Saturday, 6 July 2013

When Democracy Begets a Coup

What happened in Egypt in the past few days took many by surprise, and left governments all over the world scrambling to evaluate the events in Egypt and how to brand it.

From a western democracy’s point of view, what happened in Egypt is, by any account, non-democratic. Essentially, one of the parties involved in a conflict imposed their own views by brute force. The reasons behind this act and the circumstances that eventually led to it are of no particular interest here, the bottom line is, the army forced the democratically elected president out of office, end of story. As one analyst put it, “what happened in Egypt is a coup and anybody who thinks otherwise is a coup-coup”. The views of some in Egypt, however, are dramatically different.

Mr. Morsi, whether he likes it or not, and by virtue of his position, bears full responsibility for what happens in Egypt, including the events that led to the coup. This is not to say the coup is Mr. Morsi’s creation but rather to emphasize that the success or failure of any organization is a direct result of the success or failure of its leaders. This holds true regardless of any properties of said organization. A CEO can’t blame the employees for the stumbling of his company, and in Mr. Morsi’s case, the deep polarization in Egyptian society during his last few months in office can only be attributed to the lack of a strong leadership capable of rallying everyone behind it rather than to a conspiracy by some to remove him from office; a fact that had deadly consequences while escaping his notice altogether. Mr. Morsi obviously was no Mandela.
Perhaps Mr. Morsi’s greatest failure though is his decisions in the few days leading to the coup. Whether it’s democratic or not, whether he’s the legitimate leader or not, and regardless of any sentiment towards his opponents or how much backing he enjoys among his supporters, he first and foremost should have put Egypt’s welfare above and beyond anything else, which unfortunately, he didn’t. In a rapidly deteriorating situation where hundreds of thousands of charged pro and anti Morsi demonstrators took to the streets, and when it seemed that a prolonged bloody confrontation was imminent, Mr. Morsi failed to take the only responsible action to avoid bloodshed and save Egypt from spiralling into chaos; namely, an early presidential elections or even a referendum. In a critical crossroads in his nation’s history and facing a choice between his legitimacy and the prospects of civil war, Mr. Morsi chose civil war.

It’s interesting here to note that by reaching an impasse by the end of June 30th, any scenario for future events, except for early presidential elections, would have led to an outcome not much different from the one we have now.

The military, on its part, took a calculated approach to the events, except one that didn't really leave them many options. The deteriorating situation in the streets would have undoubtedly led to full scale confrontations, and once blood is shed it could prove very difficult to stop or even control the situation, and the military would find itself obliged to act at a time when it might be too late to act. With news of sporadic clashes, injuries and deaths in different parts of the country, there seemed to be little choice for the military but to intervene, and quickly, if it had any hopes in preventing the situation from deteriorating any further. But how to intervene without taking sides? For the military to remain neutral, they would have to disperse millions in the streets from both sides and probably impose martial law in all of Egypt, effectively taking control of the country while still risking confrontation, except one that’s between them and everybody else! This, apparently, wasn’t the military’s first choice. Now the only option left was to take sides, but which side? Given how much the new leadership in Egypt alienated the military during the past year, coupled with massive numbers of demonstrators all over Egypt; it wasn’t really much of a choice. To support the president, the military would have had to get into direct confrontation with a large segment of Egypt’s intellectuals, youth, the judiciary, the press, the old guards and many other disaffected organizations, something they probably didn’t want to risk. In any case, it’s unlikely that picking either side would have made much difference to the end result; for whatever was the choice, a large segment of society will have to be alienated and the military will have to deal with the consequences. In the end, the military picked the side which seemed to have more numerical support in the street, while as a last resort, tried to force the president to act by sending a clear message that he must resolve the situation before it gets out of hand or else they will intervene. The rest, of course, is history.

It’s an understatement to describe the mood among Mr. Morsi’s supporters after the coup as angry, and rightfully so. And it appears that whether it was miscalculation or part of a contingency plan, the military will likely still find itself facing a civil war scenario after all.
With an obvious lack of responsible leadership in both camps, especially on the brotherhood side, it’s hard to imagine the brotherhood licking its wounds, swallowing its pride and putting stability before revenge, considerable loss of life notwithstanding. And it won’t be long before we see Egyptians killing fellow Egyptians in the name of Legitimacy, Religion and Freedom, to the beats of war drums frivolously played on both sides.

It would be interesting to see how the military will deal with the situation then without imposing martial law or other drastic measures to keep the situation from exploding, leaving no choice for the rest of the world but to brand their actions officially as a coup.


  1. Check the following link for another estimate for Tahrir square:

    1. As was mentioned in the article, the numbers depends on how accurate the measurements is. The above numbers are presented as absolute maximum based on TV footage that showed Kasr Al Nil Bridge, Kornish Al Nil St. and the area leading to 6 October bridge packed with people. My measurements agree with the link you posted that the Square itself can't hold more than 150,000 and that the maximum average density is 4/10 sq ft (or 4/sq meter) The same was done for the measurements at Rabaa Al Adaweya. The goal was to provide an absolute maximum based on most generous estimates.