By Fadi Elhusseini
Genuine democracy requires practice and partnership, and cannot be realised aloof from people. Mobilising crowds to replace the ballot box is very dangerous as the lust for power and authority can be cast in popular demands, and gain
proforma legitimacy. In order to put forward a truthful analysis, one should call a spade a spade.
First and foremost, what the army has committed in Egypt is nothing but a “coup”. Discharging a president who was democratically elected through fair elections (the first of its kind in decades in Egypt), the suspension of the constitution (voted for by referendum), the resolution of the Shura (legislative) Council and the closure of radio and TV stations in synch with scores of arrests without warrant or court orders are all signs of a coup.
Meanwhile, the attempts to draw an analogy between what happened on 30 June, 2013 and 25 January, 2011 is erroneous. In the revolution of 25 January 2011, the toppled regime did not derive its power from democratic and fair elections and its supporters didn’t have any real presence, on the ground, when compared to the rebels. As for what happened on 30 June, removing a president that took power through fair elections and who has evident presence and supporters in every city in Egypt is an entirely different case.
Moreover, the allegations the Egyptian army tried to make were marred by a lot of impurities. Talking about siding with the people in the face of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) is erroneous, especially if the classification criterion is the presence in squares and streets. This is because the bias and siding would be to one side’s advantage at the others expense. Additionally, saying that the performance of the previous government was one of the weaknesses of the degree that prompted the military action to stop this decline is misleading too. Evaluating the performance of a president or a government cannot be reasonable after less than a year in power, bearing in mind the difficult political, economic and social conditions Egypt suffered before and during this year, plus the continuous instability and demonstrations throughout this year.
Egypt 2013 and Chile 1973- Similarities and differences
In effect, the toppling of President Mohamed Morsi and the ensuing violence and human rights violations, committed mainly by the army in Egypt, retells the 1973 US-funded coup d’état in Chile.
The main difference between the two cases is the role of external and internal factors. For instance, in Chile, the coup was instigated by the CIA and the following government was ostensibly supported by the US. In Egypt, poor economic performance, government wrongdoings, the state of polarisation and the continuous incitement against Muslim Brotherhood (MB) were the main reasons behind the coup. In the case of Egypt there is no evidence of external involvement prior to the coup and even the welcoming reaction of the some Arab countries who have started to pour money in order to assist the new- de facto government, does not prove any external role either.
Despite such differences, overall the Egyptian coup appears as a repeated scenario of the Chilean Coup d’état. First and foremost, the two coups took place within the context of major global and regional events (Cold war, Chile’s case & the Arab Spring Egypt’s case). Freely elected presidents were civilians (Chile’s Salvador Allende was a physician & Egypt’s Mohamed Morsi is an engineer- PhD holder) and they came to power with narrow plurality. Both toppled presidents were overthrown by military commanders (Augusto Pinochet in Chile and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Egypt), who were promoted and assigned as Commanders-in-Chief of the army by Allende and Morsi, respectively. Chile and Egypt were living constitutional crises and massive economic and social instability as a prelude to coups. Last but not least, the clash in both cases was between two ideological camps; conservative-dominated Congress of Chile (US supported) versus socialists (USSR supported), while in Egypt the conflict was between MB, as a representative of ‘moderate’ Islam, against liberals (secular) camp.
Muslim Brotherhood in Power
Throughout one year of their rule, the MB failed to smooth Egyptians’ fears, and could not walk the walk of other successful Islamic parties in the region, like Turkey’s AKP whose political and economic success was striking and dubbed by many Arabs as a model. Thus, it can be inferred that the sole reason behind this current state of affairs is the lack of political experience of the MB, which was reflected in a number of controversial incidents.
The most striking mistake the MB made in was passing the new constitution despite opposition from Christians and civil society. This has caused a rift between the MB and the rest of civil and political actors in the Egyptian society. The rift widened after a series of changes brought about by Morsi’s government of Prime Minister Hesham Qandil, who appointed new governors and refused a national consensus government. The dismissal of presidential adviser Khaled Alameddine, a member of the senior leadership of the Salafi Nour Party, is a stark example of how the MB began to lose many of their allies.
While suspicions mounted, the political exclusion of non-MB actors became evident and new political appointments of MB members and their supporters and allies proved these doubts. Such actions and decisions deepened and increased uncertainty, and their attitude was interpreted as a rejection of any form of political partnership with other segments of the society, especially non-Muslim ones.
Furthermore, and following the hasty dismissal of Defense Minister Tantawi and Chief of Staff Sami Anan, discontent among security and military forces became prevalent. This led dozens of officers to support the revolution (30 June), especially after Morsi’s accusations that the security forces where incapable of protecting MB headquarters.
Such a tense environment came in tandem with poor political performance, the continued economic downturn, declining rates of employment and investment and accusations of marginalising several segments of the society, all leading to a growing state of polarisation. Tension and incitement escalated, fiery speeches, articles and feverish TV shows aimed to attack the other side became common, until the eruption occurred.
First, it should be underscored that disqualifying the MB, or any other political or social actor, from political life will have momentous repercussions. The longer violence, social hatred and exacerbated cultural polarisation lasts, the less likely it is to develop into a sound democratic environment. For that, it is important for newly fledged democracies to understand that tolerance should replace hatred and partnership should overcome disqualification, and that this is the sole path towards more healthy and stable societies.
Another conclusion which can be drawn is that the longer coup-makers remain in power, the more likely their rule turns into dictatorship, even if they exercise some sort of democratic practices. The moment such regimes sense a menace to their reigns, they would start gritting teeth to protect and bolster their rule.
Simply put, the Egyptian experience was within striking distance to achieve sound democracy, yet this will not now be realized except with a peaceful transfer of power from military to civil institutions, in tandem with better educating people on how they can practice their democratic choice, peacefully, and accepting partnership and living side by side with the others.
Fadi Elhusseini is a Political and Media Counselor in Turkey. He is an associate research fellow (ESRC) at the Institute for Middle East Studies-Canada and a doctoral candidate at the University of Sunderland in Britain.