Introduction, by Roger Annis, July 16, 2013
Two articles in recent days shed a lot of light on the circumstances and constellation of political and military forces that came together in Egypt to overthrow the elected president of the country, Mohamed Morsi, on July 3. The articles constitute a further argument for recognizing that what took place in Egypt was a coup by the military leadership. That coup as well as the repression it has unleashed against the leaders and activists of the Muslim Brotherhood should be opposed by progressive forces around the world.
The two articles are enclosed below. They are:
* Egypt: How the coup happened — a counterview, by Tim Dobson, Green Left Weekly, July 15, 2013
* Egyptian liberals embrace the military, brooking no dissent, By David Kirkpatrick, New York Times, July 15, 2013
Egypt: How the coup happened — a counterview
By Tim Dobson, Green Left Weekly, #973, July 15, 2013
Since the removal of Egypt’s first elected president, Mohammed Morsi, on July 3 by the military, a furious debate has occurred whether it represented a military coup or a continuation of the January 25, 2011 revolution. Some have even dubbed it the “second revolution”.
What it represented, above all else, was the culmination of the major split in the forces of those who had supported the revolution that overthrew Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak. This split, mostly between those who supported the Muslim Brotherhood or the political Islam project and secular youth forces, occurred a long time ago. But it only intensified as time went on.
The Muslim Brotherhood invested its hopes in gaining a majority in elections. The secular youth forces, on the other hand, sought to continue the occupations and mobilisations that brought so much success in January 2011.
Parliamentary election results in November 2011 provided a fairly good insight into the support for different forces. Islamist forces dominated and received 69% of the vote, liberal forces 20.3%, forces representing the old regime (the Felool) got 7.4%, while leftists received 2.8%.
Islamist forces had split, with Salafist forces represented in al-Nour leaving the Brotherhood.
While results were “respected” at the time, they were subverted from within. The judiciary, particularly those in higher positions, loyal to Mubarak’s old regime, ruled the elections as “unconstitutional” and dissolved them.
This was denounced by many political forces as a “coup” by the judiciary and the military ― in the absence of the parliament, decision making reverted back to Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which took power after Mubarak’s overthrow.
The presidential candidate for the Muslim Brotherhood, Morsi, said the court decision should be respected, but it indicated that some in Egypt “plan ill against the people”.
This was announced just before the presidential elections and was timed to give a maximum boost to the candidature of Ahmed Shafik, a prime minister under Mubarak. Shafik was the political representative of the felool.
After the first round, the two with the highest vote, Morsi and Shafik, were to run against each other. Secular and liberal forces were divided–some supported Morsi to keep out the felool, and some preferred to abstain. Others preferred a vote for Shafiq to keep out “Islamism”. Morsi ended up winning by 3.4% of the vote.
Shafic was widely believed to be the candidate of SCAF as well as the felool. He boasted about his close ties with the army and in fact, SCAF were the ones who accepted his appeal to run to overturn a ban on Mubarak era figures running.
Morsi, though, was left with little support, except from those who voted for him. The parliament was dissolved, the judiciary and SCAF already showing their disdain for the Brotherhood, as did the felool ― believing it to be usurpers.
However, these forces were joined by a new force, embittered liberals, not happy with how “democratic Egypt” had turned out for them. The Muslim Brotherhood had won every election they had participated in and there were no indications this would change. The only means left to the liberals to gain power was through undemocratic means.
All these forces had an interest in bringing Morsi down and all were happy to use each other in that quest. A power struggle for the state structure had already begun.
One of Morsi’s first moves was to remove Field Marshal Tantawi, the head of SCAF, and appoint General Sissi in his stead.
The battle, however, was mostly played out over the new constitution. The constituent assembly was appointed, not elected. Worried that the judiciary would seek to abolish it as well, Morsi sought to centralise power within the presidency to stop that move.
Morsi also sacked the Mubarak-appointed prosecutor general.
