Thursday, July 4, 2013

Preliminary Thoughts on Egypt's Coup/Revolution/Crazytime

Wait.  What Just Happened?

Here's how I see it, based on what I've read and conversations with Egyptian people somewhat in-the-know.

In January 2011, massive popular demonstrations throughout Egypt convinced the Egyptian military that continuing to rule Egypt through Hosni Mubarak was not a viable option.  They forced him to step down, and promised democratic elections.

At the same time, they were furiously negotiating with the largest, most organized opposition group in Egypt - the Muslim Brotherhood.  The negotiations resulted in a deal: the military would aid the Muslim Brotherhood in its rise to power, and the Brotherhood would respect the military's autonomy and considerable economic interests.  The military rulers of Egypt would keep their villas, and the Brotherhood would take power.

The Brotherhood won in relatively free and fair parliamentary and presidential elections in 2012.  The yearlong rule of the Muslim Brotherhood's president Mohammad Morsi was characterized by economic tailspin, a violent crime rate that tripled, the disintegration of police authority in many parts of the country, vicious attacks on Christians and Shia Muslims, rampant sexual violence against women, and political violence from the Muslim Brotherhood's armed factions against its opponents.

Mohammad Morsi wrote the grim epitaph of his stunningly incompetent, tone-deaf, evil presidency last month, when he appointed a former terrorist responsible for massacring scores of foreigners and Egyptians in Luxor governor of Luxor province.

No, for real.  That happened.

Christians, liberal Muslims, and other opponents of the Brotherhood organized a campaign called "tamarod," or "rebellion," and called for massive anti-Morsi rallies on June 30, the one-year anniversary of Morsi's inauguration as president.  They gathered some 22 million signatures on a petition calling for his removal and for new elections.  (Morsi won the election with slightly more than 13 million votes.)

Driven by desperation at the course the new Egypt was taking, these protests may well have been the largest in world history. (I've heard the number 33 million bandied about, but who can say?) After a day of this, the military decided that Morsi was no longer a reliable protector of their portion.  They gave him - with a straight face - 48 hours to "meet the people's demands." Morsi went on TV and gave a desperate speech, yelling over and over again, "I am the president of Egypt!," forgetting that:

Morsi was unable to resolve all of Egypt's political problems in 48 hours, and the military threw him out.


Tahrir Square in Cairo.

What Will Happen Now?

The Facebook page NOT A COUP currently has over 12,000 likes.  The protestors are insisting that this is a popular revolution, not a military coup.

The popular protests triggered the chain of events that led to Morsi's fall, to be sure.  But there's a reason the Egyptian popular revolution has now displaced two presidents, while the Syrian popular revolution has devolved into a horrific war.  In both cases, the military's decisions were the driving factor.  Syria's Alawite-dominated military has thrown in its lot with their president.  The Egyptian military is willing to chuck their president when necessary.

What it isn't willing to do is let go of its autonomy and economic power.

My guess is that the Egyptian military will now try to install another president - through popular elections, no doubt - who has the support of the people, but will protect the military's interests.

(They may also move to cement a military dictatorship.  See below.)

Because the Egyptian military is terrible (massacring peaceful Christian protestors and such), the new president will probably be a terrible person.  But terrible people can still guarantee a modicum of prosperity and peace. (See, the Great, Cyrus, and Obama, Barack.) That's not what worries me.

What worries me is: what is the Muslim Brotherhood going to do now?

After 80 some years of state persecution, they are finally given the chance to participate in a free presidential election, and they win, fair and square.  And now, that president has been overthrown.

Egypt's Islamists have engaged in armed resistance against the government before.  When the Algerian military overthrew a freely-elected Islamist president in 1991, it triggered a ten-year civil war in which 200,000 people died.

And now Egypt is surrounded by chaotic countries full of loose weapons and Islamist militias that are better-connected and more motivated than they've ever been. (Syria, Gaza, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Mali.)

"A message to the church of Egypt, from an Egyptian Muslim: if you conspire  to bring Morsi down, that will be another matter. [T]here are red lines—and our red line is the legitimacy of Dr. Mohammad Morsi. Whoever splashes water on it, we will splash blood on him."

- Safwat Hegazy, Muslim Brotherhood cleric, December 2012

“Measures announced by the armed forces’ leadership represent a full coup categorically rejected by all the free men of our nation."

- Dr. Mohammad Morsi, July 3, 2013

Might Egypt become the eleventh Arab country to have a post-independence civil war?  And might that give the military just the excuse it needs to put itself in power again - and permanently?

Buckle up, kids.  This is gunna suck.

Isn't there a chance that this is a genuinely democratic moment that will lead to a brighter future for the people of Egypt?

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