“Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.” — Thomas Jefferson
Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Prize-winning diplomat, will be named as Egypt’s interim prime minister, his spokeswoman said Saturday.
Mr. ElBaradei, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005 for his work with the International Atomic Energy Agency, said earlier this week that he had worked hard to convince Western powers of what he called the necessity of forcibly ousting President Mohamed Morsi, contending that Mr. Morsi had bungled the country’s transition to an inclusive democracy.
In the interview, Mr. ElBaradei also defended the widening arrests of Mr. Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood allies and the shutdown of Islamist television networks that followed the removal of Mr. Morsi on Wednesday by Egypt’s generals. [Source]
Mohamed Morsi is out. Within hours of the military’s deadline, the first democratically elected President of the new Egypt stepped down. There is jubilation in the streets, and the redo of Egypt’s revolution has renewed the hopes of millions that the world’s largest Arab country will turn towards a brighter future.
If only it were that easy.
To be fair, it’s understandable — and to be expected – that the Tamarod protestors are celebrating a major victory. A semi-bloodless overthrow of an aspiring theocrat is generally an exciting thing. That is true for today, but the days ahead in Egypt will be fraught with anxious uncertainty. Nobody has the answers for what is next- and most aren’t even thinking about it yet.
At the risk of sounding cynical, Egypt has been here before. That the current protests in Tahrir Square are larger and louder than the 2011 episode doesn’t change the eerie feeling of déjà vu that should slightly diminish hopeful expectations for the future.
Proponents of Egypt’s revolution 2.0 will undoubtedly point out that Morsi was a liar, a failure, and an authoritarian. All true, though that doesn’t change a few uncomfortable realities staring Egyptians in the face.
Despite the best intentions of Tamarod, the country may be ungovernable. The economy is still in free-fall. And if the Islamists go underground and resort to violence, the future could be much bleaker than anything under Mubarak or the Brotherhood.
While events on the ground are changing hour-to-hour, here is an overview of the good, bad, and ugly of the Egyptian coup, as it currently stands.
Morsi was an authoritarian; he violated countless pledges and abused the spirit and letter of the Democratic process. His ouster is by no means something to lament in those respects, and perhaps he did plan to further consolidate power and cancel future elections.
The military, usually a threat to take power and hold it in a coup, seems completely disinclined to do so. They want to maintain their privileges and profits, and seemingly harbor little desire to preside over a collapsing Egyptian state. So that major concern of coups probably won’t be at issue here.
Most importantly of all, the Egyptian people have another chance at governance. If all goes according to plan, a new Constitution will be written, new elections held, and a durable governing coalition can be put in place. It didn’t work the first time, but this time it could be different for Egypt.
Lessons have been learned in Egypt. We will see in time if they are adequately applied.
Egypt just had a coup. When tanks roll in, with the implied threat of force, and demand that a democratically elected leader step down (or else), it’s a coup. We can parse words, and call this a democratic uprising, a democratic coup, or whatever — it’s still a coup. Shying away from reality doesn’t change it. And while a coup can be a good thing, it’s by definition acting outside the established political system.
The Brotherhood was failing, and it had nobody to blame (other than Israel and America, two omnipresent scapegoats). Now it can construe a new narrative that its opponents were never serious about Democracy. They abandoned their own principles, and stopped democracy in order to save it. Whether the rest of the world sees it that way or not, it will be a potent narrative to whip up the Islamists not just in Egypt, but across the region.
No matter how odious it was for Egyptians to suffer under Brotherhood rule, a precedent has been set. If enough people are angry at their government, they storm the streets, demand new leadership, and expect the military to back them.
Islamist movements across the Middle East are looking at this and taking away one lesson — make sure the military is on your side. The rest is details.
The Islamists aren’t going anywhere. They may step down today, they might even pretend to join an interim government, but many of them are furious at this revocation of their victory at the ballot box.
The Muslim Brotherhood—and the more extreme Salafist Al Nour party—can still count millions of supporters in their ranks. And many of those Islamic hardliners are looking at the coup in Cairo with revulsion and rage.
New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports that during the rallies protesting now ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, mobs sexually assaulted and in some cases raped at least 91 women in Tahrir Square over four days beginning on Sunday.
