The recent military coup in Egypt which removed President, Mohamed Morsi from power has further perturbed the domestic political scene already sorely divided between the Muslim Brotherhood and their fierce opponents among liberals, former Nasserists, civil society organizations, youth groups, and former regime supporters. The international official reaction to the coup varied from tacit support to discreet and measured expressions of concern and calls for restraint. Few voices such as Tony Blair even tried to defend the coup by pointing out the vast popular rejection of Morsi in the streets and his failed economic policies which threatened to paralyze the country. The coup, it seemed, was a necessary act to save the country from the fate of chaos to which the Islamist party of Justice and Freedom was taking the country.
After over two years of political strife in Egypt, following the ousting of Mubarak, the political situation still remains worryingly fluid. The protracted transitional period has severe backlashes, and the much desired ‘democratic process‘ has alas turned into a stalemate. The ongoing strife between the supporters of Morsi and the political establishment threatens to plunge the country into the abyss.
For months I have seen Egyptian media launch severe criticism against Morsi and his party in ways I haven’t seen anywhere else. Daily shows on private TV channels lampooned the policies of the government, attacked Morsi’s speeches and decisions, and cautioned Egyptians against the new Pharaoh who will take away the freedoms fought for by millions of Egyptians, and ban the arts and freedom of expression. Ironically, in this raucous media, Morsi appeared in diabolic guises. He was portrayed as puppet of America, lacking in charisma and insight, showing leniency towards radical jihadist groups in Sinai, and serving the foreign interests of Qatar, Turkey, and even Israel.
It may be argued that Morsi’s policies were not always sound or thoughtful. His conflict with the judiciary was perhaps the factor that caused deep-seated distrust of his political agenda. His attempts to change the rules of the game, to obtain more power to pursue strong political reforms as his supporters argue, only triggered more fears of him establishing a conservative ‘Islamist’ rule adverse to the liberal values of freedom and democracy claimed by millions of protesters who gathered in Tahrir squares and other public spaces.
The military coup gives no reassuring signal that Egypt will emerge soon from the impasse. Today it has become clear that the political actors in Egypt lack foresight and serious commitment to consolidating democratic institutions, and peaceful transfer of power. The first democratically elected president is still detained by the military. The leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood are being arrested on no clear charges while the pro-Islamist media outlets have been shut down in a move to contain the influence of the Islamist movement. Yet, several days after the coup, and the bloody confrontation with Morsi’s partisans, popular support for the toppled president is increasing in the streets and threatens to offset the fragile entente between the military and the liberal parties. The attempt to ignore the Muslim Brotherhood or impose a new political reality by force is likely to fail since the Islamists have solid popular base and will continue to call for the return of legitimacy attained through ballot boxes.
Next post is The Islamists at Crossroads: The Case of Morocco