that you practice once every four years. Elected officials are held accountable on a daily basis and not only when elections come around. Similarly, constitutions are not merely a matter of texts eloquently phrased, procedurally accurate while being practically blind to evident truths. Democratic constitutions are made of principles that lead to justice and equality.

According to the Egyptian constitution of 2012, a president is to be deposed according to specific conditions. In article 152, the president is accused of grand treason by a petition signed by one third of parliament members and agreed on by two thirds of parliament members. As soon as this accusation is made, the president is suspended from office and put on trial before a special court that relieves the president from duty. What should be done procedurally for the vacancy in the President’s position is laid out in articles that follow. However, even in the Muslim Brotherhood’s engineered constitution, a President accused of grand treason by two thirds of the Parliament is unfit to rule. Roughly, the Egyptian Parliament is comprised of 500 members, which makes two thirds of the Parliament about 330 members. Now, the total number of those who voted in the Parliamentary elections in 2011 and 2012 is 27 million, two thirds of that figure is 18 million. The number of those who signed the “Tamarod” petition and took to the streets to clearly state Morsi’s inability to rule is a lot more than that since it is more than 20 million (as reported by Tamarod).

Jeopardizing Egyptian national security interests is an act of grand treason. Threatening the regional interests of Egypt is another act of treason, so as lying to the people, refusing to be held accountable and cracking down on the independence of the judiciary are all acts of treason. Every act Mohamed Morsi committed in which he violated the oath he took to care for Egyptian interests is indeed an act of grand treason. The deteriorating security of Sinai and the water security issue with Ethiopia are enough reasons to accuse Mohamed Morsi of threatening Egyptian national security, which in itself is a violation of the presidential oath he took. The constitutional principle is the same: presidents unfit to rule must be deposed. Why wait for 330 parliament members when the millions who would elect them decided to represent themselves? The point of constitutional procedure is to reflect the principles from which they stem. What happened in Egypt on Wednesday night is a very accurate reflection of the constitutional principle in article 152. The logical question after that would be how come these millions were not represented in the presidential election result?

The real problem with Mohamed Morsi’s legitimacy was how non-representative it was. Actually, the political process that took place over the past couple of years in Egypt is not representative of the Egyptian people as much as it is representative of Egyptian techniques of electoral manipulation. The legitimacy which Mohamed Morsi counted as cause for his validity stems from how well the Muslim Brotherhood administered the elections. The parliament elected in 2011 and 2012 that had almost 66% Islamists was not reflective of Egypt’s social and political forces, it was rather reflective of the political opportunity the Muslim Brotherhood efficiently utilized. Religious manipulation and capitalizing on poverty and ignorance were the main tools the Muslim Brotherhood used in all elections. Mohamed Morsi and the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood Guidance Bureau knew very well how their pseudo-legitimacy came about. The millions who took to the streets on 30 June challenged that legitimacy which was too weak to actually stand its ground.

It is true that what happened in Egypt remains to be far from what the January revolution envisioned. But what is important to notice is how those past two and a half years did not witness any real democratic developments. The political process that took place since February 2011 was based on non-representative pseudo-democracy. Tangible democratic change does not exist yet, which means that Egypt clearly was on the wrong track. What happened in Egypt a couple of days ago is a lot more conducive of a real process of democratic change than Morsi’s non-representative legitimacy. No one can claim that the post-Morsi phase will be free of problems or mistakes, but any objective Judgment of Morsi’s administration would prove how much of a failure it was. It is indeed very difficult to challenge Mohamed Morsi’s inefficiency.

If democracy is a matter of principle, then submitting to the will of the millions who took to the streets all across Egypt is the very basic application of that principle. In a democracy, legitimacy comes from the people and the people are entitled to claim it back. Whatever explanation looks at what happened in Egypt as a coup ignores an important dimension and that is the Egyptian people. It would have been a coup if it were strictly a matter of army-presidency confrontation. But applying the will of the people to remove an inefficient president who is incapable of fulfilling his oath is rational democratic behaviour.

Overthrowing Mohamed Morsi is not a power hungry undemocratic coup; it is simply the most practical manifestation of the people’s right to rule their own country.

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Ziad A. Akl is a political analyst and sociologist. He is a senior researcher at the Egyptian Studies Unit in Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.