As the latest developments in Egypt continue to unfold, observers debate on how to accurately define what has transpired in the country when the armed forces acted swiftly and decisively against president Morsi by issuing an ultimatum and then laying out a road map that deposes the elected president and suspends the constitution.
From one side, some asserted that this is a textbook coup d’etat as indicated by the blatant military interference in the political life to oust the first democratically elected president. According to this view, the democratic process that was initiated after the ouster of Mubarak took a heavy blow and the rare opportunity for democratization in Egypt was aborted. On the other side, some claimed that this is a full-fledged revolution against an incompetent and an autocratic president, which convinced the armed forces of the exigency and the urgency to step in to guarantee that people’s demands are met. The advocates of this view argue that this is not a typical military seizure of power as the generals acted in response to a wave of genuine popular rage at a president who betrayed the revolution and its objectives. Others promoted the notion that military coups can accompany a revolution to ensure its success, and that a potential new role for the military worldwide is to support a popular uprising. This controversy on the proper terminology, however, leads us to miss the true and tragic predicament that Egypt finds itself in nowadays.
First, the military intervention confirms the failure of Egypt’s political class. Egyptian politicians, from the entire political spectrum, squandered an unprecedented opportunity for civilians to administer the political scene in Egypt without the shadow of the top brass. Their ineptitude is expressed in the seeming unwillingness of the opposition to accept the outcomes of the successive elections, and in the inability of the Muslim Brotherhood to reach out to others to build a political consensus. This will continue to be a handicap that will not permit the country to develop a mature political arena, where sophisticated politicians can make compromises and find common grounds in order to avert a looming crisis. This handicap will continue to afflict Egypt as the latest developments deprived the civilians an opportunity to learn that the only course of action that is viable to avoid a crisis is to practice politics, and not to take the easy way of depending on the armed forces to save the day.
Second, some are unaware of the complications of a reinstatement of the military into the political scene. The Egyptian army was able to reclaim its popularity during the last year as it declared a lack of desire to be an involved party. But popularity, sometimes, can be ephemeral. The major ingredient in the regard for the army by the Egyptian people was its neutrality. If the army sinks once more into the quagmire of the Egyptian politics, the top brass would likely find itself forced to take unpopular decisions. This is reminiscent of the predicament that the military had to deal with, during the period in which the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) administered the transition period. The possible loss of popularity is a serious threat to Egypt’s national security.
Third, the military interference will set a precedent that will allow the shadow of the armed forces to continue to haunt the political scene in Egypt for years to come. The powerful armed forces presented themselves in the last few days as the guardians of stability and the custodians of national security. These claims can be used in the future as a pretext for further interference in political life whenever the politicians act against the will of the military establishment. This will be the case whether the military leaders acted now on good intentions or not. Any future leadership of the army can even contrive an environment with a veneer of revolution to sidestep any electoral outcomes that are not to their liking. This likelihood will continue to jeopardize the delicate democratic transition in Egypt.
Fourth, one of the main challenges that confronted Egypt and the other Arab nations in the wake of their “spring” was to subordinate the will of the top brass to civilian leadership. The military interference in Egypt pushes the army back to the center stage in Egyptian politics. The armed forces consolidated its position as a “kingmaker” and “powerbroker”. Future leadership in Egypt will not dare to defy the armed forces nor try to limit their authority. This is a serious hurdle to any process of democratization that attempts to strengthen civilian oversight on the country’s institutions.
Fifth, the Egyptian military proved inexperienced to run the country during the transition period after the ouster of Mubarak. The SCAF failed to produce a propitious atmosphere for a smooth transition. This led them to end up facing the chanting in the streets of “down with the military rule” by some disgruntled and outraged revolutionaries. The claim that the military handed power to a civilian judge, in this case, does not disguise the fact that the actual decision making will be in the hands of the military leaders who will remain behind closed curtains. This implies that the incompetence that prevailed before will continue to afflict the country for a while to come.
Sixth, the reaction of those who felt denied of the opportunity to rule can be unpredictable. Some have even warned that it could take on the dimensions of the Algerian scenario after the outcome of the election, in which the Islamists were poised to win, was annulled by the military. The civil war that followed claimed thousands of casualties. If events in Egypt lead jihadi groups to pledge to fight back, the military will find itself in a true predicament. The army’s coercive power, deploying troops and heavy weaponry, is too blunt an instrument to be used against its civilian opponents who are spread all over the country. The military interference can be a prelude to long years of instability, chaos, turmoil, end even potentially a civil war.