HRW received some of the reports from the Egyptian group Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment/Assault which runs a rape hotline and tries to stop attacks. The Egyptian group confirmed 46 attacks on Sunday, 17 on Monday, and 23 on Tuesday all in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
Volunteers evacuated women from the clutch of their attackers 31 times, HRW reports. Of those women, at least one required surgery as she was raped with a “sharp object.”
“In other cases, women were beaten with metal chains, sticks, and chairs, and attacked with knives. In some cases they were assaulted for as long as 45 minutes before they were able to escape,” HRW reports.
HRW writes in a statement released Wednesday, “Since November 2011, police have stayed away from Tahrir Square during bigger protests, to avoid clashes with protesters. This has left women protesters unprotected, and the men involved in the gang attacks and rapes secure in the knowledge that they will not be arrested or identified by police.
A brief look at the history of Islamist movements — and the Brotherhood in particular — shows an ability to endure crackdowns, and operate effectively from outside the political mainstream. In fact, organizing in the shadows may be the Islamists most finely honed skill. Clearly, they don’t have a clue when it comes to inclusive governance. Push them into darkness, however, and they thrive.
But the real game changer would be a return to violence for the Islamists.
Nobody knows what comes next if that happens. Drowned out by the cheers and the vuvuzela horns in Tahrir are voices of Islamists gathering in pockets around Cairo, screaming about injustice while they wave homemade weapons in the air.
Even if Tamarod supporters hugely outnumber Islamists, instability and insurgency don’t require a majority. They require dedication.
Nobody questions the Islamists when it comes to that qualification.
Posterity may be kind to this phase of the Egyptian revolution. But before the Arab Spring era, military coups often had a decidedly different connotation in the Middle East. Parallels between Egypt today, for example, and the Algerian military government’s horrifically bloody fight with an Islamist insurgency in the 1990’s should give all onlookers to Egypt a moment of pause.
So with all the growing turmoil in Egypt and the threat of a military coup what was our Secretary of State, John Kerry, doing? He was lounging on his yacht. As millions of Egyptians rose up to depose the Muslim Brotherhood-backed Mohamed Morsi, Secretary of State John Kerry was on his private yacht, the State Department finally admitted Friday.
Yes, after vigorously denying reports that Kerry was on his private yacht during the uprising Wednesday, the State Department has issued a somewhat sheepish retraction.
“While he was briefly on his boat on Wednesday, Secretary Kerry worked around the clock all day including participating in the president’s meeting with his national security council,” spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
Psaki continued, claiming Kerry also held calls “with Norwegian Foreign Minister Eade, Qatari Foreign Minister al-Attiyah, Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu, Egyptian Constitution Party President ElBaradei and five calls Ambassador Patterson on that day alone and since then he continued to make calls to leaders including Emirati Foreign Minister bin Zayed, Prime Minister Netanyahu and Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr.”
The State Department said none of the calls were made from his boat.
And just for good measure, let’s revisit Psaki’s original defense of Sec. Kerry [emphasis added]:
“Since his plane touched down in Washington at 4 a.m., Secretary Kerry was working all day and on the phone dealing with the crisis in Egypt.
He participated in the White House meeting with the president by secure phone and was and is in non-stop contact with foreign leaders, and his senior team in Washington and Cairo. Any report or tweet that he was on a boat is completely inaccurate.”
Yeah, the photos make that statement a little awkward.
Once again we see how the Obama administration handles foreign policy crises. Just like Benghazi they are guilty of exuberant incompetence. They make sweeping statements while they dodge and obfuscate their inability to move away from the White House talking points. It seems as though anyone involved with Obama’s foreign policy will come away with a tarnished reputation.
In May, Secretary of State John Kerry quietly sent $1.3 billion in U.S. military aid to Muslim Brotherhood-controlled Egypt, even though the Middle Eastern country wasn’t meeting certain congressionally-mandated democracy standards allowing the aid.
With Islamist President Mohammed Morsi ousted from power by the military, the Obama administration faces a new dilemma which will have a direct impact on future U.S. financial aid to Egypt.
Should it define the events of Wednesday evening as a “military coup”? That’s important, because under U.S. law, the government is not permitted to provide financial aid to a country where the military has overthrown a democratically-elected government.
