Morsi is out. Within hours of the military’s deadline, the first democratically elected President of the new Egypt stepped down. There is jubilation in the streets, and the redo of Egypt’s revolution has renewed the hopes of millions that the world’s largest Arab country will turn towards a brighter future.
If only it were that easy.
To be fair, it’s understandable – and to be expected – that the Tamarod protestors are celebrating a major victory. A semi-bloodless overthrow of an aspiring theocrat is generally an exciting thing. That is true for today, but the days ahead in Egypt will be fraught with anxious uncertainty. Nobody has the answers for what is next- and most aren’t even thinking about it yet.
At the risk of sounding cynical, Egypt has been here before. That the current protests in Tahrir are larger and louder than the 2011 episode doesn’t change the eerie feeling of déjà vu that should slightly diminish hopeful expectations for the future.
Proponents of Egypt’s revolution 2.0 will undoubtedly point out that Morsi was a liar, a failure, and an authoritarian. All true, though that doesn’t change a few uncomfortable realities staring Egyptians in the face.
Despite the best intentions of Tamarod, the country may be ungovernable. The economy is still in free-fall. And if the Islamists go underground and resort to violence, the future could be much bleaker than anything under Mubarak or the Brotherhood.
While events on the ground are changing hour-to-hour, here is an overview of the good, bad, and ugly of the Egyptian coup, as it currently stands.
Morsi was an authoritarian, he violated countless pledges and abused the spirit and letter of the Democratic process. His ouster is by no means something to lament in those respects, and perhaps he did plan to further consolidate power and cancel future elections.
The military, usually a threat to take power and hold it in a coup, seems completely disinclined to do so. They want to maintain their privileges and profits, and seemingly harbor little desire to preside over a collapsing Egyptian state. So that major concern of coups probably won’t be at issue here.
Most importantly of all, the Egyptian people have another chance at governance. If all goes according to plan, a new Constitution will be written, new elections held, and a durable governing coalition can be put in place. It didn’t work the first time, but this time it could be different for Egypt.
Lessons have been learned in Egypt. We will see in time if they are adequately applied.
Look, Egypt just had a coup. When tanks roll in, with the implied threat of force, and demand that a democratically elected leader step down (or else), it’s a coup. We can parse words, and call this a democratic uprising, a democratic coup, or whatever—it’s still a coup. Shying away from reality doesn’t change it. And while a coup can be a good thing, it’s by definition acting outside the established political system.
The Brotherhood was failing, and it had nobody to blame (other than Israel and America, two omnipresent scapegoats). Now it can construe a new narrative that its opponents were never serious about Democracy. They abandoned their own principles, and stopped democracy in order to save it. Whether the rest of the world sees it that way or not, it will be a potent narrative to whip up the Islamists not just in Egypt, but across the region.
No matter how odious it was for Egyptians to suffer under Brotherhood rule, a precedent has been set. If enough people are angry at their government, they storm the streets, demand new leadership, and expect the military to back them.
Islamist movements across the Middle East are looking at this and taking away one lesson—make sure the military is on your side. The rest is details.
The Islamists aren’t going anywhere. They may step down today, they might even pretend to join an interim government, but many of them are furious at this revocation of their victory at the ballot box.
The Muslim Brotherhood—and the more extreme Salafist Al Nour party—can still count millions of supporters in their ranks. And many of those Islamic hardliners are looking at the coup in Cairo with revulsion and rage.
A brief look at the history of Islamist movements—and the Brotherhood in particular—shows an ability to endure crackdowns, and operate effectively from outside the political mainstream. In fact, organizing in the shadows may be the Islamists most finely honed skill. Clearly, they don’t have a clue when it comes to inclusive governance. Push them into darkness, however, and they thrive.
But the real game changer would be a return to violence for the Islamists.
Nobody knows what comes next if that happens. Drowned out by the cheers and the vuvuzela horns in Tahrir are voices of Islamists gathering in pockets around Cairo, screaming about injustice while they wave homemade weapons in the air.
Even if Tamarod supporters hugely outnumber Islamists, instability and insurgency don’t require a majority. They require dedication.
Nobody questions the Islamists when it comes to that qualification.
Posterity may be kind to this phase of the Egyptian revolution. But before the Arab Spring era, military coups often had a decidedly different connotation in the Middle East. Parallels between Egypt today, for example, and the Algerian military government’s horrifically bloody fight with an Islamist insurgency in the 1990’s should give all onlookers to Egypt a moment of pause.
For all its dysfunction and disappointments so far, the Egyptian revolution is certainly a dynamic affair. It seems pluralism and rule of law Democracy in this ancient country may have received quite a boost today, regardless of the methods involved. Maybe.
Let us all hope for a better future for this pivotal country of 90 million.
But celebrations notwithstanding, this thing in Egypt is far from over.