This was a power struggle between Morsi and the judiciary. However, it led to protests on the street that decried it as the move of a dictator. When these protests occurred, liberals forces were already invoking the specter of a military coup to “restore law and order”.
The constitution eventually went to the vote and passed relatively easily, with 63% voting for. Importantly, though, Cairo voted against it as a majority.
A new formation was set up called the “National Salvation Front”, a united front ranging from far-left socialists to Felool figures, all united against Morsi.
Meanwhile, the economy continued to struggle. Morsi had left the economic realm mostly untouched; in fact, he signed a loan agreement with the International Monetary Fund. This built up general discontent. Last year, 53% were satisfied with the situation in the country, but this fell to 30% this year.
Morsi’s approval declined from 78% near the end of last year to 53% in May. Capitalists in the country mostly remained loyal to Mubarak–era figures and are believed to have engaged in economic sabotage to fuel opposition to Morsi.
They also politically supported his overthrow. Billionaire Naguib Sawiris was the financial backbone behind “Tamarod”, the youth-led movement that led the street mobilisations before the coup. As the New York Times reported on July 11: “He donated use of the nationwide offices and infrastructure of the political party he built, the Free Egyptians. He provided publicity through a popular television network he founded and his major interest in Egypt’s largest private newspaper.
“He even commissioned the production of a popular music video that played heavily on his network.”
“Tamarod did not even know it was me!” he said. “I am not ashamed of it.”
Confirmation that Tamarod were coordinating with Felool figures was provided in a profile of its “leader” Mahmoud Badr in Ahram online. It said: “Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak’s last prime minister and a former air force general now living in Abu Dhabi and accused publicly by Morsi of pulling strings behind sabotage in Egypt, says he was in close touch with the protesters. He predicted on July 1 that Morsi’s reign would end within a week and said he was ‘in continuous coordination with colleagues in Cairo’.
“One Tamarod activist who spoke to Reuters said she resigned three days before the giant protest because she was concerned that the secret police and former Mubarak supporters were infiltrating the movement.
“’Suddenly, the faces had changed,’ said B.A., who asked not to give her full name for fear of retribution from the security services. ‘Many of the people I’d worked with left, and some of the new faces I knew were felul (remnants), nostalgic for Mubarak, or justifying the work of state security.’”
The leaders were supportive of Mohammed El Baradei, a liberal figure who was one of the first to raise the prospect of a military coup during the Morsi era.
Badr said: “Baradei is our Bob (daddy), the leader of the revolution…He won the Nobel and we will take it as well.”
Tamarod claimed that 22 million had its petition for early elections but this figure hasn’t been confirmed by anyone.
This alliance was joined by al-Nour, a Salafist formation, which opportunistically joined hoping to become the dominant force. That this coordination was occurring, received confirmation by Muslim Brotherhood figure, who revealed afterwards that on June 23, they were given a seven-day ultimatum by the military to resolve the situation.
With so many forces allied against Morsi and the Brotherhood, the protests that occurred against him on June 30 were huge. Reuters reported that 500,000 were in Tahrir square alone. The military, though, were quick to set the narrative, claiming 14 million were on the streets. Three days later, on CNN, an Egyptian military figure inflated it further to 33 million.
The police force effectively went on strike during the June 30 protests, leading to Muslim Brotherhood offices being torched. The state apparatus had abandoned Morsi long ago, but June 30 provided cover, so that a coup could occur in the name of the “people”.
Nearly all political forces saw June 30 and a military intervention as their way to power, which explains why normally opposed figures could combine so easily.
Supporters of El Baradei saw this as a way for him to become prime minister, Salafists saw it as a way to have earlier elections in which they would overshadow the Brotherhood, the Felool saw it as a way to defeat their most organised enemy and pave their way back to power. Leftists saw it as the next stage in the revolution.
All, except the felool have been disappointed in the wake of the coup. El Baradei was set to become prime minister but the Salafists vetoed it. The Salafists themselves withdrew from the process after the military massacred 51 Muslim Brotherhood members as they prayed.
