Tag Archives: coup

Who to believe in Egypt?

Cairo Skyline

Cairo Skyline

To the casual observer, Egypt appears in a mess these days.  It certainly is fair to say that Egypt is in crisis-mode since President Morsi was forcefully removed by the military.

Some people want to call it a coup  but others react vociferously to anyone questioning his overthrow.

From a former Facebook friend (an Egyptian-American living in the U.S.) who unfriended me for disagreeing with him:

33 million individuals went on the streets and squares all over Egypt major cities to get rid of the terrorist regime. MB is a terrorist regime known for their criminal acts and millions that did not come out but support. The Majority of peoples in Egypt request to step down and the Army support the majority….Got the message? IT IS A REVOLUTION WHETHER YOU AGREE OR NOT. THE LAST WORD FOR THE PEOPLE NOT FOR THE TERRORIST

Another Facebook friend, an Egyptian living in Cairo, did not support Morsi but believes the 2012 election was fair and he should be given the opportunity to complete his term in office.  She values the rule of law.

A third Facebook friend, an Egyptian studying in the U.S. as a Fulbright scholar with plans to return to his country next year, told me he supports Morsi and is upset that the military removed him.  What type of ‘democracy’ is this when a lawfully elected President can be forcefully removed?

As an American observing these events from afar, the ONLY thing I know for sure is that there is much disagreement about what happened last week in Egypt and what should happen moving forward.

Here’s what I suspect:

  • President Morsi made many mistakes during his short 12-months in office and was incapable of governing for all Egyptians.  He wanted to transform Egypt into an Islamist nation, and he thought that he was immune from the will of the people after election day.  He had opportunities to correct his course and save his presidency, but he was stubborn and refused.  
  • The military has always been in charge in Egypt.  They were in charge during Mubarak’s 30-year reign.  They were in charge after Morsi was elected.  They are in charge today.  I have heard that the Egyptian military accounts for 40% of the nation’s economy because they are so heavily involved in the private sector.  The 2011 “revolution” did not bring democracy to Egypt.  The 2013 coup will not bring democracy either.
  • Egyptians are suffering.  Their economy has nose-dived, unemployment has sky-rocketed, tourism has dried up, and the basics (food and fuel) are in short supply.  People who are hurting as much as Egyptians are hurting can’t be expected to sit at home quietly and “suck it up.” I suspect that many Egyptians on the streets this month who were demanding Morsi’s removal were desperately pleading for jobs and stability rather than fearing an Islamist nation.
  • Regional and international interests played a role in the Egyptian coup.  The U.S. doesn’t want to call it a coup because then it wouldn’t be allowed by law to send the F-16s and $$ to Egypt. Turkey denounced the coup and demanded that Morsi be returned to power. Syria’s Assad seemed pleased with the coup.  Both the UAE and Saudi Arabia promised to send LOTS of $$ to the new interim government in Egypt, signaling their approval of the coup.  Even Qatar’s new leader showed his support for the coup.  No doubt, Israel is happy that the Muslim Brotherhood has been ousted.
  • Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the Palestinian Authority, congratulated Egyptians and urged Palestinians in Gaza to follow their example by ousting Hamas from the Gaza Strip.
  • The Muslim Brotherhood will be persecuted and worse in Egypt and in the Gulf States for the foreseeable future.
  • Many Palestinians inside and outside of Gaza are caught because of the Rafah border closing.  Medical patients can’t travel to get medical attention; students can’t travel to their universities; pilgrims can’t travel to Mecca; and many can’t return to their families in Gaza.

Who are the winners?  Losers?

I think the clear winner is the Egyptian military – no doubt about it.

The clear loser is the Muslim Brotherhood.   And I might add democracy.

Between those two extremes are the millions of Egyptians.  It’s too soon to tell but I fear the worse.

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Filed under Egypt, Politics

My answer

While the post-coup developments in Egypt begin to unfold, there are many thoughtful commentators in the press and online essentially Monday-morning quarterbacking and speculating about what happens next.  I confess, I am doing it also, see here.

There are strong opinions opposing Morsi and supporting the military coup.  There are equally strong opinions supporting Morsi and opposing the coup.

It seems clear — you are either with “the people” or “with Morsi.”

False!   That is a false dichotomy and simplistic and I refuse to fall into that trap.

I’m not an Egyptian and so I understand those people who discount the opinions of Westerners.  I can’t vote in Egyptian elections.  I can’t demonstrate in Tahrir Square.  My blood is not going to be spilt.  But I am a citizen of the world and I believe to the bottom of my core that we are all connected, we can all learn from each other, and we all have a responsibility to treat our brothers and sisters as we hope they will treat us.

A friend of mine from Germany supports the Egyptians on the street today demanding a new government.  He asked me some very good questions.

  • Is Democracy only about elections? How about behaving democratically after you have gained power?
  • And what about sovereignty of the people after an election. Is it OK to establish authoritarian regimes after you gained a majority in elections? Is democracy just the rule of the majority with no rights for the minority?
  • Was Hitler the legitimate ruler of Germany after March 1933 because he won the elections and had the majority behind him?  Was it OK to deprive Germans of all of their rights and establish a racist order? What kind of democratic attitude is that?