In his carefully-worded statement reacting to the developments in Cairo Wednesday, President Barack Obama stopped short of calling the power-shift a “coup d’etat.”
Reuters reports that at stake is the $1.5 billion in annual U.S. aid to Egypt, almost all of it in the form of military aid.
“If the United States formally declares Morsi’s ouster a coup, U.S. law mandates that most aid for its longtime ally must stop. And that could weaken the Egyptian military, one of the country’s most stable institutions with long-standing ties to U.S. authorities,” Reuters reports.
But Reuters also points out that millions of Egyptians protested in the streets for Morsi to step down and that the military has announced a roadmap to return to civilian rule.
Boris Zilberman, deputy director of congressional relations at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies explains how defining the events as a coup could lead to the suspension of U.S. aid [emphasis added]:
“According to Section 7008 of the FY2012 Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 112-74), aid administered by the State Department and USAID is banned to the government of any country where a military coup or decree has overthrown a democratically-elected government.
In President Obama’s FY14 budget request, Egypt is slated to receive $1.3 billion in military aid, known as Foreign Military Financing (FMF). FMF is administered by the State Department’s Office of Plans, Policy and Analysis. Egypt is also slated to receive $250 million in economic aid, which is administered by USAID. The full $1.55 billion in FY14 could be subject to section 7008.”
Zilberman provides the relevant wording for Section 7008, which prohibits “any assistance to the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup d’etat or decree or… in which the military plays a decisive role.”\It also says that, “assistance may be resumed to such government if the President determines and certifies to the Committees on Appropriations that subsequent to the termination of assistance a democratically elected government has taken office.”
However, those funds “shall not apply to assistance to promote democratic elections or public participation in democratic processes.”
In his Wednesday statement, Obama said:
“We are deeply concerned by the decision of the Egyptian Armed Forces to remove President Morsi and suspend the Egyptian constitution. I now call on the Egyptian military to move quickly and responsibly to return full authority back to a democratically elected civilian government as soon as possible through an inclusive and transparent process, and to avoid any arbitrary arrests of President Morsi and his supporters.”
So how then are supporters of democracy in Egypt — both the crowds in Tahrir Square and foreign observers — to think about these events? Traditionally, military coups are thought of as the antithesis of the democratic process — raw political power being wielded through the barrel of a gun rather than a ballot box. In fact according to U.S. law — albeit a frequently skirted law — foreign aid cannot be provided to governments that took power in military coups. (However they respond to today's events, don't expect Obama administration officials to be throwing around the word "coup" in days to come.)
But are there cases when a coup can advance democracy? In a for the Harvard International Law Journal, Ozan Varol, now a professor at Lewis & Clark Law School, argues that while the vast majority of military coups are undemocratic in nature, and lead to less democratic political regimes, there are significant examples of "democratic coups d'etat."
Varol cites three case studies: the 1960 Turkish Coup in which the military overthrew the ruling Democratic Party, which had gradually consolidated political power and cracked down on political opposition and the press; the 1974 Portuguese Coup, also known as the Carnation Revolution, in which the authoritarian "Estado Novo" was overthrown by the military after tanking the country's economy and embroiling it in a series of unpopular wars in its African colonies; and — interesting in this context — the 2011 ouster of Hosni Mubarak.
Varol argues that there are seven characteristics a coup must generally meet in order to be considered democratic:
“(1) The coup is staged against an authoritarian or totalitarian regime; .
(2) The military responds to persistent popular opposition against that regime;
(3) The authoritarian or totalitarian regime refuses to step down in response to the popular uprising;
(4) The coup is staged by a military that is highly respected within the nation, ordinarily because of mandatory conscription;
(5) The military stages the coup to overthrow the authoritarian or totalitarian regime;
(6) The military facilitates free and fair elections within a short span of time; and
(7) The coup ends with the transfer of power to democratically elected leaders.”
So does what's happening in Egypt right now fit the bill? For the last two criteria, it remains to be seen. Two through five are arguably a good fit. But the first and most important one is a tough sell. Morsi was democratically elected just a year ago. To the extent that that election was marred by political interference, it was to the detriment of the Brotherhood.
