We can debate whether the incident in Egypt was a popular revolution against Muslim Brotherhood tyranny or a military coup against its democratic legitimacy, but in my view the bad news is that it was not a military coup, it was worse than that. What occurred was not a transfer of power to the military; instead, the military was the intermediary by which power was restored to Mubarak’s intelligence agencies, which were the actual leaders of the country during his period in office and, to a large extent, during Morsi’s too.
In fact, so-called military coups never mean the transfer of power to the army; on the contrary, the first task after a military coup is to debilitate the army into submission to the party that holds power. The main enemy of “military” regimes is the army. That’s why the army is infiltrated by spies and the leadership is full of unqualified individuals who are loyal to the ruling party and realise that their survival is dependent on the will of the rulers. Such regimes are in a permanent state of war with the army, and strive to eliminate any professionalism therein.
During Gamal Abdul Nasser’s time, power was given to those with the rank of colonel or below. This was the beginning of the violation of the hierarchical structure of the Egyptian armed forces, with senior officers having to do the bidding of their nominal subordinates. With Sadat and Mubarak at the helm, the army turned into a showcase for senior officers who were distracted from their military role by business opportunities. Following the Camp David Treaty, which made the preservation of Israel’s security the main task of the Egyptian army, attention was switched to internal threats, normally the preserve of the intelligence services; this, of course, made the army subservient to intelligence officers.
At some point, it will be worth studying the army’s reaction to and role in the January 25 Revolution of 2011. The signs are that it was loyal to the Mubarak regime and intelligence services until everything collapsed around them. No one dared to raise their voices when the army was killing demonstrators or torturing people. Foreign journalists recall being detained by soldiers before being handed over to intelligence agents for interrogation. Moreover, the army played pivotal roles in the regime’s numerous attempts to abort the revolution, including the indirect supervision of the infamous “Camel Battle” that was carried out in front of the soldiers, who surrounded Tahrir Square and protected the entrances.
No matter what the situation, the Egyptian army remained loyal to the tyrants in charge. The short time when the army had temporary freedom from the intelligence services under Morsi’s rule is now over due to the return to power of the old guard and its secret agencies. The old political and media faces of the Mubarak regime, along with their tools of repression, are back, as evidenced by the arrest of Islamists, a policy pursued by Mubarak for decades. The subtle differences between regime forces and uncontrollable thugs have disappeared; both are revealed to be one and the same.
That is why I say that if what had occurred in Egypt was a military coup, it might have been it better. Unfortunately, it was simply the restoration of the army to the same role it played during Mubarak’s era, which was guarding corruption and the criminals for a fee known only to its senior leaders.
The irony lies in the fact that the political opponents in the conflict in Egypt are taking turns in accusing foreign forces and blaming others for their plight. Morsi’s opponents accused Qatar, Hamas and the United States of backing Morsi; if true, that would be the first, albeit indirect, alliance between the US and Hamas. On the other hand, Morsi’s supporters accused the UAE, Saudi Arabia and the United States of being behind the opposition to him. There is no doubt that because the US is accused by both sides, it is probably innocent of all charges; support for both sides would cancel each other out.
Perhaps it is a coincidence that we read in Al-Quds Al-Arabi, an Arab newspaper which really does publish different political views, two contrasting visions of America’s role in Egypt. In his Open Air column, Ezzat Al-Qamhawi blamed the Americans for, as he put it, “plotting to give it [the Arab Spring] to forces less capable of governing powers, and then were content with what they arranged”. According to this view, which is apparently supported by many Egyptians, the Americans appointed Morsi as president; it was not the Egyptians who elected him into office before the eyes of the world. Such people believe that the United States objected to the military coup and not just because of its known stand against coups per se. That position is dictated by American law, which provides for aid to be cut off to any coup regime unless the President makes a strong argument that national security requires an exception to be made.
In the same issue of Al-Quds Al-Arabi, we read another Egyptian’s opinion. Salim Azzouz used his column to provide us with an admission from ElBaradei that he “made a great effort to convince the West to carry out a coup against President Mohamed Morsi, and that this has gone on for the past six months. This means that the intention was premeditated, and that the popular rally, and the submission to the demands of the people rejecting the presence of President Morsi was a cover for ElBaradei’s efforts to convince the West.”
Although an admission is one kind of evidence, I am not inclined to believe ElBaradei’s claims that he “convinced the West” of the need for a coup against Morsi for the simple reason that there is no single “West” that the former international civil servant, who should be less naive than that, can or cannot convince. In every Western country there are numerous circles of power that many cannot reach. In Washington, Zionist lobbies and economic forces were nervous from the first day that the Arab democracies blossomed, and panicked when the Islamists took power. However, Western governments which had pushed democracy had to yield to the popular will of face accusations of hypocrisy. Whatever the case, Morsi did not come into power in Egypt because he had an “Islamic project”, but because, as everyone else did, he called for democracy; whenever he disagreed with his opponents over a matter, he resorted to the ballot boxes. Furthermore, Morsi obeyed all court decisions issued against him, and was committed to all the rules of democracy, as he did not arrest his opponents nor did he close their television stations.
It was not the West that organised the elections won by Morsi, nor was the West behind the coup that overthrew him. The ongoing conflict is a struggle between Egyptians. When some blame America or any other party they are asking indirectly for external involvement in their internal squabbles. They want Obama to lead the demonstrations in Tahrir Square against Morsi, or to send in the Marines to arrest Al-Sisi and hand him over to the International Criminal Court. However, all of this is a delusion, because Obama and the others have their own concerns to worry about rather than the Egyptians’. The myths we hear about the various roles played by the US are one of the main symptoms of the Arab malaise, dependency and lack of self-confidence.
We are assured, however, that Israel, which is more important than America, likes ElBaradei (and Amr Moussa) and hates Morsi. The failure in this matter is not Morsi’s, though, or America’s and Israel’s, but the failure of the regimes that banned the Muslim Brotherhood and fought it for sixty years, and then woke up to find the movement ruling Egypt. There is no doubt that the return of the old regime with its prisons and intelligence agencies will not solve the problem of the Muslim Brotherhood. In fact, the old regime’s military intervention has boosted the Brotherhood and covered up Morsi’s miserable failure.
Some critics claim that the problem in Egypt and the Arab world is that the liberals are not democrats and that the Islamists are not liberals. It is clear, however, that Egypt was more democratic and liberal during Morsi’s term that it has been so far in the current “liberal” takeover, which seems to fear freedom of expression, as well as democracy. It is perhaps ironic that some supporters of the coup are sounding like their brethren in Syria when they speak of a “global conspiracy” involving Al-Jazeera, CNN, BBC, the US and Qatar. The difference is that the Syrian regime (along with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Israel and, of course, Al-Arabiya satellite TV station) views the coup as a victory for its own “most liberal and democratic” trend.
The author is Reader in Politics and coordinator of the Democracy and Islam Programme at the Centre for the Study of Democracy, Westminster University. This article is a translation from the Arabic which appeared in Al Quds Al Arabi on 9 July 2013
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.