Hello to anyone who still happens to be checking back here! As I imagine you either know or assume by now, I am back at home safe and sound after my stint in Egypt and then about a month as a European tourist. What a semester! Nice to finally be home, relax, and take it all in for a bit.
I wanted to post because if you follow world news at all, Egypt has been front and center with a rather odd sounding story. After massive protests across Egypt, the Egyptian military removed President Morsi from power after only a year in office. This puts Egypt in a rare category, having overthrown two presidents by popular demand in a span of 2 and a half years. The politics of this story are really complicated, and not being presented in their full context in many media sources. If you are interested in getting a slightly more comprehensive understanding than what you will see on the nightly news, here is my own take on the situation, along with some responses and analyses I have come across and found intriguing or helpful.
Perhaps the best introduction that I have found on the matter comes from the Vlogbrothers channel on YouTube (thanks Hank Green, you are my hero for this). To watch that 7 minute video, click here. He did a pretty good job in this video of addressing a lot of the first questions that Americans have when they hear Egypt just overthrew their president, most importantly “didn’t they elect him?” As Hank explains, the rush to elect a new president after the overthrow of Mubarak meant an organizational vacuum among most political persuasions of the revolutionaries. Essentially, the liberal and secular voters ended up splitting their votes early on, which led to a runoff that allowed Egyptians the choice of either Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, or Shafiq of the Mubarak regime. While these two men each represented the voices of some Egyptians, to many the choice was an attempt to determine the lesser of two evils and hope for the best. Despite Shafiq’s ties to the at that time just deposed Mubarak regime, Morsi only won by a few percentage points. So yes, the Egyptian people did just elect Morsi, but it was an election for which they had not had sufficient time to organize and prepare to avoid splitting votes of more closely aligned candidates. While many tried to make the best of it, there came a tipping point in Morsi’s presidency that prompted some opposition members to devise a new solution.
This new solution was Tamarod, a signature drive that was going around in the last weeks of my own time in Egypt, and continued to circulate until the protests that have just overthrown Morsi. The movement aimed to collect 15 million signatures against Morsi by June 30, the one year anniversary of his inauguration (the number 15 million was chosen because it was higher than the number of votes he had collected in the presidential elections). They called for early elections and planned large demonstrations to take place June 30. By the time of the protest, the leaders of the movement announced that they had collected over 22 million signatures (to put that in perspective, in 2011 Egypt’s population was around 82.5 million people). Beginning a few days before the planned June 30 demonstrations, millions of Egyptians took to the streets in support of Tamarod, calling for Morsi to step down. Those against this move were also out protesting, which in some locations led to violence. Responding to opposition demands that the military assist the will of the people, the Egyptian military gave Morsi a 48 hour deadline to resolve his differences with the opposition, or they would announce their own plan. Morsi allowed the deadline to expire, and on July 3, the head of the armed forces announced that Morsi was no longer the president, and that Adly Mansour, a judge and the current head of the High Constitutional Court, would be taking over as interim president, pending new parliamentary and presidential elections, as well as a redrafting of the constitution. (I am trying my best here to pare this information down to bare facts, but obviously the sources from which all of the current news on Egypt is emerging have strong opinions on the issue, so much of the bare structure of information seems to be contentious).
So all of this leads to another hot button question about what is going on in Egypt–is this a coup? For the past week my Facebook news feed has been a never ending string of different takes on this question, and I have ultimately come to my own conclusion that while this is a very important semantics question in the context of US government aid to Egypt, it ultimately is not a very helpful label for the current situation. People are floating their own terms such as “Popularly Legitimate Coup” and “Revocouption,” and none of them seem totally satisfying. This is a unique event in history, and I think it needs to be understood on its own terms, which the media does not seem to have time for. Does it fit the technical definition of a coup? Yes, a coup is basically the sudden overthrow of a government, and yes, that basically happened here. However the numbers in the streets demonstrating against Morsi were by most reports greater than the numbers in the streets demonstrating against Mubarak in 2011, and they were calling for military assistance to see that their demands were met. This gives it a distinct flavor that is not very well described by the connotations surrounding the term “coup d’etat” in the opinion of many, though certainly according to continued supporters of Morsi’s regime this ought to be labeled a coup.
This is an interesting opinion piece by an Egyptian professor who firmly believes that it should not be considered a coup: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jul/04/coup-egypt-mohamed-morsi-people
A few immediate thoughts on the event, from one who calls it a revolutionary coup: http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/up-front/posts/2013/07/04-egypt-revolutionary-coup-morsi-wittes
And then the article that uses the term “popularly legitimate coup” or “Coup but…” http://www.bigpharaoh.org/2013/07/05/popularly-legitimate-coup-an-egyptian-invention/
So to sum it all up, it is hard to process exactly what this might mean for democracy in Egypt, or more broadly in the Middle East, that we have all been so hopeful about since the Arab spring that got rid of Mubarak and led to Morsi’s presidency in the first place. To those who support what has just happened, the overthrow of President Morsi, is merely a continuation of the revolutionary spirit that overthrew Mubarak’s regime in 2011. The revolution’s demands have not been met, or even satisfactorily addressed, and so the people rose up against a new leader who did not adequately represent them, or in a frequently heard phrase, from a regime that had stolen their revolution. For these people, the overthrow of Mohamed Morsi is a demonstration of the power of the people, similar to the sense of jubilation Egyptians felt after Mubarak fell in 2011. Of course, there are many sides to this story, and for those who believed in the presidency of Mohamed Morsi, this was a sad day for democracy in Egypt, in which the military overthrew a legitimately elected leader. While there are plenty of indications that seem to point to the probability that Morsi no longer had the consent of the governed, there are no real hard facts to deny that Morsi was a legitimately elected leader ousted by the military.
I think it is important to remember a few things here. First of all, the United States does not have a monopoly on democracy. Egypt today is forging its own path, and the answers it finds to the questions of how to form a responsive government likely will differ from America’s answers to these same questions. Once Egypt’s democracy has had time to develop, it may look very different from our American democracy, because it was forged in a different time and place by people with different needs. It would not be wise to assume that any variances from our own model of government indicate a weakness in the commitment of Egyptians’ to forming a government that will respond appropriately to the will of its people.
Secondly, we must remember that revolutions take time. There are 13 years between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States that indicate the time it took between deciding our country was independent, and when we finally developed a system that allowed us to effectively govern it. That was a different time, and I don’t by any means wish to draw a direct parallel, I would, however, like to remind you that the Egyptian Revolution may not have ended just because they got a new president. Revolutions occur when there are deep problems embedded within a country’s apparatus of power, and it can and will take time to sort those institutionalized problems out. Add to that a sense of victimization and consequent lashing out at opponents by previously suppressed groups, and you quickly realize there is a lot of mess to sort through in the wake of revolutionary fervor. It is unwise to rush this process (often done by rushing to elect new leadership before the time is ripe) as sorting through these problems takes an immense effort before a new system can find itself on stable ground. While as an American the idea of what is going on in Egypt right now is pretty hard to grasp, and perhaps a little bit frightening, based on the hope expressed by many people I know there, I personally am trying to give the situation the benefit of the doubt, and I hope it will turn out as many believe it will to be a move in the interest of the Egyptian people. It is impossible to say what lies ahead for Egypt, either in the immediate, or more long range future, but I hope you will join me in hoping for better days for this country that welcomed me so kindly.