Normative Narratives

Initial Reactions to the Egyptian Military Coup D’etat


Looking Back:

Make no mistake about it, actions taken today by the Egyptian military represented a coup; Morsi was elected democratically and passed his constitution democratically. A military removing a democratically elected leader is a coup, regardless of how you spin it. At no point in the last year has there been any legitimate claims of unfair election / voting processes in Egypt. The only thing Morsi’s opposition can muster a majority over is, apparently, their dislike of Morsi.

Morsi’s year as President was marked by continued refusal by the opposition to take part in the democratic process. He was by no means a perfect leader, his rule was marked with civil and human rights violations as he struggled to keep at bay a power-grab by his long suppressed supporters while also upholding the responsibilities of running a pluralistic democratic society.

In addition to sectarian divides, the economic aftermath of the Mubarak ouster plagued the Morsi regime. Popular subsidies had to be cut in order to unlock international aid after the economy collapsed. Political divisions made such measures impossible to pass, and further economic degradation only reinforced divisions amongst Egyptians, leading to a degenerative cycle of poverty, insecurity, and political division.

No one will invest money, be it the IMF or General Electric, if a country is so divided that the ruling party and the opposition cannot even sit down together a come to agreements on policies with significant and immediate human rights and economic development implications. And certainly no family is going on a vacation to a country where their livelihood could constantly be in danger. As a result, Egypt’s foreign reserves dwindled, leading to inflation and a further deterioration of the Egyptian standard of living. 

General Asis, by giving Morsi a 48 hour period to negotiate, had already made up its mind about overthrowing Egypt’s first democratically elected leader. 48 hours is not enough time to make meaningful progress on negotiations— all such an unrealistic time frame did was further entrench the opposition’s position to refuse to come to the negotiating table.

Give Morsi 6 months or a year, an amount of time that allow the opposition to prove its legitimacy, other than stand on its head and watch fireworks and light shows. So far all the opposition has shown is extreme, borderline irrational hatred for Morsi and the inability to participate in the democratic process. Why should we believe that now democracy will work in Egypt?

The Military missed a golden opportunity to play arbiter between Morsi and the opposition, upholding both the principles of democratic institutions while also ensuring an inclusive agenda setting and policy making process consistent with international human rights norms. Instead the coup undermines the very ability of democracy to take root in Egypt, and creates far more questions than provides answers.

I sure hope I am wrong about the precedent being set in Egypt.

Looking Forward:

“Flanked by political and religious leaders and top generals, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced the suspension of the Islamist-tinged constitution and a roadmap for a return to democratic rule under a revised rulebook.”

“The president of the supreme constitutional court will act as interim head of state, assisted by an interim council and a tecnocratic government until new presidential and parliamentary elections are held.

Those in the meeting have agreed on a roadmap for the future that includes initial steps to achieve the building of a strong Egyptian society that is cohesive and does not exclude anyone and ends the state of tension and division, Sisi said in a solemn address broadcast live on state television.”

It was encouraging to see diverse interests standing alongside General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. However, the shutting down of Muslim Brotherhood news stations and arrests / killings of Morsi supporters paints a grim picture for the future of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. What bothers me is what will happen to those not  in the meetings mapping out Egypt’s future–namely the Muslim Brotherhood. Suspensions of freedoms of expression and media independence are also alarming, and make for an unstable basis on which to build a new democracy.

How the new government and the Muslim Brotherhood interacts will determine the ability of Egypt to move forward as a cohesive and peaceful democratic society. If the Brotherhood reacts violently, Egypt may be mired in civil violence for years to come. Only if the Muslim Brotherhood and opposition embrace one-another (admittedly a long shot, at least right away, and one that would require significant political and diplomatic maneuvering) can the new government truly represent all factions of Egyptian society. A modernized Egypt that treats Muslims Brotherhood members as second class citizens can never be a true democracy.

US Support

There is also the question of whether America will continue to back the Egyptian military. If the U.S government finds the Egyptian military indeed seized power via a coup, which lets be honest they did, aid would legally have to be suspended. However, lawyers and politicians will work to keep the long-standing relationship going. Egyptian stability is necessary for Middle-Eastern stability, which is currently in short-supply as is; American leaders will be pragmatic as opposed to idealistic. 

Lots is still up in the air; I will be sure to keep my readers up to date on Egypt’s outlook as more details present themselves.


