The Morsi government was unpopular and ineffective. But history shows that military intervention doesn’t end well.
Mohammed Morsi, the first democratically elected leader of Egypt, was ousted from power by the Egyptian military after just one year in office. Although he had won more than 50 percent of the votes to become Egypt’s first freely elected president, the election was more of case of voting against Mubarak’s former prime minister, Gen. Ahmad Shafiq and not necessarily for Morsi.
It didn’t take Morsi long to alienate many Egyptian voters. A few months after he took office he began to act unilaterally in ways that isolated him. He issued controversial constitutional declarations and allowed his Islamist followers to intimidate the courts and independent media. And when Egyptians began to protest against his authoritarian style of government, he tenaciously refused to listen or engage in dialogue with the opposition.
To be sure, a popular and vociferous opposition wanted Morsi gone – the largest crowds in Egypt’s history highlighted that – but where does the will of people begin and the political power of the military end?
The problems of the Morsi presidency
The Morsi presidency, by and large, was viewed as a Muslim Brotherhood smokescreen. As Arab News points out:
The biggest fear among Egyptians was that Mursi was in fact a front for the Guidance Office of the Muslim Brotherhood which was bent on the “ikhwanization” of Egypt’s secular institutions by appointing members and Islamist allies in key positions. He had ignored the opposition and sidestepped his former allies by pushing to write a controversial new constitution for the country that ended up dividing Egyptians rather than uniting them.
Mohammed Morsi, in addition to the suspicions about his ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, was far from a charismatic leader. In the absence of politically popular policies, a strong leader can, at times, sway public opinion in their favor. Morsi did not possess the wherewithal or talents to pull such an arduous task off. He never established himself as the voice of all Egyptians — only certain factions — and never created a coalition government that could get a handle on Egypt’s deep and abiding economic crisis.
These shortcomings, failures and omissions, ultimately led to his short-lived presidency.
Don’t use the “c” word
Moments after his removal, Morsi took to Facebook to denounce the dramatic developments as “a full military coup”. Although the former president has absolutely no problem calling his ouster a military coup, everyone from anti-Morsi protesters to the President of the United States has eschewed referring to the recent developments as such.
Clearly, the Egyptian opposition doesn’t want this change in government to be viewed as anything other than an example of the will of the people being fulfilled. Nevertheless, the U.S. has its own reasons for not calling the transfer of leadership in Egypt a coup.
U.S. law prohibits financial assistance to any country whose elected head of state is deposed in a military coup. So the annual $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt becomes a source of speculation. After the removal of Hosni Mubarak in 2011, the U.S. Congress agreed to continue military aid to Egypt even though they had serious reservations about the Muslim Brotherhood ties of Mohammed Morsi. Congress’ acquiescence was meant, essentially, to keep the peace treaty that Egypt had with Israel intact.
The Obama dilemma has not diminished, however. In a statement delivered July 2, he said that he had ordered a review of aid to Egypt in view of the developments in Cairo – while still not calling the military expulsion, albeit backed by overwhelming public sentiment, of democratically elected Mohammed Morsi a coup.
Recent activities, however, make it more difficult to view this as a purely peaceful transfer of power. At least 51 civilians were killed, including at least 43 unarmed protesters – allegedly even while some were praying – mostly from the Brotherhood as well as other supporters of Morsi. Such brutality usually occurs when a coup has taken place. And whether or not certain individuals want to refer to this as a coup, if looks like a coup, walks like a coup and quacks like a coup — maybe, just maybe it is a coup.
The shadow government
Since Egypt became a republic in 1952, the military has wielded almost unfettered power, even though they have never directly ruled the country (at least not since the 1952 revolution, which, interestingly enough, was carried out by the military and yet is commonly remembered as a revolution). It has ruled from the shadows, as it were – except for the year following the downfall of Hosni Mubarak when the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces ruled.
It was the military, whether backed by popular demand or not, that showed Morsi the door; the military suspended the nation’s constitution; the military named Chief Justice Adli Mansour, head of the Supreme Constitutional Court, to replace Morsi as interim president, and the military will appoint a new government.
Yes, there is an inherent danger and trying to fit the circular-peg construct of other nation’s affairs into the square hole of our definitions about governance. Nonetheless, there has to be some internationally agreed-upon standards for changes in governments and the Egyptian military consistently has this above-the-law look and feel to it.
It has been said that the Egyptian military has no designs on governing; this writer disagrees with that assertion. The Egyptian military seems averse to ruling in the manner that is defined by most democracies… by being elected. So what we have is a group who can suspend constitutions, remove presidents and appoint new ones. In other words, the military operates outside the rule of law and is immune to ouster.
In democracies, those appointed can be impeached and those elected can be recalled (and impeached as well). In Egypt, who impeaches the generals and who recalls the colonels?
There will be no argument from this writer if one wants to point out the very real problems of the Morsi presidency. Additionally, the revolutionary fervor of the Egyptian people is something that should be bottled and exported to other nations – including the U.S.
Nevertheless, let’s not pretend that the latest developments were casualty-free or that real damage was not done to the cause of democracy – including some very dire economic concerns as well. Those who actually lost the vote a year ago, are now tasked with governing – nullifying the historical significance of the election of 2012.
The chief principle the Egypt’s 2011 revolution – revolution 1.0 – was the right of self-determination by the people and it was understood that Mubarak had to, for all intents and purposes, be removed by the military. He was a dictator, after all. The removal of the democratically elected Morsi is another matter, and history shows that democracies are slow to heal when change takes place by less-than-democratic means — even when the change is widely-supported.
The killing of unarmed citizens as a sign of political dissent is about as undemocratic as a nation can get. The right to disagree — the right to differ — is the oxygen of the body-politic and any impediment to that is the dictatorial suffocation of a country, a society.
One could also reasonably argue that the economic woes of Egypt predated Mohammed Morsi, as well. Hosni Mubarak had identical issues, writes Strafor:
Growing poverty and joblessness are arguably among the root causes of the uprising in 2011 that unseated him. The wave of protests that challenged Morsi, who became the first democratically elected president in the country’s history, should be understood as a continuation of this swelling trend.
Maybe the anti-Morsi majority was right about the need for change in governance – and when faced with all the evidence, this writer is inclined to agree. Nevertheless, what this writer also knows is that sometimes the majority can be wrong. When change is needed again, will the Egyptian people refuse to accept nothing less than a democratic answer to effect that change, or will they resort to using — or being used by — a military that is neither elected nor impeachable, to save the day?
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Mint Press News editorial policy.