The fall of democracy in Egypt

Khalil Al-Anani , Saturday 13 Jul 2013

Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood were overthrown 3 July, but with them fell their rivals, both politically and morally

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the collapse of the regime and the opposition in Egypt.  And it came true. I warned that the failure of the regime and opposition in resolving their differences threatened the democratic experiment in Egypt and will push the country to the edge. And that is what happened.

The military intervened and aborted the first democratic experiment in Egypt after deposing elected President Mohamed Morsi in a manner that no one anticipated — most notably the Muslim Brotherhood. As a result, dozens of innocent Egyptians were killed, most recently at the Republican Guard massacre. And the country continues to boil over.

When politics fails, war is coming; when ethics vanish, crime becomes legitimate. That is what philosophers of politics and ethics tell us.  What happened in Egypt on 3 July was more than just a new revolution or coup or counter-revolution as the two rivals argue. It was a setback and critical failure of politics and morality together.

Never mind its name; history will take care of that. Ethics disintegrated when politicians, intellectuals, Islamists and activists of all political and ideological hues tossed the interests of the country aside and dived into a war of “everyone against everyone” as part of a battle of exclusion that entirely conflicts with claims of democracy, freedom, liberalism and the Islamic state.

This crisis has proven the problem is not only about the political dispute between the two camps but their moral and intellectual composition. The political elite failed in the first political test since the January 25 Revolution, because it failed to resolve its political disputes for an entire year. Confrontation was inevitable.

They all deviated into a conflict where all types of unethical political propaganda was used. The anti-Islamist camp, having failed for three years to compete with Islamists at election polls, had no other recourse to depose them except through calling on and pleading with the army in a shameful scene of blackmail.

This is a diverse camp that includes liberals, secularists and media personalities who are supported by remnants from a deposed regime and governments that never hid their rejection of Islamists. They were united on one goal: overthrowing Muslim Brotherhood rule at any cost. They continue to shamelessly propagate hate and incitement against Islamists even after Morsi’s ouster.

On the other hand, the Islamist camp has also stooped low with similar rhetoric of hate and contempt against their rivals that conflicts with Islam’s sublime message. Their media publicly incited violence and retribution from opponents and branded them with the vilest adjectives. Some of their leaders even used sectarian and vilifying racist language about the political dispute, as well as doctrine, ideological and religious rhetoric.

Deposed President Morsi made an unforgiveable mistake when he did not speak up against escalating hostile rhetoric to stop or hold accountable the perpetrators. Meanwhile, his group allowed a band of religious and ideological radicals to take over their podium and shamelessly broadcast messages of hatred and violence.

In this corrupt environment, it is no surprise the two camps did not see eye-to-eye on anything, whether on how to deal with their political disputes, ideological divisions or how to exit the crisis of recent weeks. Thus, it was not unusual for a war of words and media to erupt between the two sides about how to describe what occurred, whether it is a revolution or coup or a counter-revolution or new revolutionary wave.

They clashed over the description after the substance was lost and hurled accusations after they ignited political strife in the country. With their own hands they ended the first democratic experiment in Egypt in 60 years. Moral depravity reached new lows when the two sides argued over the Republican Guard massacre while ignoring the victims, and focusing on finger pointing and blaming each other.

Democracy is an idea and if it collapses, hope is extinguished and faith in it is lost. What happened in Egypt a few days ago is the death of the notion of democracy. The idea died when the Muslim Brotherhood and their followers believed “the ballot box is the solution” and reaching power means monopolising it without accountability.

President Morsi thought the legitimacy of elections would protect him from his rivals and would be enough to impose himself and his decisions on them. He forgot that the essence of democracy is consensus; he made one mistake after another — some unintentionally and others by miscalculating. He quickly switched from the people to “the group” (the Muslim Brotherhood) and thus lost much of his strength and popularity.

Neither he nor his group realised the scale of rising anger and tension towards them. His last speech, in which he clearly demonstrated his utter bias towards his people and clan, was the final straw that broke his back.

By the same token, and perhaps even worse, Morsi’s opponents nipped the notion of democracy in the bud and discarded ballot boxes on the wayside when they called on the military to arbitrate their dispute with the Muslim Brotherhood. Perhaps they do not realise what happened to Morsi today will happen to them tomorrow if they reach power. They have created a precedent in political life, namely calling on the military every time they fail to resolve a political dispute, which means the end of any possibility of genuine democracy.

They used all means to cause Morsi’s failure and ouster, including rejecting his repeated calls for dialogue and meetings, making terrible accusations against him and his group, and finally entering an alliance with the former regime and its corrupt institutions. It is paradoxical to see the icons of liberalism standing side-by-side with leftists, Nasserists and Islamists who defected from the Muslim Brotherhood and other jihadist groups. And all for the sake of removing Morsi.

In time, not speaking against what is happening has become like gripping hot coals and speaking one’s mind — a pretext for animosity, blame and reproach. From a purely academic point of view, the ouster of Morsi, the first elected civilian president in Egypt, and his detention and pursuit of his followers can only be described as one thing: a coup.

It is a classical coup, similar to those carried out in the same way as many others in Europe, Latin America and Africa over the past century. While it is true the military did not take over power in Egypt after Morsi’s ouster, it remains in control of the political process. It may have been a “benign” coup according to some, but Mohamed ElBaradei sees the coup as “a bitter medicine for a serious disease.” Nonetheless, it remains a political “coup” despite the justifications and rationales.

Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood were overthrown, and with them fell their rivals both politically and morally. Irrespective of the outcome of the current crisis, the next generation will pay for this overthrow after the first attempt to build democracy in Egypt was aborted.

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