Egypt: Who overthrew Morsi?

Abdallah El-Sennawi
Wednesday 26 Aug 2015

It is the Muslim Brotherhood – before anyone else – who deposed their own man in the presidential palace, before forcing their supporters into tragic confrontations at Rabaa

Who is responsible for the horrifying confrontations at Rabaa El-Adawiya square two years ago? Was it possible to avoid this clash or was it inevitable?

History is not written according to the whims of politicians, but narratives consistent with facts which embed themselves in the public's conscience.

The role of transitional justice has been neglected and the ministry that carries its name seems like a tombstone.

The Muslim Brotherhood's own narrative on its overthrow ignores the reasons behind the anger which culminated in the 30 June revolution. The group exonerates itself of any responsibility, describing the entire event as a coup against legitimacy.

In reality, legitimacy collapsed the minute its man in the presidential palace, the then President Mohamed Morsi, made a constitutional declaration in November 2012, which violated all democratic values and all links to the January revolution, the main goal of which was to establish a system of governance that would modernise Egypt.

He did not take the decision, but he paid the price and was undermined to prove the power of others. In all crises, Morsi deferred to the Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie and the the group's strongman Khairat Al-Shater.

Morsi was not a president for all Egyptians, nor was he able to keep a distance required by his mandate.

He always acted as “the spare”. The Muslim Brotherhood nominated him in the presidential race after the Supreme Electoral Committee rejected the group’s original candidate Al-Shater.

The danger was not replacing one man with another, but transforming the “spare candidate” into the “spare president”. Since the start of his presidency, the Brotherhood put Morsi under immense pressure so that he would never forget that the group promoted him to a place he could never dream of, and that his fate depended on the group’s decision on what it wants him to do.

The first crisis began the very next day after he was declared president: where should he take the oath? As he left the Ministry of Defence after a routine courtesy visit, he asked Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi to quickly send him a representative to discuss an urgent matter he did not disclose.

At 5pm that day, he sat at a roundtable at Ittihidiya Palace with three military leaders: Air Force Commander Major General Abdel-Aziz Seif El-Din; the number three in the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) General Mamdouh Shaheen, assistant Defence Minister for legal affairs; and Chief of Military Intelligence General Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi who later was responsible for deposing the Muslim Brotherhood by undeniable popular demand.

The elected president had one exact and direct demand: “I want you to find a solution whereby parliament can return so I can take the oath in front of it.” It seemed an impossible request, since the Supreme Constitutional Court had annulled parliament.

At the meeting he was told: “If you want to be a respectable president of a respectable country, you must respect the constitutional declaration according to which you were elected.”

Morsi insisted on his demand and suggested that the three generals should check with the Field Marshal, but they said: “We don’t need to check with him, we are here representing him.”

The meeting was tense and the cups of teas and anise sat untouched on the table.

Although in the end Morsi was forced to take his oath in front of the Supreme Constitutional Court, the issue cast a long shadow over the entire political scene. Decision-making was not occurring at the presidential Ittihidiya Palace but in Moqattam, the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood.

In other words, the first to overthrow Morsi was the group he belonged to- it weakened his position, dealt with his post lightly, and took away his ability to act according to his presidential mandate. And he was unable and unwilling to take any independent action.

One week before his overthrow, the entire country was on edge waiting to see what he would say at the conference centre in Nasr City in front of a mass gathering of his supporters, who were urging him to take action against his political rivals and inciting against all values of democracy that brought them to power.

The Muslim Brotherhood thought their organisational skills and financial wealth would be enough for action and throwing any civil opposition in prison the day after 30 June fails. They even prepared arrest lists for their opponents. Morsi was excessive in his threats, intimidation and harassment of judges, media personalities and politicians, and entirely erased any possibility of defusing political tension.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s strongman was unwilling to reach a compromise and gambled with the future of the entire group. And thus Morsi backtracked in his last address. There were three demands by the civil opposition.

First, replacing Prosecutor General Talaat Abdullah with someone else appointed by the Supreme Judicial Council; second, sacking the government of Hisham Qandeel and replacing him by someone who has more approval; third, holding early presidential elections.

History is not written retroactively or by goodwill. Any degree of response to the three demands would have to be redirected to the crisis that was about to erupt.

When they took over power, the “victimised group” flexed its muscles, paraded its militias, and pushed boundaries in its alliances with radical groups which foretold civil war.

It did not honour any promises it made or alliances with civil forces that trusted the Muslim Brotherhood. Very quickly, it almost entirely lost the support of the civil middle class, intellectuals and the poorest class who for the first time saw the group’s true face. It was entirely incapable of seeing the hatred of the masses and on 30 June tens of millions took to the streets, but the group refused to admit the legitimacy of the anger directed towards them.

When you deny the facts in front of you, there is a very high price to pay. This applies perfectly to the Muslim Brotherhood, because it strongly believed the army would not intervene in the power struggle, no matter the size of angry demonstrations or the possibility of civil war based on promises by the US ambassador to Egypt Anne Paterson.

Even more seriously, it gambled that there would be a bloodbath at Rabaa Al-Adawiya sit-in which would splinter the army or return it to power through negotiations over the bodies of the dead. This was the biggest political mistake in the entire story. There are public testimonies by Muslim Brotherhood leaders who are not ashamed of revealing the gamble on blood spilling. There were guiltless victims and serious security mistakes during the dispersion of the Rabaa sit-in, according to the National Council for Human Rights.

In order to uphold justice and do right by the victims, a broad investigation must be launched and not for the matter to be shelved. The responsibility of the Muslim Brotherhood is greater and more serious towards their supporters and the country which was brought to the edge of civil war. The armed attacks against public buildings, police stations, churches and killing many army and police officers, which coincided with the dispersion of the sit-ins at Rabaa and Al-Nahda, was irrevocable proof of the group’s violent tactics and it refuted their claims of only using peaceful methods.

We should not forget that the majority of public opinion accused the post-Morsi authorities of procrastinating in the dispersal of the two sit-ins, with the same enthusiasm that they demanded the army intervene on 30 June to save the country from a tragic fate.

In conclusion, the Muslim Brotherhood – before anyone else – deposed its man in the presidential palace, before forcing its supporters into tragic confrontations at Rabaa.


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