5 thoughts on “Initial Reactions to the Egyptian Military Coup D’etat

  1. You are not wrong, but by saying “pragmatic as opposed to idealistic” you are assuming that both – or either – options exist in anything resembling pure form for current policy makers. You are also assuming that the United States has either the responsibility or the practical power to determine how the Egyptians choose – by vote, gun or whatever – to govern themselves or be governed. (and yes, I know we send a lot of aid to the Egyptian military). Do you think that the United States could have persuaded or forced the Egyptian military to not stage a coup at this point? How? And that assumes that propping up Morsi would be a good thing in terms of either short term American self interest or long term American ideals such as Democracy.

    What we think of as Democracy is a constant balancing between effectuating the will of the majority, and both protecting the rights of the minorities, and treating both pluralism and constant dissent and opposition as both natural and valuable. That’s not an easy thing to do, and it’s messy for us. It seems clear that a substantial part of Morsi’s support came from those who believed in majority rule Democracy but not the other parts, and that he was not strong enough to keep any extremists on either side in check. Egypt was coming apart at the seams, be it his fault or those of his opponents or both. Will the military be able to create a more viable and function Democracy as I think of it? Maybe; maybe not. they have a big advantage: tanks and guns. Enough so that extremists on either side are less likely to challenge them openly. Yes, i wish they were not rounding up and arresting Morai’s people. We’ll see what happens. Did we get a better outcome in Iraq or Afghanistan, at least so far? Egypt is a big country in terms of population.

    I am certainly no isolationist, but effectively using power requires knowing its limitations. It also means not assuming a Democratically elected Govt (Hamas) is automatically reflective of our values or that the leaders of a military coup are antithetical to them. I suspect it is more important (certainly to most Eygyptians) that the Egyptians have food, work, water and can live without killing each other than a functioning elected government. In fact, I think the first condition may be somewhat of a requirement of the second.

    And no, I do not think Mussolini was a good guy because he made the trains run on time.

    Sorry about the long rant. I’m in crotchety old guy mode.


    • Hey Skippy, thanks for that thoughtful response.

      It seems as if the U.S. has already chosen the pragmatic approach of backing Egypt’s Army over the idealistic approach of championing democratic values. I can’t say I am surprised or even upset, there are certainly strong arguments for either approach and the long-term repercussions are yet to be realized.


      “General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, spoke to Sisi, his Egyptian counterpart, on Monday. It is unclear how far the military has informed, or co-ordinated with, its US sponsors but an Egyptian official said a coup could not succeed without US approval.”

      It is no secret that Dempsey and also U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel have spoken with General Sisi within the past 24 hours, and it would appear green-lighted operation Morsi-drop.

      I understand Morsi was ineffectual, but for the most part he followed legitimate democratic avenues and invited a participatory political process. It is not that Morsi’s opposition was denied their political rights and forced to take over in the form of a coup, it was that they refused to take part in the democratic process by choice and instead decided it was time for a new leader (and not through any sort of a legitimate impeachment process, but by coup). I do not think Morsi necessarily reflects our values, or that the military does not. But I do believe that Morsi was trying to work within a system that has proven to have significant positive impacts on economic development and standard of living (not necessarily after 1 year of tumultuous post-revolutionary rule), and the military is not. While talk of an inclusive road-map to sustainable and effective democracy is nice, it is far from a reality at this moment in Egypt.

      I think this comes down to Egyptians needing a scapegoat, and Morsi’s regime being in the right place at the right time. Nobody in Egypt wants to admit there are structural economic issues; that popular fuel subsidies are unsustainable and large investments need to be made in Egypt’s infrastructure and public services. High unemployment, inflation, and insecurity depress economic output and create a basis for anti-establishment behavior. Egyptians want a President who will tell them they can have their cake and eat it too; perhaps this new coalition government will be able to deliver if they are able to secure a loan from an alternative source without IMF preconditions. I for one do not see where that funding could come from.

      Sooner or later difficult fiscal decisions are going to have to be made in Egypt, and not everyone is going to be happy. Are they going to overthrow the next president too? I just do not like the precedent that was set–perhaps I am being idealistic instead of pragmatic. It may be that a stronger democracy comes from this military coup, we will have to wait and find out.

      I guess I am just voicing my disappointment, as Egypt seemed like an example of an African, Islamic state that had established democratic rule from within, and I see today as a step backwards from that. I may be wrong, and sure hope I am, as Egypt is one of Americas most important geopolitical allies in the Middle-East and plays an important role in regional stability.


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