The Gulf Today: July 07, 2013
Coup or revolution? The question was raised following the ouster of president Mursi of Egypt.
The question is interesting, if not because of the importance of Egypt in the Arab world, at least for the $1.5 billion US aid, which may vanish right away if the Americans decide that what happened in this country is a coup. Under United States law, the Obama administration has no choice then but cut off financial assistance to Egypt.
Many observers consider Mursi to a large extent responsible for what happened.
An army statement, read out on television on July 1, had given Mursi 48 hours to reach a compromise with the opposition to ward off the imposition of political arrangements by the military. Mursi underestimated the ultimatum.
In a country where the rulers have all been high officers of the armed forces since 1952, it is hard to believe that Mursi or any other civilian could be blind to this truth. Maybe the biggest mistake of Mursi was his failure in understanding the importance of winning the military over. No ruler, since Nasser, has been able to run Egypt without the military backing. Did Mursi neglect this fact because he was the first democratically elected president of the country? Did he neglect it because he overestimated his own capacities and those of the Muslim Brotherhood? Anyway, even if he underestimated the role of the military — which is per se a grave mistake — he did nothing to unify the country behind his leadership so to gain a large popular support. Such political blindness is the result of an ideological commitment: i.e. the belief that the Muslim Brotherhood has gained enough strength to break with the rules that have hitherto prevailed on the military-civilian relationships in Egypt.
Some observers assumed that Mursi was threatening the military. Because he was the first civilian president, his rule “could spell an end to the system of massive military corruption and patronage that has gone on for decades in Egypt.” It is known that the military controls over 40 per cent of the Egyptian economy.
Was Mursi really a threat to them? Maybe not yet, but in the long term, the Brotherhood might be assessed “dangerous” from the military perspective.
On July 1, Mursi spoke to Obama on the phone. The White House said that the US president encouraged him to respond to the protests and “underscored that the current crisis could only be resolved through a political process.”
No change in Mursi’s attitude.
On the same day, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke to Sisi, his Egyptian counterpart, to remind him of the US law requiring “cuts in military assistance in most cases when a country’s armed forces are involved in an unconstitutional change in government.”
No change in the military’s attitude.
On July 2, London Evening Standard ran a story referring to “a retired army general with close ties to the military.” According to the report, “a panel of experts would draft a new constitution and the interim administration would be a presidential council led by the Supreme Constitutional Court’s chief justice and including the defence minister, representatives of political parties, youth groups, Al Azhar Mosque and the Coptic Church.”
On the same day, Fox News announced that Mursi was holding talks all day with army chief General Abdel Fattah Al Sisi. At the same time, The National Salvation Front, the main opposition coalition, said it would not support a “military coup” and trust the army statement does not mean it would assume a political role.
On Wednesday, July 3, hours before the military’s deadline to the president and opposition to resolve the nation’s political crisis was set to expire, army chief Gen Abdel Fattah Al Sisi was meeting with his top commanders. Still no change in Mursi’s attitude.
Gehad Al Haddad, a senior Muslim Brotherhood spokesman, told CBS News, “I think it’s a coup … We are shifting our tactics. We have had a scenario for this for some time. If military moves on the ground we have a plan for that.”
What plan? Haddad thus confirmed the military’s worse apprehension.
As of approximately 3pm Mursi is no longer president. The military removed him, put him in detention, arrested his allies and suspended the Constitution.
In his televised statement, General Al Sisi noted the armed forces were adhering to their civil responsibility and not looking to move power. Flanked by opposition leader Mohamed El Baradei and the Coptic Pope, the General unveiled their road map which included suspending the constitution, putting the chief justice in charge, calling for early elections, setting up an interim technocrat government, and forming a committee to amend the constitution.
So, is it a coup or a revolution?
In Cairo, opponents of Mursi argue that what happened was not a coup since it was backed by millions of civil demonstrators.
Sara Khorshid, an Egyptian journalist who took part in the June 30 protest movement said, “There is no democracy under military rule.” Yet, she knew that the military were coming and she continued to support the movement, though. Why? Because, as she explained, “Mursi’s rule had not been democratic, either. Throughout the year of his presidency, protesters who opposed him were violently crushed by the police and by Muslim Brotherhood members. He supported the interior ministry in its violent tactics against demonstrators and failed to probe incidents in which protesters were killed. Journalists and activists were arrested, and the president issued an edict giving him immunity from judicial review.”
The movement “Tamarod” (Rebel) that started a campaign against president Mursi has reportedly collected over 22 million signatures. It is not a negligible fact.
Mursi’s supporters are still holding the street. “We declare our complete rejection of the military coup staged against the elected president and the will of the nation,” the Brotherhood said in a statement, read by senior cleric Abdel Rahman Al Barr to the crowd outside the Rabia Al Adawiya Mosque in Cairo.
The New York Times cited Essam Al Haddad, Mursi’s foreign policy adviser, before the military detained him and cut off all his communication. “The overthrow of an elected Islamist government in Egypt, the symbolic heart of the Arab world,” Mr Haddad wrote, “would fuel more violent terrorism than the Western wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
In Egyptian Sinai just hours later, thousands of Islamists rallied under the black flag of jihad. They were calling for a “war council” and chanting “No more election after today.”
Egypt is deeply divided. The anxiety about its near future remains as it was before the ouster of the president.