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European responses to the military-led removal of Morsi

January 30, 2014 at 1:20 pm

The military coup and removal of Mohamed Morsi took many observers by surprise, much like the January 25th Revolution which no one seemed to have been expecting. Unexpected as it was, however, the military has used the coup to make a grab for power and remove Dr Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood from political life. The coup plotters have decided to turn their backs on democracy and political legitimacy even though the Arab Spring and Egyptian revolution was welcomed across the world by international observers, who hailed the new era of democratic reform in the region.

Following the first free and fair elections through which the Muslim Brotherhood claimed victory, Morsi’s election was slow to be welcomed by Western observers. When British Prime Minister David Cameron visited Egypt before the elections he did not meet anyone from the Brotherhood despite their popular support and predicted electoral success.

The subsequent coup against the democratic will of the people short-circuited the process whereby discontent by the electorate in a democracy is handled through the ballot box. It is reasonable, therefore, to have expected the coup to have elicited strong condemnation from those European poll observers who called for democratic reform after the Arab Spring. However, in the weeks since Morsi’s removal such condemnation has been noticeable by its absence.

Germany’s Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle concurred that this was “a major setback for democracy in Egypt” but although he called for a return to democratic order, there was no acknowledgement that the actions by the military were indeed a coup. Chancellor Angela Merkel called upon “all parties” to refrain from violence, as if those backing the military coup and those in favour of democracy are of equal worth and status which, of course, they aren’t; at least they are not supposed to be.

President Francois Hollande of France echoed these sentiments, stating that the fall of Morsi had been down to failures in the country. He called for a return to democracy and for new elections to be re-organised quickly but did not acknowledge that Morsi’s removal from power was as a result of military action rather than a normal democratic transition. In Russia, the foreign ministry made similar calls for a quick return to democracy.

European reactions have not been entirely bland, though; one EU diplomat described the coup as “awkward”. Carl Bildt, the Swedish Foreign Minister, said that the news of the arrests of the Muslim Brotherhood leadership was “very disturbing”.

Following EU Foreign Affairs chief Cathy Ashton’s visit to Egypt, the Foreign Affairs Council met and issued a declaration reiterating its “deep concerns about the situation in Egypt”. The Council called on the armed forces not to play a “political role in a democracy” and for the release of all political prisoners in Egypt, including Morsi. While the EU would not call the military action a coup a spokesman for the European External Action Service was reported to have said that the EU was, “of course, not in favour of military interventions”.

David Cameron said much the same thing; “Britain would never support intervention by the military,” he claimed but, yet again, the British government has not called the coup a coup.

European reactions to the coup in Egypt have thus also been “awkward”. Whilst there has been a wave of calls for a return to democracy there have been few, if any, calls condemning the military for its actions and labelling the move as a coup. Though Morsi was democratically-elected, he was far from the first choice for many European leaders and although they do not want to be seen to be actively supporting the military they do not want to look as if they are backing Morsi either. Support for democracy is there, no doubt, but only if that democracy elects people supportive of, and supported by, Europe.