When Beckett’s Look-like Theater Tries to Define the New Egyptian Revolution

The removal of elected Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, the ongoing crackdown on the Muslim Brothers, the sad deaths of hundreds of people from both sides, and the destruction that ensued have ignited fiery debates between those who support the action and those who oppose it.

It is curious to see how diverse the front of the opponents is. Imperialists, Zionists seeking confusion, governments of diverse political orientations, pretenders of human rights, some Arab writers, many progressive western writers, and sizeable internet writers with hazy understanding of revolutionary issues all joined in the play of a theater of the absurd before Egypt’s impregnable revolutionary reality.

Curious is also the front supporting the removal of Morsi. It includes reactionary and despotic states such as Saudi Arabia, tolerant states like the United Arab Emirates, American-occupied Iraq, and some Arab analysts and writers who, out of intense dislike of the Muslim Brothers, cannot hide their extravagant jubilation while not offering serious explanations on the whys and origins of the unfolding events.

Yet, it is one thing that governments follow specific policies or hold certain views toward the new Egypt based on their place inside the international system. It is another when some writers busy themselves analyzing the Egyptian situation but offer nothing more than hollow theorizations on the question of removal.

While not grasping the meaning of the new Egyptian revolution could be deemed a minor thing, the discernible conformity to circulating political presumptions raises questions on whether a stealthy indoctrinating process is taking root. This is so to the point that some writers, pretending unchallenged knowledge of Egypt, take a rigidly dogmatic position against the removal while failing to provide any sort of analysis or reliable facts to corroborate their assertions. Other notes are no less fascinating. Quite a few writers forego analyses that could be tiring and happily rely on mimicking each other in the distribution of summary denunciations of the revolutionary change as a coup. Result: complacency with one’s own unpersuasive assessments replaced scrutiny and proper investigation.

Cogent ways to deal with the removal of Morsi do exist, however. First, anyone who speaks of a coup while deliberately gliding over the issue of the millions of Egyptians who rose in unison against the Muslim Brothers’ rule either is walking blindfolded in the endless political meanders of Egypt or is using obsolete paradigms of judgment. What is visibly amiss in all continuing theoretical diatribes dealing with the nature of the second Egyptian mass upheaval is the rational understanding of how revolutions work in the Arab world.

Second, those who say that the removal of Morsi is a military coup should go back to study the specific taxonomy denoting a coup and its unmistakable anatomy.  More important, for writers to use ambiguities originating from Western imperialistic corollaries to define Arab revolutionary movements is akin to being entrapped in a psychological adaptation to mind control and ideological induction.

History of developing countries coming out of the yoke of Western colonialism offers a variety of coups. But for the sake of balanced argument, it is not acceptable that some endeavor to blur the lines between what is coup and what is not despite the involvement of the military. Examples of coup that have congenital affinity and essential exchangeability with genuine revolutions include the military coup led by Gamal Abdel Nasser against the British-controlled Egyptian monarchy in 1952. The other example is the coup led by Gen. Abdel Kareem Qassim against the British-imposed and controlled Hashemite monarchy in Iraq. In both examples, the people, repressed and cowed by state security, were materially incapable to overthrow their respective regimes despite strenuous struggle. The entrance of the army in the equation, therefore, was the logical consequence of an obdurate political reality that only the army could undo thus turning people’s incapability into empowerment. In terms of change, both Nasser and Qassim revolutionized the concept of coup and aligned it with the social needs and aspirations of their peoples. In addition, they also revolutionized the socio-economic structures of respective countries, enacted agrarian reforms, legalized organized labor, nationalized domestic resources, and followed an independent foreign policy.

Yet military officers who seize power by mounting a rebellion from within ranks or through palace mutiny are executing what is classically defined as a coup, that is, it is a coup d’état be it violent or bloodless.  Examples of classical military coup d’état includes the CIA-financed and directed Baathist coup against Abdel Kareem Qassim (Iraq, 1963), and the coup of Hafez Al Assad against Ahmad al-Khatib and Nour Eldeen al-Atassi that brought him (Assad) from his position as defense minister and then prime minister to his position as a president of the republic (Syria, 1971). Nevertheless, the two coups that set the international standard for the quintessential military coup were that of Haji Mohammad Suharto’s CIA-directed coup against Ahmad Sukarno (Indonesia 1967), and Pinochet’s CIA/Kissinger-directed coup against Salvador Allende (Chile, 1973).

