30 June was neither a revolution nor a coup

Mohamed Nosseir , Sunday 4 Aug 2013

Waves of uprising in the last 30 months of the history of Egyptians have rid their country of a number of toxins, but a New Egypt will take new leaders, and these have yet to emerge

For the millions of non-politicised Egyptians who were in the country's squares and streets on 30 June in a successful attempt to get rid of Mohamed Morsi, it makes no difference whether it was a coup or a revolution. The majority is literally not able to differentiate between the two. 

Many events after 25 January 2011 remain unknown to the Egyptian people. While the one-year rule of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt was in the process of a natural miscarriage, the misbehaviour of Morsi and his regime led to a forced abortion, in the first quarter of pregnancy, in keeping with Egyptian cultural and religious beliefs regarding a 'child born of sin' — a child that shouldn’t belong to the "Mother of the World," as Egyptians often proudly call their country. 

In his 369 days as Egypt’s ruler, Morsi never understood what it takes to rule a country like Egypt. He believed the fact that he was a legitimate president (which also made him high commander of the Armed Forces), and that he had been officially recognised by the entire world, was enough to ensure his four-year tenure. He was under the impression that repeatedly invoking his status as legitimate president would keep him immune from the anger of millions of Egyptians who strove to oust him from power. Morsi was a legitimately elected president, but he lacked a basic understanding of Egyptian political dynamics, and that is why he was unable to complete his term in office.

Morsi was on the wrong track, on most critical issues. He was not able to accomplish any progress at all in dealing with Egypt’s internal and external challenges, from minor domestic challenges to the external threats facing the government. Egyptians had high expectations after the revolution, but they eventually had to face an inefficient government under which their economy and security declined further. In addition, Morsi was manipulating the political scene by appointing his affiliates in all government organisations and institutions, giving them privileges, and enabling terrorist groups to expand in Sinai, threatening Egyptian national security.

Egyptians, who had become adept at deconstruction (and substantially less able to construct), determined that Morsi was a target to be rid of. Along with his allies, Morsi managed to provoke all Egyptian political forces — government authorities, business people, intellectualists, state institutions, including the judiciary (accused of corruption), the police (brought up to pursue the Muslim Brotherhood), the army, anyone claiming to be a revolutionary, and most of the media. These powerful forces and government authorities may not be the majority of Egyptians, but their collective and organised efforts, supported by the military, gave them enough power and influence to get rid of Morsi.

Although the media talks about politics 24/7, this political phenomenon is new to Egyptians who are very much a short-term oriented society, focused on their daily economic and security problems and less engaged in politics, of which they have a relatively limited understanding. However, Egyptians recently were dragged into and engaged in complicated political terminology, such as "constitution," "roadmap," "military intervention," "parties," "elections," etc. Nevertheless, the majority of Egyptians don’t really care about these definitions, or even understand their dynamics; they are looking for "a functional leader" — someone who can help their daily struggle with economic and security problems. Morsi had become a burden, a dysfunctional president who managed to unite many Egyptians in the wish to topple him, regardless of the consequences of this action, which Egyptians didn’t really bother to think about or to anticipate.

Elections, at large, are a new concept for Egyptians, but they were happy to stand in long lines for hours to vote for their favourite candidates in both the parliamentary and presidential elections. However, what mattered most to them was whether this process would eventually have a positive impact on the economic and security crisis they had been living with since early 2011. When both aspects deteriorated under Morsi’s rule, Egyptians were more than happy to get rid of their legitimate president for the sake of improving their daily lives.

There is more to democracy than the ballot box. The rule of law, independent institutions, freedom of expression, human and minority rights, and other factors, are all necessary components of democracy. In addition, and of equal importance, is the acceptance of the democratic mechanism by citizens and their willingness to abide by it. These aspects create a functional democracy that Morsi was not keen on building. Nor was he able to enforce the rule of law and empower institutions. After he was done with elections, he began to manipulate some institutions, such as appointing a prosecutor general whom Egyptians saw as the Muslim Brotherhood’s man. In addition, he did not understand the fact that having won the presidency by a very narrow margin (52 to 48 percent) required him to handle his opposition very carefully. He needed to win over the opposition by offering compromises. He managed, on the contrary, to lose a large segment of supporters who had voted for him. Perhaps if Morsi had worked on building a truly democratic nation through empowering institutions it might have saved him.

Over a decade ago, when there was a technical conflict over presidential votes in the United States between former President George W Bush and his challenger, former Vice President Al Gore, the United States Supreme Court, as an independent authority, was the one that determined the winner. In Egypt, we cannot claim to have independent institutions or authorities that Egyptians can rely on and trust to settle political conflicts. Thus, the military is getting more involved in politics, to the benefit or detriment of Egypt.

In well-established democratic nations, where there is a clear system of checks and balances in place, wherein each institution and authority plays a significant role in a relatively smooth mechanism that concludes in free and fair elections, the military does not play any political role and its interference in politics is not welcome. In the case of Egypt, which is still struggling to build its democratic pillars, and where the abovementioned mechanisms are absent, the military is still perceived as a political saviour and Egyptians welcome its role in politics.

