Comment by Roger Annis, Aug 31, 2013
Juan Cole is a U.S. scholar, professor at the University of Michigan and widely respected political commentator on the Middle East. His writings on Egypt since the July 3 coup bear some analysis because his views are widely followed.
Since the coup, Cole has written or posted approximately 35 commentaries and news items on his website. For the most part, they are not in depth. More in-depth analyses, and by Egyptian and other Arab writers to boot, are being published on Counterpunch, Jadaliyya and other websites. Cole’s news reports are partial and wrong in key placed. They should be treated with a mix of interest and caution.
The two lengthy articles published by Cole since the coup appeared on July 4 and August 15. In the July 4 article, he said that a military coup had taken place but that it was infused with many features of the June mass protests against the government of Mohamed Morsi. He calls the coup a “revocouption”, a term to which he returns several times later in July and August.
The August 15 article (full text enclosed below), was written in the wake of the terrible massacres of August 14 perpetrated by the Egyptian military and police. He said that events that day were an end to the possibility of “democratic transition” that the July 3 coup opened up. He titled his article, “Egypt’s transition has failed”. The article blames the failure on the violence of the military regime and the intransigence of those opposing the regime.
Below is a chronological summary of the main articles on Egypt by Cole that appear on his website. They include one commentary by another writer that he selected on July 10. What emerges from an overview of the material are the views of an American liberal, genuinely wishing the best for the Egyptian people but not grasping many of the key dynamics in the fierce class struggle being waged in the country.
* On the evening of the coup, Cole wrote, “It seemed clear that in adopting this defiant tone and attempting to just tough out the challenges from the Rebellion (Tamarrud) youth movement and from the military, Morsi was setting Egypt up for a major national set of confrontations. The army is openly worried about a descent into civil war.”
* A lengthy commentary was published on July 4, the day following the coup. Cole comes up with a novel description of the coup: it was a “revocouption.”
He explains the mass protests that were taking place in the streets, including following the military takeover. And adds, “But on Wednesday [July 3], there was also a military coup, provoked by the officer corps’ increasing dissatisfaction with President Muhammad Morsi as well as a determination not to stand by as the country threatened to devolve into chaos, as rival street crowds confronted one another.”
The conclusion of this commentary: “At the moment, neither of those two groups (supporters of the ousted government vs. the military) is demonstrating the maturity and high-mindedness that would reassure me about the prospects for a genuinely democratic transition.”
July 6: “For the military to remove Morsi was dangerous and unwise. But for the Brotherhood to attempt to bring Morsi back by street action is also dangerous and unwise.”
* Cole reports on the July 8 massacre in front of the Republican Guard office and club complex (not a barracks). “After a day of relatively peaceful demonstrations and progress in establishing a transitional government, Egypt was rocked in the early morning hours by the deaths of 15 or more persons, at least one of them a military officer and the others members of the Muslim Brotherhood, in clashes between the military and the Brotherhood near the Republican Guard HQ.”
* On July 10, Cole posted to his website without comment a commentary by a writer calling the Egypt coup a “people’s revolution”. The writer explains:
The revolutionaries turned to the national army and the army responded. The police, also, served the people and not the regime.
The age of jinn, spirits and nonsense has ended. The light of knowledge, truth, love and creativity are increasing day by day.
* In this two-paragraph commentary on July 26, Cole says that Egypt’s military is “playing with fire” by calling the Egyptian people into the streets against the Muslim Brotherhood in the name of ‘combatting terrorism’. He likens the dictatorship in Egypt with its increasingly evident Pinochet-style features to “Peronism”. This is a completely erroneous analogy but it does square with his numerous references to the July 3 coup as opening a possible “democratic transition”. (In August, he describes that “transition” as having cruelly failed.)
* In his first report on the Aug 14 massacre, Cole sharply condemns it, but also writes, “The government crackdown on the Brotherhood sit-ins may have been provoked by the attempt of Brotherhood supporters to march on the Interior Ministry, and by the clashes that broke out on Tuesday between pro- and anti-Morsi demonstrators.”
* August 15: ‘Egypt’s transition has failed’. In this lengthy posting (full text below), Cole utterly condemns the military violence of Aug 14. “The horrible bloodshed in Egypt on Wednesday marked a turning point in the country’s modern history, locking it into years of authoritarian paternalism and possibly violent faction fighting. The country is ruled by an intolerant junta with no respect for human life. Neither the Brotherhood nor the military made the kind of bargain and compromises necessary for a successful democratic transition.”
Cole says that the election of Morsi in June 2012 ushered in a “slow-motion coup” that “frightened” the Egyptian military. Hence, the MB shares responsibility for the July 3 coup, even if the violence against it by the military cannot be justified.
* August 18, 2013: Suppression of political Islam ‘won’t work’ in Egypt, Cole writes, because it ‘hasn’t worked’ elsewhere.
