There is a great deal of confusion in public understanding of the term “legitimacy” in Egypt, so much so that even those who are committed to it are unable to distinguish between defending the legitimacy of the late President Mohamed Morsi against whom a coup was staged, and the legitimacy that took him to the presidency. The reason for this is the elites’ support for legitimacy’s failure to determine a clear definition of itself and the role played by the civil society forces in distorting the concepts in the media.
For example, these forces monopolised the civil characteristic and denied parties with an Islamic reference the same characteristic, instead associating them with a “priestly” image. Members of these parties were labelled “Islamists”, as if they were foreign to the fabric of society; they were accused of wanting to change Egyptian identity in a country with an overwhelming Muslim majority. They were also accused of imposing their particular understanding of religion on everyone.
These civil society forces equate the Muslim Brotherhood, whose members stood at their sides on the streets during the January Revolution, with the Egyptian army and call for both to withdraw from politics. They ignore the fact that the people chose the Muslim Brotherhood in elections that the world recognised as free and fair, and that the army staged a coup against the government and imposed itself as a fait accompli at gunpoint.
The legitimacy crisis did not start today; it began when the civil society forces appointed themselves as observers of presidential candidate Morsi before his second round of elections by making him sign a document committing him to clauses that they claimed had reassured them. However, they themselves did not adhere to the document, and did not cooperate, and so Morsi did not have to commit himself as long as there was a nation that was drafting a constitution and would decide. This was especially so when these same forces beat the drums of war while holding a constant sit-in protest in Tahrir Square and electing a presidential council every week with mocking programmes reaching the point of insolence.
There was also a talk show reporting false news about laws for marrying minors and selling the Suez Canal and the pyramids. This reached the extent of dissolving the committee to draft the constitution and the parliament and demonising Morsi for a constitutional declaration with which he wanted to protect the second constitution-drafting committee. Finally, they did not respond to the calls from the president to attend consensus meetings and had announced his approval in advance for all of its outcomes because they had already decided to overthrow him as soon as he was elected.
To date, the civilian forces do not recognise the democratic legitimacy of former President Morsi which he gained from the votes of the people; they believe that this was a mistake of the January Revolution that they must fix. Their call for early presidential elections was a cover for the agreed military coup. Those who signed the agreement participated in a shocking ouster that brought together army leaders with civilian forces, including the Shaikh of Al-Azhar and the Coptic Pope. This was not a correction of the path, but rather a heinous betrayal of the revolution that called for freedom and democracy.
These forces were completely lucid when they joined hands with the army and dipped their hands in Egyptian blood, with international blessings. I do not consider them to have been duped, as they claim to have been in order to avoid responsibility for the consequences of the coup, as I do not believe they were, or are, unaware of what happens when rebels do not preserve their gains or when they cooperate with and hail the army that they rebelled against.
The civil society forces aspired to a constitution that represented them after the coup, so they also suffered when they realised that the army would not allow this to happen. They continued with attempts to overthrow Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, the coup leader, through television channels directed specifically at supporters of Morsi’s legitimacy, in which they changed their concept of legitimacy and restricted it to President Morsi, meaning that it would fall with the man’s death, which is exactly what happened.
Then the contractor Mohamed Ali appeared on Al-Jazeera, seemingly happy with the interview that took place between him and the deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Ibrahim Munir, because the latter told him that legitimacy had returned to the people, and this was stipulated in a statement issued by the movement. Munir meant that if Morsi is dead, then it is the right of the people to choose freely, without any restriction, but Ali interpreted his words to mean that the Brotherhood has backed down and agreed to erase the period from 2012 to 2019 from the collective memory; this is not true.
If the civil society forces really believe that they want to restore legitimacy to the people, will they accept another member of the Brotherhood to be democratically elected as the head of state, whether he is president in a presidential system or prime minister in a parliamentary system? I do not think that those who supported a violent coup will allow a member of the Brotherhood to take such office again. What they offer are attempts to define the framework of the people’s choices to override their failure in January 2011 and June 2013, by setting preconditions that prevent influential parties with an Islamic reference from reaching important positions. They are also relying on the people signing off on this without reading the small print in the hope of salvation.
What is happening today is a continuation of yesterday’s coup, which was an armed robbery of the people’s will. As for the post-Sisi programme, the organisers of which have not yet been announced, and for which Mohamed Ali is considered just a front, it is unknown. Legitimacy is not Mohamed Morsi or the Muslim Brotherhood; it is the popular will that put them in power. Legitimacy is the right to choose freely.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.