In the early days of January revolution, Mubarak commanded the army to handle Egypt’s internal security, deploying its troops and tanks in the streets. Eventually, it was the army that played an essential role in ousting him.

After Mubarak’s ouster, the military became the main player in Egyptian politics, becoming the country’s official ruler for almost 17 months, and producing the worst kind of roadmap that helped to bring the Muslim Brotherhood to power, and that resulted in the Brotherhood passing a biased constitution that favours an Islamist agenda. While the military did not have a vision or a plan in its attempt to rule Egypt after the January 25 Revolution, it definitely had a proper plan in the recent event of Morsi’s ouster.

Moreover, Egyptians are accustomed to being ruled by autocratic and strong presidents (Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak are clear examples). In the January 25 Revolution, Egyptians managed to drop the phenomenon of an autocratic leader, but they never expressed disinterest in strong leadership. Morsi was a weak president who lacked the basic skills necessary to lead and drive a large country like Egypt.

Opposition forces failed to offer Egypt an alternative leader, or to run a coherent organisation, or even to create some form of harmony amongst themselves, and the same can be said of the revolutionaries. The latter were scattered among various political forces, and have almost disappeared from the political scene. Basically, they were working to get rid of Morsi and his regime, but it was quite clear that they could not produce an alternative leader.

Most of the political figures who opposed the political role of the army after 25 January 2011 (a position clearly expressed in a number of their demonstrations) are today happily welcoming and defending the military’s re-entry into political life.

It was quite impossible for the Egyptian military to look on as Morsi established his Islamic state, risking Egyptian national security issues that would have taken the country in an unknown direction, without interfering at an early stage to stop him. Thus, in the absence of alternative political leaders or established civil and independent institutions, the military, as a well-functioning entity, decided to interfere explicitly in politics. As Egyptians were searching for a strong leader, the military managed to offer its commander as a de facto president, who may even be the coming one.

On 30 June, it was the combination of millions of citizens on the streets, along with members of Mubarak’s old regime and government institutions, in addition to the military institution that played a leading role in diffusing the potential chaos that could have resulted from the outbreak of violence between millions of pro and anti-Morsi Egyptians.

On the following day, the military decided to lead and manage the revolution, rather than leave the revolutionary momentum to the politically immature rebels and unorganised protestors in the streets. Therefore, with very short notice, the military grabbed this wave of uprising from the streets and established an upper hand as the leading entity in control.

Even though the Islamists were voted into power through the ballot boxes, Egyptians are still not ready and not willing to be ruled by the "Islamist phenomena," which delivers hate-filled and threatening discourse on a daily basis; nor are they willing to disregard the big question mark regarding the affiliation of these phenomena to terrorist groups. The influential traditional Egyptian elite, known to hold key positions in almost all government institutions, and to control large segments of the Egyptian economy, still reject this phenomenon.

Morsi stupidly managed to keep this segment of society worried and threatened by his group, and they eventually managed to get rid of him. This segment of society hates the Muslim Brotherhood and is enchanted at the prospect of dismantling the organisation, at the expense of weakening the democratic process.

During his tenure Morsi resembled the appendix that does not add value to the body and got inflamed. The pain kept increasing through days and nights until a military surgeon managed to remove it, with the help of a nursing staff made up of the majority of Egyptians.

Western politicians are in love with defining political situations; they see democracy in black and white relief, not noticing the in-between shades that nations go through until they reach a stable democracy. In a recent Aspen seminar that I attended in Naples, Italy, the majority of participants defined 30 June as a clear military coup. Fair enough. However, for 30 years, these same governments and politicians used to recognise and praise Mubarak.

The January 25 Revolution itself was backed by the Egyptian military, but Western governments did not raise any warning flags at that time.

Is Egypt in better shape after the two events of 25 January and 30 June? Not yet. The intention of establishing a truly democratic country governed by the rule of law and the application of justice is still a dream in peoples’ minds. The reality on the ground is something quite different. Getting there will require either a leader with clear integrity, or a third wave uprising. Democracy is like a seed that matures with time and good care. The three presidents who ruled Egypt between 25 January and the present were, and are, trying to deal with Egypt’s daily struggles — not to protect this seed by completing the democratic package.

Egyptians must fully understand and digest democracy and its mechanisms, interlocutors and consequences to be able to abide by it, and this is definitely not the case today. What happened in Egypt over the last 30 months is comparable to a very heavy meal that Egyptians are still struggling to understand and digest. Egyptians are going through a cleansing process with strong waves of uprising in each of which they manage to get rid of a number of toxins. But the ailment remains and still rules the country.

Egyptians have always worked to avoid the devil by accepting a mediocre system. We got rid of Mubarak and a few of his affiliates, but the mainstay of his system is still in place. Now, we are in the process of getting rid of the heads of the Muslim Brotherhood, but their supporters are definitely still active, and their philosophy of hatred will remain, or even increment in society.

Egypt is certainly in need of a third wave of uprising that works on creating the "New Egypt" — for which not a single building brick has been laid till now. This wave will only take place with the emergence of a new generation of politicians who should take over from current ones.

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