Leftists have been completely marginalised in the process, as they were never leading it. Tamarod rejected the army’s timeline in which a new constitution and elections would occur. But in reality, SCAF has been the most empowered institution by what has occurred. Its first act was to seek to destroy the Muslim Brotherhood through terror and murder. It seems unlikely it will stop there.
According to polls conducted in Egypt, the coup was an unpopular act ― supported by only 26%. The SCAF will take its time to make sure the felool can return under the fig leaf of the “popular will”.
Egyptian liberals embrace the military, brooking no dissent
By David Kirkpatrick, New York Times, July 15, 2013
CAIRO – In the square where liberals and Islamists once chanted together for democracy, demonstrators now carry posters hailing as a national hero the general who ousted the country’s first elected president, Mohamed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood. Liberal talk-show hosts denounce the Brotherhood as a foreign menace and as “sadistic, extremely violent creatures” unfit for political life. A leading human rights advocate blames the Brotherhood’s “filthy” leaders for the deaths of more than 50 of their own supporters in a mass shooting by soldiers and the police.
A hyper-nationalist euphoria unleashed in Egypt by the toppling of Mr. Morsi has swept up even liberals and leftists who spent years struggling against the country’s previous military-backed governments.
An unpopular few among them have begun to raise alarms about what they are calling signs of “fascism”: the fervor in the streets, the glorification of the military as it tightens its grip and the enthusiastic cheers for the suppression of the Islamists. But the vast majority of liberals, leftists and intellectuals in Egypt have joined in the jubilation at the defeat of the Muslim Brotherhood, slamming any dissenters.
“We are moving from the bearded, chauvinistic right to the clean-shaven, chauvinistic right,” said Rabab el-Mahdi, a left-leaning scholar at the American University in Cairo.
Many Egyptians are overwhelmed with dual emotions: relief at the end of an Islamist government that many called arrogant and ineffective, and thrill at their power to topple presidents. The voices on the left who might be expected to raise alarms about the military’s ouster of a freely elected government are instead reveling in what they see as the country’s escape from the threat that an Islamist majority would steadily push Egypt to the right.
Many on the left are still locked in an battle of semantics, trying to persuade the world – and perhaps one another – that the overthrow of Mr. Morsi was not a “coup” but a “revolution.” The army merely carried out the popular will, they insist. On Sunday, one private satellite network in Egypt was running commercials of citizen testimonials proclaiming as much.
Some have begun to voice doubts. Amr Hamzawy, a political scientist who held a seat in the dissolved Parliament, was among the first to condemn the military’s shutdown of the Islamists’ satellite networks, the arrest of their staff members, and the detention of Mr. Morsi and hundreds of other Islamist leaders.
Mr. Hamzawy objected in a recent newspaper column to “the rhetoric of gloating, hatred, retribution and revenge against the Muslim Brotherhood.” After the mass shooting, he called the celebration of the military takeover “fascism under the false pretense of democracy and liberalism.” Fellow intellectuals who said nothing, he wrote, were “the birds of darkness of this phase.”
But he was almost alone. A chorus of liberals and leftists rushed to denounce Mr. Hamzawy for defending the Islamists.
Khaled Montaser, a liberal columnist, declared that the Islamists were worse than “criminals and psychopaths” because they could never reform. “Their treason, terrorism and conspiracies are an indelible tattoo,” Mr. Montaser wrote. “They do not know the meaning of ‘homeland.’ They only know the meaning of ‘the caliphate’ and their organization first.”
Ahmed Maher, a founder of the left-leaning April 6 group, initially joined a small volunteer team who tried to enlist Western support for the ouster. But after the arrests and shootings of Brotherhood supporters, he began to recall the generals’ long hold on power after mass protests drove President Hosni Mubarak from office two years ago.
Mr. Maher put his worries about the generals in an online message to another activist: “If we assume it’s not a coup, and I tell people it’s not a coup, when they screw us again like they did in 2011, what would I tell people?”
