Egypt: Democratic Coup or the Return of the Old Guard?

By Ian Howarth

Today’s military coup d’état in Egypt is not an unexpected development.  Throughout history revolutions have been followed by counter revolutions, and then even counter, counter revolutions.  The removal of Egypt’s first democratically elected president by a military coup is something to mourn.  It does not set the stage for a stable political future, especially if whoever ends up sat in the Presidential Palace has constantly to maintain the army on side to ensure their continued governance. egypt

However, there may be room for hope in today’s events.  Mohamed Morsi had abused his position, and acted on several occasions in an authoritarian manner.  He was not a model of democratic virtue and failed to realise that if you wish to make change in a democracy you need to take the people with you.  His continuing distortion of the political system to the advantage of the Muslim Brotherhood quickly alienated vast sections of the Egyptian electorate from across society.  This is why the crowds gathered on the streets of Cairo over the past four days are by some estimates even greater than those that drove Hosni Mubarak from power just over two years ago.

If the military hold true to their word that there actions were in support of the will of the people and follow through on free, fair and open elections within the next 12 months then we could see the emergence of a liberal and legitimate government.  Morsi won last year’s presidential election with 51.7% of the vote versus 48.3% for the independent liberal candidate Ahmed Shafik.  While in a developed democracy this would be a healthy majority, in a state in revolutionary transition it is not the mandate for unilateral action that Morsi took it for.  Almost half the voting public of Egypt sought a liberal independent President.  The perceived authoritarian and Islamist actions and attitudes taken by President Morsi in the short time of his presidency assured that this block of voters were not won over to his cause.  While at the same time a significant number of people who may have reluctantly voted for him also lost faith.

The greatest danger in today’s actions for Egypt is the return of the military to power.  The unconstitutional actions taken by the military threaten all future civilian leaders of the country.  It is possible that the ancient regime overthrown in 2011 could be in the process of re-establishing itself.  We should not forget that Hosni Mubarak rose to power through the military and that the state he ruled was effectively a military dictatorship.  The removal of Mubarak and then the election of a civilian president with no ties to the military saw a severe reduction in its authority and power.  It is just possible that the actions by the generals today were much more about reasserting their perceived traditional power within Egyptian politics and much less about supporting a popular uprising against an unpopular president.

We can all only hope that despite the undemocratic and illegitimate actions of today that democracy may yet be given another chance to flourish in Egypt.  One thing that is certain is that Egypt remains a highly volatile and unstable state in the process of revolutionary change.  It is likely that there will be many more twists and turns to this story before Egypt’s democratic future can be assured

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