Just over a year ago, Egypt threw off the shackles of its military dictatorship and took on the mantle of a civil democracy becoming, for a short period, the torchbearer of liberty and equality throughout the Arab world. On June 24 last year, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party won the country’s first contested election. It was the first time that an Egyptian president had been freely elected from outside of the military establishment.
By July 3 this year, Morsi had been ousted in a coup d’etat. The uprising against the previous Mubarak regime resulted in the free and fair election of Morsi — a new dawn of democracy and human rights for Egypt. The current spate of protests have seen the rapid destruction of that promise and have become an excuse for the military to regain control.
The immediate aftermath of the July coup reminds us what Egypt is without its democracy and that cannot have been what the many who were angry at President Morsi’s government had in mind when they chose (and were allowed) to vocalize their discontent in street protests.
Everyone in Egypt should now be concerned about the legality and consequences of the military overturning its first democratically elected government. Whatever the justification, disenchantment with a democratically elected leader does not legitimize the use of force and should never be used to remove a democratically elected government.
We can see where Egypt has descended to in the aftermath of the coup. The new military-installed regime does not appear to be interested in safeguarding Egypt’s democracy. The hallmarks of a democratic state have vanished almost immediately. Morsi has been detained in a secret location along with much of his administration. Dubious and historic criminal charges have been leveled against them. So far the detainees have not had access to their families or legal teams. How they are being treated is anyone’s guess.
Many of Morsi’s supporters have gathered in various parts of the country in order to peacefully protest against the military intervention. As tensions escalated the military responded to the civilian protests in an all-too-predictable manner. On July 8, 51 people were killed when lethal force was used on protesters gathered outside an officers’ club believed to be where Morsi was detained. There was greater violence on July 27 when 74 people were reported by advocacy group Human Rights Watch to have been killed, many shot in the head and chest.
By July 31, Amnesty International was reporting that the Egyptian junta’s cabinet had declared, in a televised statement, that pro-Morsi sit-ins in greater Cairo were to be considered a “threat to national security.”
There are worldwide concerns about the escalation of violence with non-governmental organizations (NGO) and governments urging the Egyptian military to show restraint.
Not long ago, autocrats could invoke the notion of “national sovereignty” and avoid any interference from the international community during the internal repression of their citizens. Following World War II, this cozy arrangement is no longer something that heads of state or military commanders can hide behind. It is rapidly becoming the case that leaders responsible for human rights violations will be pursued for their crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC), NGOs and their own expatriates. No longer can they assume that they will live out their days without seeing the inside of a prison cell.