On the other hand, Morsi's opponents would probably argue that the Brotherhood was itself engaged in what's sometimes called a self-coup or autogolpe, in which a democratically elected government gradually erodes the country's political institutions in order to keep itself in power — in Morsi's case, increasing the power of the executive through a series of presidential decrees.
The military will argue that its actions were necessary to prevent the emergence of a new authoritarian strongman. The good news is that around the world, coups now more frequently result in a quick return to the normal democratic process than in the bad old days of the Cold War, but it's also possible Egypt may be in for something like the old-fashioned Turkish model in which the government was nominally democratic but the military would step in periodically to make "corrections". There's some evidence to suggest the Egyptian military has been interested in such a model since Mubarak's ouster.
The Egyptian military's actions over the next few weeks will largely determine how history views today's events and the danger of admitting the existence of "democratic coups" is that coup plotters almost always describe what they're doing as safeguarding democracy even as they accumulate power for themselves. Whether something is a "coup" or a revolution, and whether or not that coup is democratic, is generally in the eye of the beholder.
Egypt is having a people's revolution of sorts, as the Egyptian military have cobbled together a political coalition ranging from the Coptic pope to the hyper-reactionary Salafists. They all support the overthrow of Brother Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Obama is a community organizer by profession. He knows all about organizing "spontaneous" demonstrations for the people's revolution. The tricky thing is deciding who represents the real people. In the long history of communist agitators -- the original term for "community organizers" — they always get that part wrong. In the Soviet Union, the kulaks were never real people, but the tiny Bolshevik mob thugs were the authentic vox populi. After all, Vladimir Lenin told them so.
Obama can tell the real voice of the people in the Muslim world, because, as he told Hillary in the White House, according to the New York Times and the Carnegie Endowment, "The best revolutions are organic."
How do you tell who's a real organic revolutionary to Obama? Well, the more radical they are, the farther they want to go back to the Muslim Dark Ages, and the more leftover leftists like George Soros they have on board, the more "authentic" they are.
This is the same logic our vaunted media use to prove that Governor Sarah Palin is not a real woman and Justice Clarence Thomas is not a real black man. These folks understand in their bones who is authentic and who isn't. It's radical chic: Jeremiah Wright, authentic. Lt. Col. Allen West, a total phony.
Americans tend to regard the birth of our nation as the inexorable work of historical forces. Sure, the military campaign against imperial Britain - in which a threadbare revolutionary army took on the world's greatest fighting force - was touch-and-go, but the general process of revolution and the establishment of our Constitutional republic was assured once the redcoats were sent packing. Wasn't it?
On the contrary, if there's one thing the ensuing centuries should have taught us, it is the difficulty of establishing and maintaining such a republic. The extraordinary character of our Founding Fathers has long been undersold. Their ranks were filled with indispensable men. If they had not been giants, their legacy of freedom would not have been so enduring. How many well-intentioned movements toward freedom around the world have failed, for the want of such extraordinary leadership?
The character of the people matters a great deal as well. What Constitution could ever be iron-clad and airtight enough to restrain the depredations of an electorate determined to use government power to satisfy its appetites, rather than respecting the equal right of all citizens to pursue their ambitions in peace?
Revolution is relatively easy. Revolution ending in dignified, enduring liberty is incredibly rare and difficult. Americans are the greatest students of liberty the world has ever known, but it would be arrogant folly to say we have come anywhere near mastering our studies.
For all its dysfunction and disappointments so far, the Egyptian revolution is certainly a dynamic affair. It seems pluralism and rule of law Democracy in this ancient country may have received quite a boost regardless of the methods involved. Maybe.
Let us all hope for a better future for this pivotal country of 90 million.
But celebrations notwithstanding, this thing in Egypt is far from over and I see civil war on the horizon.
Update July 9. 2013.
“At least 40 people were killed Monday in clashes outside a military building in Cairo where supporters of the former president were holding a sit-in, an Egyptian health ministry official said.
Military spokesmen said gunmen opened fire on troops at the building, killing at least five supporters of Mohammed Morsi and one officer.
A spokesman from Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, Mourad Ali, and a witness at the scene however said military forces opened fire at dawn on the protesters outside the Republican Guard building. The different accounts could not be reconciled.”