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July 9, 2013

Egypt's June 30: A popular uprising or a military coup?

Prof. Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

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I am one of those millions of Egyptians who strongly believe that the youth-led movement Tamarrod (Rebel), that was calling peacefully, for weeks for an early presidential election, is not a military coup but a popular uprising. After Mohamed Morsi stubbornly refused citizen' reasonable demands, the army stepped in to preserve order. It is a classic legitimate step in the spirit of the true meaning of democracy and will be taught in political science classes the world over.

The Greek got it right 2,500 years ago and the Egyptians practiced it twice this century, in 2011 and again in 2013: in human political communities it ought to be ordinary people and not extra-ordinary people who rule.

Over the last year, millions of Egyptians were rightly alarmed over the change in the identity of their country from a tolerant, diverse society to a more rigid Islamist one, linked to a wider Islamist project and not to a national progressive Egyptian vision.

For the first time in history, Egypt’s minorities felt threatened and intimidated; the main Coptic cathedral was attacked during Mr. Morsi’s reign, and Shia were murdered; the ex-president was directly responsible for fueling the sectarian violence.

Morsi confronted Egypt, all of Egypt; the youth, labor, journalists, writers, farmers, academics, judges, lawyers, business people, artists, feminists, liberals, non-Muslim Brotherhood religious parties, independents, minorities, moderate Muslims, the Church, Al-Azhar, the police force and the army.

Moreover, Morsi did nothing regarding a harsh economic situation and a political deadlock. Instead he was 24/7 busy handing out plum government positions to members of the Muslim Brotherhood and their supporters, in total disregard of the needs of the country. The most recent was when he appointed as a new governor of Luxor a convicted terrorist who planned the killing of tourists in the same city back in the 1980s.

He was also accused of being part of a cover up of terrorist activities in Sinai that killed score of civilians, police and army personnel. Most recently, a group of military personnel were kidnapped and then mysteriously released, yet the kidnappers were never arrested.

Moreover, back in November Morsi placed himself above judicial review and turned himself into a dictator, railroaded through a flawed Constitution that was approved by only 20% of the registered voters, allowed Brotherhood thugs to beat up liberal opponents, and increased blasphemy prosecutions.

Above all, Morsi surrendered his office to the directives of the unelected leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood. Scores of his staff, including Islamists, resigned in protest.

Watching their country and its future slipping away from them on the hands of an elected-president-turned-dictator, the same Egyptian youth who led the January 2011 revolution which ousted Mubarak, could not take 3 years more of Morsi and decided to take the matter into their own hands.

They, some voted for Morsi, initiated a month long massive petition campaign to impeach the president and to hold an early presidential election. They managed to collect more than 22 million signatures in a country of 90 million, and challenged Morsi to appoint an independent UN-sponsored committee to examine the documentation and verify its number. 

And despite Morsi’s and the Muslim Brotherhood’s skepticism, they managed to deliver an impressive peaceful rally on June 30 across the whole country with a crowd estimated at 33 million, despite a 35 degree heat.

Would the protesters have been able to oust Morsi without the army’s intervention? The answer is no. But this was exactly the case during the January 25 revolution. Morsi, like Mubarak, articulated his stance as one of defiance, and he thought that if he could survive for a week or until the start of Ramadan (July 9), then the protesters might get fed up and go home.

A month ago, sensing Morsi’s defiance and to avoid an eruption of violence on June 30, the army tried hard to resolve the political deadlock by suggesting a compromise that Morsi fix a date for a referendum to ask the people if they would agree to an early presidential election. But he refused.

On June 30, the army felt it had to deliver a 48-hour ultimatum for Morsi to take action. Again they failed. Egypt could not afford to wait 18 days as it did in the case of Mubarak, so the army, on July 3, in an effort to reach a national reconciliation invited civil, religious and political leaders of the country including two representatives of the youth movement to come up with a solution to resolve the crises.

The group was inclusive and included the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, the Coptic Pope, Dr. Galal Morra, a prominent Islamist ultraconservative from the Salafi Noor party and Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Prize-winning diplomat and liberal leader. The army even invited the head of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood political party, but he refused to attend.

On Wednesday July 3 at 9:10 pm local time, the head of Egypt’s armed forces, Gen. Abdel-Fateh el-Sissi, flanked with the country leadership, outlined to the nation the road map that they agreed to for a transitional period: the Muslim Brotherhood new Constitution would be suspended, the chief justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court, Adli Mansour, would become an interim president, a politically diverse committee of experts to draft constitutional amendments and plans would be expedited for new parliamentary and presidential elections under an interim government.

“The armed forces have tried in recent months, both directly and indirectly, to contain the internal situation and to foster national reconciliation between the political powers, including the presidency,” Sissi said. But those efforts failed, he said. The president “responded with negativity in the final minutes.”

“The armed forces were the one to first announce that it is out of politics,” General Sisi added, “It still is, and it will remain away from politics.”

A month ago, Dr. ElBaradei rightly put it in an article in Foreign Policy magazine: “The (January 25) uprising was not about changing people, but changing our mind-set. What we see right now, however, is just a change of faces, with the same mode of thinking as in Mubarak’s era — only now with a religious icing on the cake.”

This was exactly Morsi’s core failure. The January 25 uprising that ended decades of dictatorship and led to Egypt’s first free and fair presidential election last year was about the right to that vote. But at a deeper level it was about personal empowerment, a demand to join the modern world, and live in an open society under the rule of law rather than the rule of despotic whim.

Morsi succumbed to Islamic authoritarianism in a nation whose revolution was diverse and demanded inclusiveness. But Egypt rejected his Islamist authoritarianism in 2013, just as it rejected secular dictatorship in 2011. Good for Egypt, bad for Morsi.

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M. Elmasry

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