Mohammed Morsi has become the second president of Egypt in as many years to have been forced out of power by popular protest. Contradictory rumours have been flying about all day concerning the state of Egypt’s leadership but, just now, the army have announced Morsi’s removal and the suspension of his Islamic-tinted constitution.
Well, that’s twice now I’ve been wrong about Morsi. It’s fair to say I did not see this coming. But, in some ways, it should come as no surprise. In the first round of the 2012 Presidential Election, only 24.78% of people voted for Morsi as their first choice. It was only when he entered a run-off with former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq, who served under Mubarak, that Morsi won the vote – and even then only with 51.73%. While Morsi undoubtedly will have taken the Islamic vote in this election, I’m pretty certain he also relied on the liberal and secular vote to assure a victory. It was Morsi’s hubris and his ignorance of this fact that led to his downfall. By pursuing a broad Islamic agenda, despite declaring himself a moderate, he has alienated the section of society which got him into power. That is how protests larger than those which deposed Mubarak rose up against him.
One thing that strikes me, as a statistics geek, is just how brief his leadership has been. Egypt has a history of long-lasting strongmen – Nasser (1956 – 1970) served 14 years, Sadat (1970 – 1981) 11 years and Mubarak (1981 – 2011) a staggering 30 years. Morsi’s solitary year is very feeble in comparison, making him certain to go down in history as one of Egypt’s most ineffectual presidents. Well, alongside Muhammed Naguib – Egypt’s first President – who was kicked out by Nasser after a similar amount of time.
One issue being fiercely debated is whether this action by the army constitues a coup. On one hand, the definition of ‘coup d’etat’ is: “A sudden and decisive action in politics, esp. one resulting in a change of government illegally or by force”. This is most definitely sudden and decisive, and Morsi’s government has been changed by force. Therefore, it is a coup. But does it deserve to be counted as one? Coups typically unfold as the army, for its own ends or for its misguided view of the national interest, force the acting government out of power. In this case the army has responded to an overwhelming outpouring of public opinion. I’ve read one comment where someone ironically stated that Egypt is one of the few countries where the public are actually in control. Let’s have no misunderstandings, the army has little interest in democracy. What the army wants is stability and influence; it merely sees encouraging democracy as the means to achieve these goals. But, really, the army had few options. The anti-Morsi camp is significantly larger than the pro-Morsi camp, and Morsi is characteristically unwilling to negotiate his way through anything. They could have tried to set up a unity government but, to be realistic, that would have been a guaranteed failure. Removing Morsi must have been seen as a cleaner, easier option.
So where does Egypt go from here? New elections for both the president and the parliament are due to be held, perhaps in 2014 – three whole years after the initial revolution. In the meantime, the head of Egypt’s Constitutional Court, Adly al-Mansour, will be the interim president. Hopefully Morsi’s supporters will choose to voice their opinions in the election rather than take more immediate, drastic action. I fear Paul Mason has it right: “For everyone belatedly discovering Arab Spring has parallels with 1848, please note it is now 1851.” It’s being argued that the army stepping in to depose Morsi will set a precedent for the army, much as has become the case with Pakistan’s modern history. However, I have faith that these new elections will at least attempt to be free and fair and. So long as the new President is careful not to disgruntle the army to a great extent (though bear in mind it will be unwilling to stage another coup), they’re probably safe. But then, I now have a track record of being wrong! So has everyone, in fairness. This situation is completely unpredictable.
I wonder how the election will go. While I doubt this is the end of the Muslim Brotherhood as a political force, their popularity has been dealt a severe blow and I find it unlikely that they’d dominate these elections as they did 2012. Could secular coalitions, who have now had the time they need to organise and mobilise, grab a victory? A moderate liberal actually willing to listen to people would be my preferred option. But, lurking in the shadows, a third possibility lies in wait. Remnants of Mubarak’s regime, which came so close to grabbing victory in 2012, may yet play a significant role. With the ancien régime’s obvious alternative ending in such failure, will the Egyptian people now sacrifice some ideals of the revolution for stability? Considering the uncontrollable force which has been awoken, an influential youth movement accustomed to its new freedoms and willing to defend them – as we’ve seen time and time again – I find this unlikely, but it’s not impossible to imagine Egypt may now take a step back.
Well, see you next time I find myself compelled to blog about Egypt. This seems to be a regular occurrence.