Thoughtful questions deserve a thoughtful response.  I’ve given it some thought.

No, democracy is not only found at the polling box on election day, although the election process is very important.  In the United States, we are in danger of losing our democracy because of the money flowing into our elections (Citizens United decision) and the redistricting shenanigans and voter disenfranchisement and fraud.  Elections are very important.

No, it is not OK to establish an authoritarian regime after winning an election.  The Economist wrote about Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan who won a majority of the votes in three elections but then believed he could govern as he pleased without listening to his people.  Last month Erdogan arrested the lawyers and closed down the media.  And the world watched as Turks rose up and rebelled.

President Morsi failed miserably to be the President of all Egyptians.  He believed his legitimacy came only from the ballot-box and he could ignore the voices calling for a secular government.  I understand the opposition felt it had no choice but I wonder how much of the old guard from the old regime (Mubarak cronies) and liberal-secularists were conspiring all along to malign and demonize Morsi.  And I wonder how much of the emotion on the streets was cynically manipulated.  Isn’t it interesting that the fuel shortages escalated just days before June 30th but suddenly disappeared after the military coup?

The Economist writes about crass majoritarianism as a “zombie democracy.”  Do millions of people in the streets = democracy?  What about the millions who stayed at home?   What about the millions who support Morsi?  

I don’t believe Morsi won his legitimacy at the ballot-box, just as I don’t believe the millions demonstrating in the streets can strip him of his legitimacy.  Sometimes leaders have to make unpopular decisions — just ask President Obama about that.  The tyranny of the majority can be ugly.

What is the difference between what happened in Turkey last month and in Egypt this week?  Both nations have elected leaders who believed their legitimacy came from the ballot-box and they were prepared to rule over a “zombie democracy.” Millions of people rose up, but Erdogan is still in power and Morsi is out.  Why?

Perhaps because Turkey and the Turks have more experience with democratic governance, and they have the institutions (independent judiciary, media, parliament or Grand National Assembly) to check Erdogan’s abuses.

Perhaps because Turkey and the Turks do not have a military weaned on corrosive perks and power.  A military coup was not possible.

Perhaps because Turkey and the Turks have a longer history of multi-culturalism and pluralism.

Perhaps because Turkey and the Turks are not suffering under the same economic woes that are plaguing Egypt.

Egyptians have a long way to go before they have anything resembling the secular democracy that Turkey has today, if that is what Egyptians want.

But what happened this week in Egypt was not democracy in action, it was a military coup.  I fear the repercussions will be felt for a long, long time.

Egyptians in the Cairo underground Metro.

Egyptians in the Cairo underground Metro.

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Filed under Egypt, Elections, People

A military coup – now what?

The events in Egypt this week have many commentators and pundits asking “When is a coup not a coup?”

Just to be clear, the definition of a coup –

Noun
  1. A sudden, violent, and illegal seizure of power from a government.
  2. A notable or successful stroke or move.

I’ve been watching the “debate” between my pro- and anti-Morsi friends on my Facebook page.   Those in favor of getting rid of Morsi prefer to focus on his misdeeds and missteps and avoid the term “coup” because that connotes a misdeed as well.

My friends who support Morsi are outraged by the mob rule and the military coup.  They have no qualms calling it a coup.  Neither does Turkey.

“Whatever the reason is, it is unacceptable that a democratically-elected government was overthrown by illegitimate means, even more, with a military coup,” the Turkish minister added, calling for an immediate end to Morsi’s arrest.

Contrast that with the statement made by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who expressed hope that [the new acting President Adli Mansour] would fulfill the aspirations of the Egyptian people to “live in freedom, dignity and stability.”  Abbas praised the Egyptian army and its commanders for preserving the country’s security and preventing it from slipping toward the abyss.  Tayeb Abdel Rahim, a top aide to Abbas, saluted the Egyptian army for the “wonderful achievement.”

Robert Fisk’s piece in the Independent (July 5) exposes the West’s [and I might add Abbas’] hypocrisy.  Obama certainly won’t call it a coup because the U.S. law would require him to withhold the $1.5 billion our government sends Egypt regularly. Fisk also notes:

And there is one salient fact about the events of the last 48 hours in Egypt. No one is happier – no one more satisfied nor more conscious of the correctness of his own national struggle against ‘Islamists’ and ‘terrorists’ — than Assad. The West has been wetting itself to destroy Assad – but does absolutely nothing when the Egyptian army destroys its democratically-elected president for lining up with Assad’s armed Islamist opponents.

Cairo Skyline

Cairo Skyline

A medical doctor, Hassaan Choudry, wrote:

Today is a throbbing day for democracy, rule of law, legitimacy, truth, factuality, principle and any other word that fits into the same category. An elected head of the state, with a victory margin of a million votes, was overthrown by an army chief who said blatantly and shamelessly ‘this is not a coup‘.  Shadi Hamid, a renowned analyst on Egypt and the director of research at the Brookings Institute, Doha, was almost spontaneous when he replied‘If this is not a coup, the word “military coup” no longer have any meaning‘.

