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Egypt in turmoil

09 July, 2013

By Javid Hussain


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It is nothing less than a tragedy for Egypt that its first democratically elected President has been unceremoniously ousted by its army brass through a military coup in blatant violation of the constitution. Mass demonstrations against the rule of former President Muhammad Morsi took place in various cities of Egypt on 30th June. On 1st July, the army led by General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the chief of the army staff, gave a 48-hour ultimatum to Mr Morsi to come to an agreement with his opponents or step down. When Morsi refused to step down, General el-Sisi suspended the constitution on 3rd July. Morsi was taken into military custody and on 4th July and the head of the Egyptian supreme court, Adly Mansour, was appointed as interim President. Adly Mansour promised to hold elections soon but gave no date.

Presumably he will need the approval of his military masters before making any significant political move.Two main charges have been levied against Morsi by his detractors. The first charge is that he was incompetent and was unable to improve the Egyptian economy. It is true that the Egyptian economy did not witness any appreciable improvement under Morsi. But it is also a fact that the slowing down of the Egyptian economy started at the end of Hosni Mubarak's rule. After Hosni Mubarak's ouster in 2011, the condition of the economy worsened when the army generals ruled the country for about a year and a half.

So virtually what Morsi's critics in the army and among Hosni Mubarak's supporters in Egypt are saying is that while they did leave the economy in a mess, Morsi should have improved it in the short period of one year that followed! It is questionable whether the period of one year is sufficient to judge the performance of any government in the economic field because of the time lag between the implementation of new economic policies and their results and the effects of international factors.

Further, even if a government fails to deliver, it must be changed through the ballot and not through a military coup as happened in Egypt. If the argument of Morsi's critics in Egypt and abroad is accepted, many governments in the West and elsewhere where the economic conditions are unsatisfactory would have to be kicked out through military coups. If this route to change of governments is not acceptable in mature Western democracies, why should it be tolerated in the case of Egypt?The second main charge against Morsi is that he failed to "include a wide range of views" in his government or, in other words, his government was not inclusive enough for the taste of the westernised sections of the Egyptian society.

The question again is whether Morsi was given enough time and space to widen the political base of his government. The answer to this question is a resounding no. Morsi's opponents in the Egyptian society were out to discredit him by withholding their cooperation in the first place and then accusing him of his inability to include them in his government. Further, the time given to judge him even on this score was totally insufficient. It is also ironical that the so-called supporters of human rights and women's rights advocacy groups in Egypt do not see anything wrong in a military coup which has trampled upon the fundamental rights of the whole population if it is instrumental in overthrowing a government that they don't like.

In any case, how can you have a stable democratic system in a country if the will of the majority expressed through fair and free elections is to be thwarted by the minority through street demonstrations followed by a military coup? It is true that a democratically elected government must remain sensitive to the views of the minority in giving expression to the views of the majority. However, this argument cannot be stretched so far as to enable the minority to dictate to the majority. The practice of most of the Western democracies at home is at variance with their views on the recent military coup in Egypt. The Western governments by and large have failed to condemn the coup and instead seem inclined to support it tacitly and through their media on one pretext or the other. This assessment is particularly valid in the case of the United States which has avoided even the use of the word coup to describe the overthrow of Morsi's government by the Egyptian military.

In the ultimate analysis, the ancien regime represented by the Egyptian army, Hosni Mubarak's supporters and the westernised class of the Egyptian society has staged a comeback through the recent military coup. By all the indications, it was a carefully planned move to dislodge Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood-supported government. The top brass of the Egyptian army saw in the consolidation of an elected government a threat to its own power and vested interests to which it has become accustomed over the past six decades. The remnants of Mubarak's regime saw in Morsi's overthrow the possibility of preserving their own political and economic gains. The westernised class of the society saw in Morsi's departure the possibility to safeguard their way of life irrespective of whether it was in line with the wishes of the majority of the Egyptian people or not.

It was not entirely surprising that many of the Western governments showed understanding of and sympathy for the views of the perpetrators and the supporters of the military coup in Egypt. After all, in the past also the Western governments, particularly the US, actively or tacitly supported military coups in Third World countries. We are all aware of the role played by the intelligence agencies of the US and UK in overthrowing the democratically elected government of Mossadagh in Iran in 1950's. The ultimate result, of course, was the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the resultant hostility between the West and the Islamic Republic of Iran. It seems that the US leadership and intelligentsia have not drawn the right lessons from their experience of mishandling Iran in the past.

The coup in Egypt has wiped away the democratic gains of the fall of the dictatorial regime of Hosni Mubarak. Predictably, it has also led to violent clashes between Morsi's supporters and opponents. The clashes on the 5th of July alone led to over 40 deaths and hundreds of injured. More clashes can be expected over the coming days and weeks. The message that has gone to the Islamists is that they will not be allowed to exercise power even if they win it through fair and free elections. So they may be tempted to use other means to gain political power thus further aggravating political instability in Muslim countries.

Egypt is, therefore, likely to remain in turmoil for quite some time until the political forces in the country are able to work out an agreed formula on which to base a stable democratic order.


The writer is a retired ambassador and the president of the Lahore Council for World Affairs.

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