His allies responded by trying to drum him out, not only from the volunteer team but also from the April 6 group. Esraa Abdel Fattah, a prominent activist, campaigned against him in the media and circulated a list of his statements questioning the “coup.” And Ms. Fattah insisted that the Muslim Brotherhood, whose political party won the post-Mubarak elections, amounted to a foreign-backed terrorist group. “When terrorism is trying to take hold of Egypt and foreign interference is trying to dig into our domestic affairs, then it’s inevitable for the great Egyptian people to support its armed forces against the foreign danger,” Ms. Abdel Fattah wrote in a newspaper column.
In the turbulent period of military rule after Mr. Mubarak was ousted, many liberals and leftists stood shoulder to shoulder with Islamists to demand that the generals relinquish power to elected civilians. Now the liberals appear to have joined in a public amnesia about the abuses and scandals of that period – the forced virginity tests of female protesters; Coptic Christian demonstrators shot by soldiers or run over with armored vehicles; the videotaped stripping and kicking of a female demonstrator who became known as the Blue Bra Woman.
The activist Hassan Shaheen was captured in the same video, bleeding from the head as a soldier stomped on his chest. But this spring he helped lead the petition drive asking the military to remove Mr. Morsi. And he joined in the rejection of Mr. Maher, saying that by calling the ouster of Mr. Morsi a “coup” he was “following the rhetoric of the Muslim Brotherhood.”
“We will stand together, the people and the military, in the face of terrorism,” Mr. Shaheen wrote in an online message, arguing that the Brotherhood’s political party “must be dissolved and all its leaders must be arrested.”
“No negotiation, no reconciliation, no going back,” he added.
Hossam Bahgat, founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Right, said that the liberals’ goal – an Egypt governed by an inclusive civilian democracy – appeared to be further away than when Mr. Mubarak fell. Now, he said, the old institutions and elites from the Mubarak era are emboldened to push for a full return of the old order. “There is a powerful and well-resourced player now trying to push Egypt back to 2010,” he said.
Even those on the left who are critical of the military overthrow fault Mr. Morsi and the Brotherhood for their actions in power, for excluding other groups from decision-making, accusing critics of treason and exploiting religion as a political tool. They say that in recent days some Islamist leaders have told their supporters to prepare to use violence to defend Mr. Morsi, as they did during a crisis in December.
Brotherhood leaders say their organization has not condoned violence in Egypt since the days of British rule. They say that private media outlets have worked for months to stir up nationalist sentiment against them, for example by circulating false rumors that they were considering giving away the Sinai or selling the Suez Canal. Over the last week, many news outlets have claimed that Brotherhood leaders invited foreign interference by appealing for help from Washington to hold off the military takeover. Television hosts even assert that the crowds at pro-Morsi rallies are actually full of Syrians and Palestinians.
The military has set the mood as well. Before the takeover, it broadcast aerial images of the protests against Mr. Morsi, set to soaring martial music. On Sunday, it released another 30-minute broadcast depicting soldiers protecting the public, set to a similar score.
State and private television channels also broadcast images of Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi in his trademark black beret, explaining to admiring soldiers the military’s obligation to intervene in the national interest. “Egypt is the mother of the world, and Egypt will be as great as the world,” he declared.
Much of the public, fatigued by revolutionary turmoil, has embraced him. “The people had been saying ‘down, down with military rule,’ but Sisi completely changed them,” said Mohamed Mofeed, 38, a barber in downtown Cairo. “They love him.”
Mr. Morsi “should have been tougher with the media,” he added. “They were disrespecting him all over the place.”
Osama Mohamed, 20, a student sitting with a group of friends, said they wanted General Sisi to “leave his office and elect himself president.”
Mohamed Abdel Fattah, 24, an advertising manager, agreed. “For Egypt,” he said, “democracy is chaos.”
Mayy El Sheikh and Asmaa Al Zohairy contributed reporting.