The brothers and the officers

Hallelujah Lulie, Special to Addis Standard

It was a coup; a military coup. Though it started as a popular uprising and millions rallied against the Muslim Brotherhood and its democratically elected president Mohammed Morsi, at the end the saga ended with the unconstitutional and shortsighted intervention by Egypt’s mighty army. It was true that the Tamarod movement, which stands for ‘rebellion’ in Arabic, was a grassroots movement voicing legitimate demands of the public through constitutional means. Some attest the protest to be the biggest demonstration in the history of humanity. Organizers of the movement also claimed to have collected more than 22 million signatures against the uncompromising and ‘unremorsing’ Morsi. But history will still look back and judge the finale as a coup. And by any legal standard it was one. Removing a democratically elected government through force within a span of 48 hours has no other terminology than a coup, at least so far. It is not acceptable by any of the various documents of the African Union (AU) on democracy, elections and governance, either. And as such it was brave and consistent of the continental body to call a spade a spade and suspend the new government – shortly before AU’s Peace and Security Council decided to suspend Egypt, the AU said in a statement that it”recognizes the challenges that face the Egyptian people,” but unambiguously said the ousting of Morsi was “in violation of Egyptian constitution.”

The Brothers made mistakes, actually many of them. Soon after the ousting of Hosni Mubarak they told the world that they only aim for a portion of the new democratic Egypt and vowed that they had no intention to rule it. Weeks later they scrapped that. Although they did win close to two thirds of the legislative, they said they didn’t want the top job. But that also changed as their aspiration to control Egypt’s army surpassed their initial prudent plans. And they won the presidency albeit marginally.

Alas, in just one year Morsi caved in to his utter incompetence to tackle Egypt’s deepening economic woes; pushed aside the liberals, seculars and youth movements from the decision making process; and with the passing of each day craved to tilt the state more into an Islamic one. With no institutional experience or good understanding of the statecraft the Brothers also faced a serious challenge in defining their relations with the rest of the world as a government.

 Game changer

That could have happened to any new, inexperienced government. The game changer was how historical and existing mistrust between the Brothers and the Officers played its roles. The Brothers didn’t know how to deal with the military and it looked as if the military didn’t want them to know it. The historical misgiving between the two groups coupled with the legitimate demands of the public for a secular, effective and genuinely inclusive government mean the ouster of Morsi was imminent.

Since the abolition in 1952 of the monarchy in Egypt all the three presidents (Naser, Sadat and Mubarak) came from the army and all treated the Muslim Brotherhood as a major threat to their existence; banned it and cracked down on its activities for decades. From day one, Morsi was elected president by the people of Egypt but has never been accepted by the military with full heart. For the one year that it lasted in power Morsi’s government has been functioning with a sense of insecurity as one of the brothers was not the other one of the officers. Morsi was never in full control of his government, and the generals who run their own empire of businesses and institutions plus an annual salary equivalent to $1.6 billion paid by the US government, made sure that he didn’t.

Now the question is what were the intentions of the army for its intervention and ousting of Morsi from his presidency? Was it really a concern for democracy and popular participation, and stability and national interests of the state? Or was it just ceasing the opportunity to remove a democratically elected government it considers unfriendly to maintain its vast institutional interests? Critically examining the events that led to the removal and subsequent detention of Morsi (he is now facing a pile of alarming charges) shows that the military intervened mostly from its own institutional interest. A polarized Egypt mean the mass anti-Morsi demonstrations would never have been enough to force Morsi to resign, as was the case in February 2011 when Mubarak was forced to step down.  Owing to the mass demonstrations on the streets of Cairo many have tried to define the military’s intervention as a ‘democratic manifestation of the popular will’. But one must also ask why the army never intervened and in fact had friendly entertained and served ineffective dictators like Mubarak in the past.

 Betrayal at army level

The army’s move was a breach on democracy and has further polarized the Egyptian public like never before. It sets a bad precedence of betrayal and mistrust between the army and the Egyptian people and in other countries trying to get rid of dictators by popular will. Now the bet is whether or not the Brothers can use their legitimate grievances to return as a stronger political force in the future or remain aggrieved enough to take their fights underground once again. If so the worry will be if their bid will not be meet by crackdown stops and whether they will be allowed to participate in political processes. Either way, it looks pretty bad.

At this moment Egypt is a soldier state. General Abdel Fettah al-Sisi, who, a month ago quietly kicked his boss Morsi out of the presidential office, holds both the deputy premiership and minister of defense positions; there is no misgiving that he is in complete control of the transitional process, too.  On Wednesday July 24th he asked Egyptians to “do me a favor”: to rally on Friday July 26th in support of the army. Since the ouster of Morsi, his supporters have been persistently staging sit-in-protests (sometimes violent) demanding his reinstatement as president. For them General al-Sisi’s call has provocation written all over it.  They were not wrong. Violence engulfed Friday’s mass on the streets of Cairo and claimed the lives of at least 70 Egyptians most of whom supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. By the time Addis Standard went to the press on Monday, both sides were accusing each other of the killings as pro Morsi protestors continue vowing to stay on the streets until he is re-instated. That is unlikely, given the fact that Morsi is now facing charges of kidnapping and conspiracy to murder, among others.

A piece on Open Democracy sums the mood: ‘The overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood may be good for modern, secular liberals in Egypt. It may prove beneficial for Egypt’s economy. It may even, in the short term, be democratic. But it might also have destroyed any prospect of peaceful democracy for a generation.”

For all its intents to remove Morsi from office, the army has, once again, wrapped Egypt’s fate into its militarily enriched hands, which will make any prospect of a democracy coming back to Egypt anytime soon an unlikely event, if not an impossible one.


President Morsi was sitting alone

Photo: Jerusalem post


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