In all types of coup just cited, the role of the people is absent. Decidedly, this is not the case of Egypt. By logic, by analysis, and by comparison, the anti-Morsi tsunamic upheaval and the role of the military in it do not fit, not even minimally, the patterns of a coup as described above. The cynical attitude, therefore, to dub the Egyptian revolution a coup amounts to nothing less than ostentatious political myopia in spite of the motivations that sustain it.

Moreover, the military’s role in removing Morsi’s should never qualify it as a coup because of one incontrovertible fact: the military were only the finite tip of an infinite erupting continent called the people. Interestingly, the initial demand was for Morsi to call for new elections. When he refused, the people upped the ante and called for him to step down. When he became adamant about not giving up, the people thundered that he must leave. When Morsi refused to hear the thunder, the military gave him six days to reach accommodation with his opponents. And when he still refused, he was given two additional days to reconsider. He, expecting the U.S. to run to his rescue and hiding behind his presidential legality, refused again.

Now, when the U.S. and Europe hypocritically hover between opposition to the removal and acceptance of it, and when they play the convenient card that elected governments should not be removed by their military, their primary motive is not democratic concern.  What drives their policy, however, is the determination to keep the Egyptian masses, regardless of type of regime, submissive to any order they design.  The history of the past sixty years shows that the imperialist West, and the U.S. in particular, always planned and approved of coups amenable to their interests.  Iran, Indonesia, Congo, Pakistan, Iraq, and Chile are just a few examples.

Given the Egyptian military’s 30-year connection to the U.S. and Israel, we have every right to be suspicious of their intention. Is our aversion to military rule innate? No. Most people loathe military juntas based on many factors whose study goes beyond the scope of this work. Still, no matter how big is our suspicion of Egypt’s military, we should recalibrate it in relation to the evolving events and their imposing imperatives. The problem we have with a suspected military junta ruling from behind the scenes is, however, minute because the ever-changing dynamics of the revolution itself. It is not farfetched to hypothesize that revolutionary Egypt will, eventually, reform the military and make of it a force working solely for national independence and defense.

Let us tackle the issue of the asserted coup from a dialectical angle. If there was ever a coup from the downfall of Mubarak until the very last day of Morsi as a president, then that coup was the one perpetrated and carried out by Morsi and the Muslim Brothers against all revolutionary forces that ousted Mubarak from power.

From the moment the Military Council assumed power after the removal of Mubarak, all expected the Muslim Brothers to be on the forefront of the new power structure. Nourishing this assumption was the idea that the Muslim Brothers have had a long experience in the politics of organization and political proselytizing. That indicates there was a planned campaign to promote them. More important, in order for the Muslim Brothers to gain the power they have been seeking for decades, they colluded with the U.S. and connived with the military junta to design the transition from Mubarak to “democracy”.

While most Egyptian nationalists and revolutionaries proposed a five-year national unity government that would prepare the rules for presidential election and write an agreed-upon constitution without partisan politics, the Muslim Brothers had a different idea to expedite the process. They insisted, with the Washington-backed military behind them, on parliamentary elections first where they could easily dominate because of the momentum given to them. This would be followed by presidential elections, and then and only then proceed to write a constitution. The implication of such a sequence is obvious. It would give them, a step at a time, total control over Egypt. The Muslim Brothers’ thought is easy to guess. Once winning the parliamentary election (which they did), winning the presidential election would become more probable.  This would put the legislative and executive branches in their hands. Once this happens, tailoring a constitution to fit their agenda would become like a relaxed stroll between the pyramids of Giza. In the end, the constitution would become the alibi to entrench in power.

With that strategy, they committed their first coup against the anti-Mubarak revolution.  The second coup came about after they took power. With no plans for Egypt’s economy, with no changes in foreign policy, with relations with Israel closer than ever, and with dependency on the U.S. and the IMF continuing, Morsi and the Brothers behaved as if with the removal of Mubarak the revolution accomplished its aims. As a curiosity, upon his inauguration as president, Morsi set a one hundred-day program to achieve a few important goals to improve the living conditions in Egypt.1  After the targeted date passed, just a few insignificant items were achieved. Morsi justified his failure by accusing Mubarak’s bureaucratic legacy.

At this point, how did the Muslim Brothers perform in the presidential election to claim that Egypt gave them the mandate for change according to their plans? Can we use the election figures to debunk such a claim? Can we use Morsi’s own claim of election legality as a tool to de-legalize his ascension to power? Can we then conclude that the revolution of June 30 was an act of supreme response to the Muslim Brothers coup?