Egypt’s transition has failed: New age of military dictatorship in wake of massacre
By Juan Cole, August 15, 2013
The horrible bloodshed in Egypt on Wednesday marked a turning point in the country’s modern history, locking it into years of authoritarian paternalism and possibly violent faction fighting. The country is ruled by an intolerant junta with no respect for human life. Neither the Brotherhood nor the military made the kind of bargain and compromises necessary for a successful democratic transition. It is true that some armed Brotherhood cadres killed some 50 troops and police, and that some 20 Coptic Christian churches were attacked, some burned. But the onus for the massacre lies with the Egyptian military. Mohamed Elbaradei, who resigned as interim vice president for foreign affairs, had urged that the Brotherhood sit-ins be gradually and peacefully whittled Way at. His plan was Egypt’s only hope of reconciliation. Now it has a feud.
Egypt began a possible transition to parliamentary democracy in February of 2011 after the fall of Hosni Mubarak. Although the military had made a coup, the aged Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi was not interested in ruling himself and sought a civilian transitional government that the military could live with. He wanted guarantees that the new government would not interfere with the military’s own commercial enterprises and attempted to assert a veto over the new constitution lest it veer toward Muslim fundamentalism.
The major political forces said they were committed to free, fair and transparent parliamentary elections. The Muslim Brotherhood, the best organized political group, pledged not to run candidates in all constituencies so as to show they weren’t greedy for power, and said they would not run anyone for president lest they give the impression they were seeking control of all three branches of government. The Brotherhood said it wanted a consensual constitution.
Behind the scenes, generals like Omar Suleiman (d. 2012) were furious about the constraints being lifted from the Brotherhood, convinced that they had a secret armed militia and that they were angling to make a coup over time. His views turn out to be more widespread than was evident on the surface.
In 2011-2012, the revolutionary youth, the liberals and the Brotherhood made common cause to return the military to their barracks.
But then the Brotherhood broke all of its promises and threw a fright into everyone– youth, women, Coptic Christians, Liberals, leftists, workers, and the remnants of the old regime. The Brotherhood cheated in the parliamentary elections, running candidates for seats set aside for independents. Then they tried to pack the constitution-writing body with their parliamentarians, breaking another promise. They reneged on the pledge to have a consensual constitution.
Once Muhammad Morsi was elected president in June, 2012, he made a slow-motion coup. He pushed through a Brotherhood constitution in December of 2012 in a referendum with about a 30% turnout in which it garnered only 63%– i.e. only a fifth of the country voted for it. The judges went on strike rather than oversee balloting, so the referendum did not meet international standards. When massive protests were staged he had them cleared out by the police, and on December 6, 2012, is alleged to have sent in Brotherhood paramilitary to attack leftist youth who were demonstrating. There were deaths and injuries.
Morsi then invented a legislature for himself, declaring by fiat that the ceremonial upper house was the parliament. He appointed many of its members; only 7% were elected. They passed a law changing the retirement age for judges from 70 to 60, which would have forced out a fourth of judges and allowed Morsi to start putting Brotherhood members on the bench to interpret his sectarian constitution. He was building a one party state. His economic policies hurt workers and ordinary folk. He began prosecuting youth who criticized him, his former allies against the military. 8 bloggers were indicted. Ahmad Maher of The April 6 youth group was charged with demonstrating (yes). Television channels were closed. Coptic school teachers were charged with blasphemy. Morsi ruled from his sectarian base and alienated everyone else. He over-reached.
In my view Morsi and the Brotherhood leadership bear a good deal of the blame for derailing the transition, since a democratic transition is a pact among various political forces, and he broke the pact. If Morsi was what democracy looked like, many Egyptians did not want it. Gallup polls trace this disillusionment.
But the Egyptian military bears the other part of the blame for the failed transition. Ambitious officers such as Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Morsi’s Minister of Defense, were secretly determined to undo Morsi’s victory at the polls. They said they wanted him to compromise with his political rivals, but it seems to me they wanted more, they wanted him neutered. When the revolutionary youth and the workers and even many peasants staged the June 30 demonstrations, al-Sisi took advantage of them to stage a coup. Ominously, he then asked for public acclamation to permit him to wage a war on terror, by which he means the Brotherhood. I tweeted at the time: “Dear General al-Sisi: when activists call for demonstrations, that is activism. When generals do, that is Peronism.”
Although al-Sisi said he recognized an interim civilian president, supreme court chief justice Adly Mansour, and although a civilian prime minister and cabinet was put in place to oversee a transition to new elections, al-Sisi is in charge. It is a junta, bent on uprooting the Muslim Brotherhood. Without buy-in from the Brotherhood, there can be no democratic transition in Egypt. And after Black Wednesday, there is unlikely to be such buy-in, perhaps for a very long time. Wednesday’s massacre may have been intended to forestall Brotherhood participation in civil politics. Perhaps the generals even hope the Brotherhood will turn to terrorism, providing a pretext for their destruction.
The military and the Brotherhood are two distinct status groups, with their own sources of wealth, which have claims on authority in Egypt. Those claims were incompatible.