The Economist, in my opinion, has provided the most cogent description of Morsi’s one year in office, the role of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and the events leading up to the coup.  Check it out here.  I must agree with the editor of The Economist:

“This week we put Egypt on the cover, without enthusiasm. Some people—including many Egyptians—are cheering the ouster of the Islamist president, Muhammad Morsi. We think it a tragedy. It sets a dreadful precedent for the region, in that it encourages discontented people to get rid of their leaders by disrupting their rule, not by voting them out, and it encourages Islamists to distrust democracy. The army can mitigate the situation by holding elections swiftly and cleanly, but much damage has already been done.”

Young Egyptian selling flags near Tahrir Square.

Young Egyptian selling flags near Tahrir Square.

What can the world expect now?

  • Violence, a lot of it.  For days, weeks, and maybe months to come.
  • At least one commentator thinks this revolt will fuel the Al-Qaeda fires.
  • Military rulers will delay elections until calm is restored, or so they will say.
  • Tourists and tourism dollars, tepid before the coup, will dry up completely now.  And forget foreign investment.
  • That IMF loan?  Forget it.  And there’s a good chance that loan from Qatar will disappear too.
  • The long lines at the fueling stations will disappear because the fuel will all but disappear too.
  • Hunger will rise because the lack of fuel means farmers can’t run their wells and can’t irrigate their fields and can’t get the wheat to markets.
  • The 13+% unemployment in Egypt has nowhere to go but up.
Rafah border between Egypt and Gaza

Rafah border between Egypt and Gaza

As dire as all of this sounds for Egyptians, my concern (truth be told) is with Gaza.  How will this coup impact the Palestinians in Gaza who share a border with Egypt, the only lifeline to the outside world since Israel has hermetically sealed this small enclave (air, land, and sea)?

  • Israel must be pleased that the Egyptian army is back in power.  They can count on the Egyptian military being good sycophants, just as they can with the U.S. Congress, to keep the Palestinians penned in.  
  • Hamas will again be blamed for the unrest in Egypt. Many Egyptians believe Hamas is responsible for the abduction and killing of Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai.  Hamas denies it, but how do you prove a negative?  Israel must be pleased with that predicament.
  • Movement in and out of Gaza through the Rafah border crossing will be much more difficult, if not impossible, for the next days and weeks. Two Palestinian friends of mine are outside waiting to return home.  I wonder how long they can wait.
  • Food, fuel, medicine and many other goods that enter Gaza illegally through the tunnels will not come. I’ve heard some Palestinian officials outside of Gaza call for the closure of the tunnels because all trade should be transparent and legal.  My response? “Damn right it should be. Tell that to the Israelis who have blockaded Gaza for the past 7 years, forcing this tunnel economy to emerge.”
  • PA President Abbas is calling for Palestinians to overthrow Hamas now.  Whatever happened to the notion of reconciliation and building a democratic Palestinian state? Hamas was democratically elected, right?
  • Finally, will I be able to return to Gaza now?   That’s on my mind.

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Filed under Egypt, Elections, Gaza, Hamas, Israel, People, US Policy

Front row seat in Cairo

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Protesters marching, chanting and dancing down Mohammed Farid Street in Cairo in front of my hotel tonight.

I didn’t plan it ….. but I ended up in Cairo on the second anniversary of Egypt’s revolution that toppled Mubarak.  Or should I say the second revolution that toppled President Morsi?  

A few Egyptians I’ve talked with think the Army will restore order and throw out Morsi.  BBC suggests a military coup might be on the horizon.  And tonight we hear on TV that Morsi is traveling to Germany tomorrow.  Bad timing on his part.  Now there is speculation that the coup might happen when he is out of the country.

Facebook and Twitter are strange venues for watching the current events in Egypt, but that’s where I’m getting most of my information.  And from hotel guests who venture out to Tahrir.

The TV is usually turned to the local Arabic channels.  It’s more important that the Egyptian hotel staff have access to the news and the foreign guests respect that.  The local English newspapers are interesting but not helpful for keeping abreast of the rapidly changing events.

The big western hotel near the US Embassy was attacked by thugs yesterday.  The few guests that were still there have been evacuated.

I avoided Tahrir Square today where most of the clashes are occurring between demonstrators and the Army.  Last night an army vehicle was “captured” and torched in Tahrir.  Pictures of young protesters and Black Bloc members dancing near the burning vehicle were posted on Twitter and made me think of Lord of the Flies.

Facebook “friends” have been sharing their thoughts about the unrest in Egypt.  Some support President Morsi; some think he’s merely a puppet for the US and IMF; some believe there must be outside provocateurs agitating things here with the intent of overthrowing Morsi; and some are cheering the demonstrators on.

Most of Cairo is unaffected by the unrest.  Families are walking on the streets window-shopping, vendors are selling their items on the sidewalks, stores are open.  Men are sitting in the alley smoking sheesha. I visited a bookstore today and bought Naguib Mahfouz’s The Cairo Trilogy and Alaa Al Aswany’s Chicago.

Unlike the excitement I felt in January 2011 watching the revolution from my couch in Albuquerque, I feel a sense of sadness today.  I’ll explain that sadness tomorrow.

 

 

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