Here we go again
3 July, 2013
After nearly a week of demonstrations, reportedly the largest in the world’s history, the Egyptian military stepped in and overthrew former President Mohammed Morsi, suspended the country’s constitution, and named a three-member civilian panel to assist the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court as they chart a course to parliamentary and presidential elections and amend the constitution’s more controversial articles.
I’m semi-lucid as I’m between night shifts right now, but here are my thoughts:
1. The status quo- the paralyzing degree of political polarization and state of institutional warfare between the presidency and judiciary- simply could not hold. Egypt has been choking to death on the poor relationship between Morsi’s (former) government, and the country has been on the verge of a serious breakdown on every level for some time. The June 30 demonstrations were the death knell for Morsi’s government as it existed, but much like Mubarak, Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood signed their own fate by not recognizing it and defiantly holding out until the last moment.
However, as I pointed out in my last entry, I am troubled by the notion that if people don’t like a democratically-elected president, they can simply overthrow him. Like it or not, Morsi was legitimately elected, and it is indisputable that the majority of the people calling for his overthrow were also the ones who held their noses and voted for him last year. While there were obviously institutional impediments to removing Morsi through the political process, it’s my inclination as a liberal democrat (in the classical sense) to be highly wary of such an outcome that doesn’t arrive via the institutions of government. I’m pondering the broader question about whether it’s right for citizens to overthrow a democratically elected leader who doesn’t govern democratically, but it’s not a debate that I can really explore here and now given my level of sleep deprivation and more pressing matters.
2. The army appears to have learned from its previous mistakes. I wrote in my last entry that while they would be players in whatever happens, they wouldn’t attempt to govern openly, and it appears (for now) that this has been the case. They’ve been the instrument through which Morsi was overthrown, but they are not taking ownership of the transition process. Appointing the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar University Ahmed al-Tayyeb, the Pope of the Coptic Church Tawdros II, and Mohammed el-Baredai to assist Adli Mansour, the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court, was a very telling move- Baredai will assuage the liberal intelligentsia element of the opposition, Tayyeb will placate devout Muslims, and Tawdros will help mute Coptic Christian fears. This was a good move, and having the head of the judiciary run things is probably about as minimally controversial as anyone could hope for- the judiciary has always had somewhat of an independent streak, and aside from the military, they seem to enjoy more public support than any of Egypt’s other institutions.
3. I am worried- very worried- about the Muslim Brotherhood could react to this. Morsi’s 2012 election was the high-water mark of the Brotherhood’s 80 years in existence, and many of them saw this as the validation of a history that saw them victims of a cycle of repression under Nasser, co-optation under Sadat, and a mixture of both under Mubarak. For them to win power through the popular vote and then lose it a year later represents the largest defeat they have ever- EVER- been handed, and is likely to enrage them. There’s a sit-in going on in Cairo’s Nasr City neighborhood right now, and I hope that cooler heads will prevail. The potential for violent civil strife on a population-wide level is higher than at any point that it’s been in the past two and a half years. However, given that no one seems to know where Morsi is and he just delivered a pre-recorded speech rejecting his own overthrow, I worry.
This is a major defeat for the Brotherhood, but this is not the end of the project of political Islam in Egypt. It’s very interesting to note that Al-Nour, the party of the Salafist Dawa (Call), has supported Morsi’s overthrow and the military’s transition road map. Al-Nour is likely to benefit from the Brotherhood’s ouster, and it will be interesting to see how they interact with the secular and liberal opposition. The Salafists are several degrees more conservative than the Brotherhood, but over the past few years, they’ve also developed a reputation of being less combative and more pragmatic than the Brotherhood.
4. I’ve previously criticized both the opposition and the Brotherhood for subscribing to a majoritarian interpretation of democracy, and if there’s a time to abandon that mindset, it is NOW. Like it or not, the Brotherhood has a large number of members throughout the country, and their voices must be heard going forward. They cannot be driven underground or excluded from the political process- while I don’t predict a period akin to de-Baath’ification in 2003 Iraq, I am concerned that the opposition (well, ruling organization now, I guess) will try to exclude them from politics under the guise of “protecting the revolution.” As sincere as this desire may be, it’s the wrong one to put into practice right now.
Right now, I watch events in Egypt with equal parts hope and fear. On one hand, I am always amazed by the ferocity with which Egyptians have assumed control over their own destiny. They won’t allow themselves to be oppressed by a Pharaoh again, and their fearlessness is truly inspiring. However, I am deeply concerned as we are now back to the same situation that we were on February 12, 2011- an unpopular leader has once again been ousted by the military, and the country’s institutions are in shambles. I’m reminded of a quote from an Egyptian opposition member I saw shortly after the 2011 revolution- “If we pull this off, we’ll be Turkey in ten years. If we don’t, we’ll be Pakistan.” I continue to hope for the former, but I’m increasingly wary of the latter.