“Down with military rule” was once the most popular chant in Tahrir Square, during the time when Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces was ruling. Not any more. Last week, the place that symbolized Arab struggle for democracy and freedom celebrated a military coup. One part of Egypt was celebrating the repression of the other part. So what happened? And why do large segments of the society support a coup against Egypt’s first-ever democratically elected president?
Any analysis of Egypt’s crisis will not make sense before dissecting the anti-former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi camp. To simplify, the camp is composed of four main players: the army, the police force, the felol (the term used for remnants of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s “status quo”) and what we might call “non-Islamist revolutionary forces.”
The most powerful actor in this camp is the army, followed by the police. And indeed their intervention tilted the balance of power toward the anti-presidential forces. The felol come in third, with their tremendous wealth and resources, media outlets, connections in state institutions (which in many way they are still part of) and powerful regional and international allies. At the bottom of the food chain lie the non-Islamist revolutionary forces; relatively limited in terms of resources, wealth and arms, but not in terms of enthusiasm and energy.
Let us go back a bit. In September 2011, I was among a group of these people, the majority of whom are liberals. The common dirty phrase then was “military rule” and the common red line was a state dominated by generals. The aim was to push the arms out of Egypt’s politics, and the strategy — we gathered under the coalition of Our Egypt — was to gather seven presidential candidates with one message to the army: Hand over power to an elected civilian.
The initiative included moral and procedural demands: No politician would resort to arms or armed institutions to oust another politician and presidential elections should be held no later than February last year. When the initiative was sent to the ruling generals, they ignored it and never replied.
I am telling this story for two reasons. The first is to show how belittling the army commanders were/are toward civilian politicians.
CHEERING A JUNTA
Back then, our candidates together had more than 90 percent of the votes. Despite that, they were ignored by the generals, regardless of their ideological backgrounds.
The second is to show how far the situation deteriorated; from revolutionary red lines such as “no to military rule” and “no constitution under military rule” to cheering for a junta.
Why the change of heart? Three main reasons: incompetence, unmet expectations and powerful allies. As the West knows all too well, democracy does not usually bring forth the most competent, or the most charismatic. Egypt’s economic, security and political problems will need more than a year to resolve, regardless of who is leading. However, certainly the behavior, rhetoric and multiple blunders of Morsi added oil to the fire.
Our unmet expectations of political inclusion in key government positions, enforcing transitional justice and reforming the security sector fueled the anger.
The former president was not only unable to prosecute the police officers who killed and tortured many of the liberal activists, but also granted the army almost all what it wanted. That included a veto in high politics (national security and sensitive foreign policy issues); an independence of the military-commercial empire with its land-confiscation rights, preferential customs and exchange rates, no taxation and an army of almost free laborers (conscripted soldiers), as well as an immunity from prosecution.