  • In the first round of the presidential election (May 2012) 5,446,460 (24.9% of the voters) voted for Morsi; 5,338,285 (24.5% of voters) voted for Mubarak’s man Ahmed Shafiq. Hamdeen Sabahi obtained 4,616,937 votes (21.1% voters). Abdel Moneim Abouel Fotouh obtained 3,889,195 (17.8% f voter). Amr Moussa, another Mubarak’s man, obtained 2,471,559 (11.3% voters).2
  • If election, as some people insist, is the yardstick for popular acceptance of candidates and their political agenda, then only 24.5% approved of the Muslim Brothers coming to power. It should be noted, those who voted for Shafiq and Moussa (total: 35.8% of voters) are not necessarily all fulool and sympathizers of the Mubarak regime, but just people who do want to see the Muslim Brothers winning the election.
  • The remaining forces that we could say represented the new Egypt obtained 38.9% of the votes. Meaning, these forces will have a strong say in the second round that will put Morsi and the Brothers face to face with the resurgent Mubarak regime.
  • In the second round of the elections (June 2013) out of the 26,420,763 voters, Morsi obtained 13,280,131 votes, that is, 51.7% of the voters voted for him. Shafiq obtained 12,347,380 of the votes, that is, 48.3% of the voters voted for him.3
  • But since Morsi had garnered only 24.5% of the vote in the first run, and because in the second round he received 51.7% to win, then where did the difference of 27.2% come from?
  • Because the U.S. via the Egyptian military and the Muslim Brothers gave the Egyptians a Hobson’s choice dilemma: either choose the Brothers or go back to Mubarak, the revolutionary masses, as represented by the 27.2% of those who voted, chose the Muslim Brothers rather than facing again the sphinx of Cairo. (I should re-emphasize that not all those who voted for Shafiq in the second round are necessarily sympathizers of Mubarak. In countries like Egypt, people, notwithstanding their desire for social change, prefer the familiar patterns of government despite being corrupt since they offer a semblance of normalcy and social peace.)

Ignoring the factors that led to his electoral victory, Morsi attempted to re-shape Egypt not according to the new revolutionary tenets, but in line with the precepts of the Muslim Brothers’ agenda. In practice, he just wanted to serve the desires of 5,446,460 million (out of 50,958,794 eligible voters) who voted him in the first round.

Did Morsi address the demands and grievances of the remaining Egyptians from across the political and social landscape? Did these make him win so he could turn Egypt into an ancient caliphate and to show them the “righteous path”? Yes, they enabled him to win so they can stop Shafiq from replicating Mubarak; but Morsi and the Brothers should not have assumed or translated that enablement as a lump sum endorsement of his plans for Egypt. Or maybe he thought, Now that you elected me, thank you! Goodbye. It ended that way when he became president; Morsi and the Brothers chose to treat those who put them in power not as allies but as adversaries of the Muslim Brothers and of Islam itself. In the very end, his incessant claim that the people elected him for what he is and what he represents is, at best, frivolous.

Among the things that we want to ask: why write a constitution to satisfy a minority of people and then try to use it as a linchpin for permanent power? Where were the promised reforms in domestic policy? Where did the project to have an independent foreign policy go? And why keep borrowing from the IMF? What happened to the objectives of the 2011 revolution? Would not implementing structural changes to the Mubarak regime constitute a factual breach to electoral promises made but never kept? Can we, even based on this partial list, dub all that as an effective coup against the will of the people who elected him? If all the above were not a form of coup against the revolution of 2011, then what it is?

Egypt today is setting a historical precedent. Unlike other societies where western-style democracy determines that a government stay in power for a specified period regardless of its performance, Egypt instituted a new paradigm. If you do not perform as you promised, and if you try to be politically selective to suit your purpose but not that of the whole society, then we who elected you have the absolute right to remove you before the end of your term.

To conclude, every one can choose how to label the role played by the military in the removal of Morsi. One fact though remains invariable no matter how assailed: ignoring the 22-33 million voices that made that role possible is looking at reality straight in the eyes but not recognizing it.

  1. Morsi’s One Hundred-Day Plan, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. []
  2. Unofficial results in first round of Egypt’s presidential election, War In Context, News Sources on May 25, 2012. []
  3. Morsi declared Egypt’s first civilian president, but military remains in control, Sherif Tarek, Jun 24, 2012, English Ahram. []

B.J. Sabri is an observer of the politics of modern colonialism, imperialism, Zionism, and of contemporary Arab issues. He can be reached at: b.j.sabri@aol.com. Read other articles by B.J..