I’m surprising myself by writing this. And I’m sure I’ll surprise — and maybe severely disappoint — many of you who read this blog. But then Egypt has been surprising us all for the past two years, and I suspect will keep surprising us for some time to come.
The point being: even though I share the extreme wariness — indeed, the loathing — of the idea of the military intervening in politics (any military, anywhere), I’m glad that the Egyptian military has ousted the Morsi regime.
Is it really a coup d’état, as many (non-Egyptian) liberals are saying, and as the Muslim Brotherhood insists?
Not exactly. The army forcibly removed a democratically elected government, but not a democratic one. An analysis of the Brotherhood’s dismal failure in The Huffington Post points to its “limited understanding of democracy, which is restricted to the mechanics of voting, elections and ballot boxes, while showing precious little appreciation for the values that make up the essence of a democracy, such as the rule of law, citizenship, equality and human rights… Morsi and the Brothers believe that winning an election gives them carte blanche to run the state as if it was their feudality.”
A constitution illegally rammed through is not democratic. Nor is a refusal to be held accountable. Or an iron grip on all offices. Or repeated attempts to ban freedom of speech and to undermine the judiciary. Or the demonization of all opposition as treason, and the summary arrest and torture of opponents. The Brotherhood won election by the slimmest of margins (with a percentage of the vote that would by all accounts be halved if elections were to be held again today), but instead of acknowledging this and reaching out to the public as a whole, it opted for authoritarianism.
Egyptians did not follow Western rules in response. They did it their way, taking to the streets, which is something Americans might have done in far greater numbers when George W. Bush won two elections under highly questionable circumstances in the United States. Much of what he accomplished was way beyond the bounds of legitimacy. And need I really say that the same goes for a certain government elected in Germany in 1933?
Not that the Egyptian military is any sense a neutral power-broker. It’s protecting its own interests — or as the New York Times headline has it, acting in allegiance to its privileges. And those privileges are vast. The Egyptian army is a huge corporation, essentially a state within the state. And like most big corporations, it’s a law unto itself. Which is precisely why the opposition called on it to act, which it did with what many outside Egypt (and of course within the Muslim Brotherhood) see as alarming alacrity.
Will the generals do what they promise and restore a real democracy? Nobody can be certain. But I suspect that in essence, when push comes to shove, they will be shoved.
The era of political quietism and subjugation of public opinion is over. Egyptians are no longer afraid to speak out. They’ve found their voices. And I seriously doubt if, having found them, they’ll let themselves be silenced again. Or be flummoxed by heady electoral promises.
The generals know this as well as anyone else. And whatever else they may be, they’re no fools. Successful businessmen never are. They have to be fully aware that if they do not organize new elections as promised, the ensuing public outcry will dwarf that of the past several days.
What’s happening in Egypt is a continuation of what began two years ago with the overthrow of Mubarak. It gives the lie to the dumb journalistic meme of “the Arab spring,” as though revolution were a a seasonal matter, limited to a two-month timespan, and as though change could be achieved overnight. Real change is a long process, and a difficult one. But what strikes me more than anything about Egypt right now is that despite the military, it promises to be an irreversible one.
Unlike Egyptians themselves, I can only hope that this promise is fulfilled.