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Western Thoughts on an Egyptian Revolution. Or is it a Coup?

July 10, 2013

There seems to be some debate about the ouster of now former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. Is it a coup? Is it a revolution?

The feeling from friends of mine in Egypt is that this is not a coup, but a continuation of the revolution. In fact, they are in vehement opposition to the word coup and have great disdain for any mention of the military taking over on any kind of permanent basis.

Having lived in Cairo for close to two years, I was asked my thoughts. So here they are:

Personally, I think a few things come into play here.

First, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) definitely took advantage of a vacuum in leadership when they won the election. Many voted for Morsi as the lesser of two evils, the other candidate being associated with the Mubarak regime. And many abstained from voting as their way of showing their support for someone other than the MB figurehead or a Mubarak man (even if that someone didn’t exist). To give the MB credit, they were already a well established political force prior to Mubarak’s fall, gaining the support of many through their charitable works, offering of assistance to the poor, performing of public works, and really living up to many of the social ideals of Islam. It has been said that they did prey upon the more unfortunate members of the voting public by offering things like cooking oil as an incentive to come out and vote for Morsi. The MB knew how to mobilize the voters and won the election as a result. In a country as unorganized as Egypt, the MB was the shining example of organization and order and moved right in and filled the vacuum. I remember when I was having dinner in Salalah, Oman two years ago, one of the members of the dinner party was an Egyptian that used to fly back and forth between Oman and Cairo for the protests. He commented to me that Mohamed ElBaradei (the newly appointed Vice President in Egypt), who was the hoped-for president of many, came a generation to early. He clarified this by saying that the revolution was happening without a strong leader to stand up and lead it to a productive end. He worried that the MB would seize power and turn Egypt into another Iran. In his mind, ElBaradei was not willing or able to be that leader due to opposition against him. That lack of a revolutionary leader is what allowed the MB to move into power with relative ease.

Second, the MB has the stated goal of creating a worldwide Islamic Republic. Their charter basically (paraphrased) states that Islam starts with the individual, moves to the family, then to the community, then to the country, then to the nation (larger area than just the country), to the new Caliphate, to worldwide Islamic rule. Egypt was supposed to be their charter country and their leadership of Egypt was concerned less with Egyptians (ask any Coptic about this – many of whom have fled including close friends of mine who are struggling to get by in their new Chicago home), and more concerned with the institution of Sharia and Islamic principals. Most of the principals of the revolution, including equality, religious tolerance, women’s right, free speech, the end of unlawful search, seizure, and imprisonment, among others, were pretty well thrown out by the MB. The final straw, I believe, was when the Egyptian equivalent of Jon Stewart from the Daily Show, Bassem Youssef, was arrested for insulting the Egyptian Government, the President, and Islam (according to Morsi and the MB). Imagine Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert being jailed for what they say on their respective shows and you have what happened in Egypt. I think this is what truly showed Egyptians that they were living under the heavy handle of Islamist rule, and moving further and further away from the promise of the revolution.

Third, many Egyptians thought that the overthrow of Mubarak was the end of the revolution, not the beginning of a long and likely bloody march toward democracy. As Thomas Jefferson said, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”  The Egyptian liberty was a sapling with shallow roots, but many thought it was ready to bear fruit and that Cairo would wake up the next morning with all the wealth and opportunity of the West. An Egyptian friend of mine, currently on a very slow recovery from a tragic car accident (insert prayer request here), mentioned that many were basically sitting around after Mubarak’s fall waiting to become rich. And I have no doubt, knowing many in Egypt and their relative ignorance about what life can really be like in the West, that many Egyptians thought that Mubarak was keeping vast sums of money, jobs, benefits, and opportunities behind some secret door. With him gone, all that goodness would flood into the streets and everyone would have a high paying job, expendable cash, a Mercedes, and their own apartment just as soon as the key to that non-existent door was found. What the presidency of Morsi and the MB showed many in Egypt is that the process is in its infancy and will require years, if not decades, of blood, sweat, and tears.

Finally, I might be naive in saying this, but I think the Army actually has the interests of Egypt at heart. I think the speed in which they are moving with their political roadmap, the throwing out much of what the MB put into place as far as processes and constitutions go (that constitution that passed by a 60% majority, but was voted on by something like only 25% of the representatives due to abstaining and disagreement, largely due to the very heavy Islamist/Sharia bent), the appointment of a new Prime Minister and Vice President (finally getting ElBaradei to be approved despite the opposition of the Islamist Noor party), and the (hopefully not empty) promise of bringing all sides to the table of the political process (including the MB) point to this. Serving in the Egyptian Army is non-volunteer requirement of every Egyptian male (excluding, of course, those who are rich or well-connected enough to get out of the requirement). Many in the Army echo the feelings of the revolution and hopefully this carries forward in the promise of the political road map.

As it stands, I think the Army tried to force Morsi’s hand, but truly there was no hand for Morsi to play. For Morsi to have changed and worked with the protestors would’ve meant the Muslim Brotherhood changing. Make no mistake; Morsi was their mouthpiece and figurehead, there to advance the agenda of the MB in their march toward a new caliphate. The MB is not a new or minor party, but an organized, determined, and experienced group of Islamists that sees nothing less than the establishment of worldwide Islam as it’s mission, purpose, and goal. The Egyptian people realized this, and the Army backed the millions of protestors. I don’t know if this is as much a coup then as a military/revolutionary impeachment.

That this ouster of Morsi happened on the dawn of a new Ramadan holiday is hopefully a portend of good things to come. Ramadan is the month of reconciliation, relieving of debts, renewing family ties, and pledging oneself to a new commitment of goodwill and peace. It is the month of coming together to work out problems and differences so that the next period is one of well-being and cooperation. I hope that holds true for Egypt. Because if it doesn’t, I’m afraid that the debate between coup and revolution will get lost in a bloody Civil War and possibly plunge the Middle East into a large scale regional conflict running from Turkey, through Syria, into Lebanon and Jordan, and ending in Egypt. With Israel stuck in the middle…And we all know the one thing that the majority of those countries can agree on  – their dislike/disdain of Israel.

Those are the thoughts off the top of my head.

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