Seventh, one of the significant developments in recent years was the decision by some Islamist groups to accept the concept of democracy and commit to playing by the rules of the democratic game. The intellectual propositions by various Islamic scholars, besides the revisions adopted by several Islamist groups, contributed to the creation of a synthesis between Islamists and democracy. This achievement has been to the benefit of the countries, such as Egypt, that struggled for a while from extremism and terrorist activities. The military interference to depose a president with an Islamist background will cause a potentially violent end to Egypt’s democratic experience by breathing new life into the ideological allegations of the radicals and reviving the appeal of extremist attitudes.
Eighth, the latest development will deepen the grievances that are expressed in the narrative of persecution and oppression amidst the Islamists. Such a course of action will reinforce a sense of victimhood. This sentiment of injustice can act as a justification for further acts of retaliation. The military interference against an Islamist president will also send a dreadful communication to Islamists everywhere, as it fuels a sense that democracy is a system that works for everyone except them. The conclusion they will draw from the events in Egypt is that, if they gain power through elections, their opponents will use all means to overthrow them. So if they are allowed to assume power, they will attempt to cement their powers further to avoid a recurrence of the latest events.
Ninth, there were other choices available to the army leaders, as they could have imposed checks and balances that would have fettered the president’s hands, or use their influence to coerce the opposition and the administration to reach a peaceful resolution. The military ignored these alternatives, and adopted the demands of one faction on the expense of the other. This gives an impression that the military is biased and impartial, and accordingly will tie their hands in the future to act as an arbiter between political opponents.
Tenth, the latest developments will lead democracy advocates to face a profound question: how can democracy flourish in an environment where elections and referendums can be negated in a moment. Contesting political factions have to trust the elections mechanism as a means for a peaceful transfer of power. The military interference left Egypt with the predicament of establishing a credible, sustainable, and stable democracy after repudiating one. Mob rule, abetted by a military interference, to depose an elected official undermines any regard for the mechanisms that ensure a peaceful transfer of power and for the institutional procedures that are designed to allow for political change. This demolishes the foundations of any future prospects for democracy in Egypt.
Eleventh, if the latest developments are followed by sidelining the Muslim Brotherhood and their allies, future elections are unlikely to have much credibility if the people are barred from electing the candidates they put into office a year ago. The latest shut down of media outlets that propagate the Islamists’ points of view and the arrests of their prominent leaders is sufficient evidence that an exclusionary approach towards those who supported the president is underway. This will not allow future elections to have much credibility.
Twelvth, the latest turn of events is likely to further divide and polarize the Egyptian society, which has been hounded by an intense discourse over the issues of the identity of the state, the proper frame of reference, and the role of religion in politics. This will be exacerbated especially because the military is perceived to have sided with those who are considered to have more secular tendencies. Thus, the country will continue to be held hostage to an elitist vernacular that does not deal with the daily ordeals of the Egyptian people.
Thirteenth, the military interference will tempt any future opposition away from attempting to win an upcoming election to other alternatives. Political factions who know the election’s outcome will not be in their favor will forgo the democratic game altogether, opting for the guardianship of the army. This military interference sets a precedent that will encourage the disgruntled few to try to eject governments not by convincing their constituency to vote them out but by disrupting their administration to an extent where the military has no other option but to interfere.
Fourteenth, the latest developments will cause trust between the competing groups to be almost impossible to restore. Suspicion and distrust have been the culprits for the inability of both sides to come together with a peaceful conclusion out of the crisis. Their presumptions about the intentions of each other prevented them from even attempting to negotiate a way out of the deadlock. The latest developments will augment this sense of distrust, and any discussion in the future about national reconciliation will be devoid of content.
Fifteenth, the opposition campaign that led to the military interference included different groups that shared one desire in common, which was to get rid of the Muslim Brotherhood and their allies. These groups include the army and the police, who tilted the balance of power towards the opposition, in addition to the “felool”, or the remnants of Mubarak’s regime, with their tremendous wealth, media outlets, connections to deep-state institutions, and regional allies. At the bottom of the chain lie the revolutionaries. This implies that those who assembled for a common purpose, without anything else in common, will soon face their contradictions. This is especially the case as their leaders start clamoring for power. The revolutionaries in the bottom of the chain, and without support from their Islamists comrades, will be the ones that stand to lose the most. This will lead the revolutionaries, Islamists and non-Islamists, to be dissipated in favor of the vanguards of the old regime.
Finally, whether what occurred in Egypt is a coup or not, and whether the parties who participated in these events acted with good intentions or bad, and regardless of the logical and consistent arguments of both sides of the story, what happened in Egypt is clearly and unequivocally detrimental to the future prospects of democracy and stability in Egypt, and possibly the entire region.