“When historians review Mohamed Morsi’s brief presidency, the now-deposed Egyptian leader’s most iconic moment will likely have come one day before he was formally inaugurated,’ says a prominent analyst.
“Addressing a raucous Tahrir Square crowd, Morsi unbuttoned his blazer to reveal that he was not wearing a bulletproof vest and declared, ‘I have nothing to fear, I only fear God, I’m here among you,’” writes Eric Trager, an Egypt expert and Next Generation Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy:
For many Egyptians, the gesture reflected the new era of more representative, post-Hosni Mubarak politics, in which the president’s popular legitimacy served as his first line of physical protection. But it will now go down as Morsi’s “Mission Accomplished” moment, because his insular, often autocratic governing style earned him so many enemies that even his basic electoral legitimacy couldn’t save him.
“What do you call it when the police, state security, old members of the National Democratic Party, the media all rally to bring down the regime?” asked Emad Shahin, a political science professor at the American University in Cairo. “Is that a revolution? If this is the revolution, so be it.”
But this week’s coup amounts to a revival rather than a reversal of Egypt’s democratic transition and a blow against creeping Islamist authoritarianism, says Ezzedine Choukri Fishere, a professor of politics at the American University in Cairo.
Morsi used “reconciliatory rhetoric,” but employed repressive measures “directed only against those who struggled for democracy,” he writes in the Financial Times:
Then came Mr Morsi’s coup. On November 21 he issued a “constitutional declaration” elevating himself and his decisions above legal review. In a nutshell, Egypt was not moving to democracy, but towards Islamist authoritarianism. There was no legal recourse against the neo-authoritarian president. So, we had to take our fight for democracy back to the streets.
“Instead of heeding calls to negotiate a “pact on transition”, [the Brotherhood] focused on extending their control over state institutions:
This antagonized the judiciary, police, military and civil service. They also lost public support. Women felt threatened. Islamist television channels showered the public with fatwas that made the majority of Egyptians shiver. The Brotherhood did little to alleviate sectarianism. Brotherhood businessmen expanded, piling pressure on older businesspeople. All in all, Mr Morsi and his Brothers antagonized almost all of Egypt.
”We don’t see military intervention to save our lives from Morsi’s terrorists as a coup”, said young activist Dalia Ziada, who directs the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies in Cairo:
A March country-wide survey of 1,000 people conducted by the Ibn Khaldun Center – founded in 1988 by human rights activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim – showed that 82% favored a return of the armed forces as the way out of the crisis in Egypt, with 46% of these favoring interim army rule until stability could be restored, followed by a new Charter and free and transparent elections.
Interpretations of the coup differ between those who emphasize process and those who emphasize substance, says a prominent commentator:
“Those who emphasize process have said that the government of President Mohamed Morsi was freely elected and that its democratic support has been confirmed over and over,” David Brooks writes for the New York Times:
The most important thing, they say, is to protect the fragile democratic institutions and to oppose those who would destroy them through armed coup. Democracy, the argument goes, will eventually calm extremism. Members of the Muslim Brotherhood may come into office with radical beliefs, but then they have to fix potholes and worry about credit ratings and popular opinion. Governing will make them more moderate.
Those who emphasize substance, on the other hand, argue that members of the Muslim Brotherhood are defined by certain beliefs. They reject pluralism, secular democracy and, to some degree, modernity. When you elect fanatics, they continue, you have not advanced democracy. You have empowered people who are going to wind up subverting democracy.
“World events of the past few months have vindicated those who take the substance side of the argument. It has become clear — in Egypt, Turkey, Iran, Gaza and elsewhere — that radical Islamists are incapable of running a modern government,” he contends:
Once elected, the Brotherhood subverted judicial review, cracked down on civil society, arrested opposition activists, perverted the constitution-writing process, concentrated power and made democratic deliberations impossible. ….Islamists might be determined enough to run effective opposition movements and committed enough to provide street-level social services. But they lack the mental equipment to govern. Once in office, they are always going to centralize power and undermine the democracy that elevated them…..
“It’s possible for a military coup to advance democratic development — but it’s rare, and the bar is pretty high,” she contends, outlining six thoughts on Egypt’s revolutionary coup:
- The burden is heavy now on the Egyptian military to demonstrate that the new transitional authority can and will govern in a transparent, restrained manner, and move the country swiftly back to democratic rule. Note that el-Sisi’s roadmap had no dates attached for a return to democratic rule.
- The United States has a law on the books that demands an immediate cutoff of aid in the event of a military coup. …. The law should be swiftly invoked in the Egyptian case, and used to hold the Egyptian military accountable for swift progress on their transition roadmap.
- Both the Brotherhood and the transitional authorities have choices to make that could determine whether Egypt moves toward greater stability or toward civil strife. If the Brotherhood chooses to resist the coup violently, the state has the capabilities to crush their efforts — but the price will be heavy…..
- Morsi governed in an exclusionary manner that derailed Egypt’s nascent democratic transition — the new transitional authority must not make the same mistake. …. Any attempt to ban Islamist parties per se, or to forcibly secularize the public sphere, will alienate not only Brotherhood members but that majority of Egyptians who tell pollsters that they believe politics should reflect the influence of Islam.
- …. The police and security services were responsible for terrible abuses of power during the Mubarak regime and after. Thus, thorough reform of the Interior Ministry will be essential to ensure that the police and security services do not take advantage of this transitional period to institutionalize their autonomy and prerogatives — as the military did during Morsi’s brief reign.
- Now that democracy’s been overridden in the name of defending “freedom,” will salafi groups see a reason to stay in the political game? Will those who abandon the field return to quietism, or to arms? My greatest worry is that this coup, if followed by undue repression against Islamists, will drive the creation of a new generation of Islamist terrorists in Egypt. …
But no democracy endures unless the electorate is proficient at ridding itself of self-serving politicians, writes Georgetown University’s David A. Super. Egyptians are showing they have learned that crucial lesson, he writes for the LA Times:
The Muslim Brotherhood could have shown a commitment to democracy by appointing an impartial election commission, passing an election law to ensure transparency and allowing Egyptian voters to replace the parliament that Egypt’s Supreme Court held was unlawfully chosen. ….. Instead, he retained the illegitimate (Islamist-dominated) parliament and presided over continued repression, including a high-profile trial in which several dozen members of nongovernmental organizations were convicted of doing voter education work without a license, much of it supported with U.S. aid.
No democracy can long endure unless the electorate is proficient at ridding itself of self-serving politicians who betray the public trust, Super concludes.