1) Debating the coup at the New York Times

Much of the editorial opinion and some of the reporting in the mainstream media has opposed the Egyptian military’s forcible removal of Mohammed Morsi as President of Egypt. Actually, surprisingly, there’s a debate about it on the opinion pages of the New York Times. It’s surprising because the reporting of the New York Times has been skeptical of the Tamarod, the protest movement that sought Morsi’s resignation. It’s doubly surprising because the New York Times isn’t usually known for offering a diversity of opinion.

On the one side there’s an unsigned editorial, and an op-ed by Shadi Hamid. But perhaps the clearest anti-protest expression came from Samer Shehata, In Egypt, Democrats vs. Liberals.

Egypt has a dilemma: its politics are dominated by democrats who are not liberals and liberals who are not democrats.

In this case, the favored democrats are defined narrowly as the group that has won an election, but ignoring how it behaved once it achieved power.

On the other side are Roger Cohen and David Brooks. But the clearest anti-Morsi sentiment came from Sara Khorshid, A Coup, but Backed by the People.

Make no mistake: there is no democracy under military rule. Yet I supported the June 30 protests knowing that military rule was imminent, because Mr. Morsi’s rule had not been democratic, either.

Throughout the year of his presidency, protesters who opposed him were violently crushed by the police and by Muslim Brotherhood members. He supported the Interior Ministry in its violent tactics against demonstrators and failed to investigate incidents in which protesters were killed. Journalists and activists were arrested, and the president issued an edict giving him immunity from judicial review. The presidential election, conducted without a clear legal framework, was not enough to make Mr. Morsi’s rule democratic.

Despite Mr. Morsi’s constant claims that someone was undermining his efforts, his actions always seemed aimed at extending the Muslim Brotherhood’s domination of state institutions. He was in constant conflict with the judiciary, most recently with a proposal to lower the retirement age to clear the way for the appointment of his allies.

The nature of the Muslim Brotherhood seems to have been grasped by David Brooks, but not Roger Cohen.

I’ll include Thomas Friedman as a special case. For the most part, he sided with the protesters and he even got a nice mention by Eric Trager.

His column, Egypt’s Revolution Part II made a number of good points but the problem is how it how it meshed with some of his previous columns.

Always remember: Morsi narrowly won the Presidency by 51 percent of the vote because he managed to persuade many secular and pious but non-Islamist Egyptians that he would govern from the center, focus on the economy and be inclusive. The Muslim Brotherhood never could have won 51 percent with just its base alone. Many centrist Egyptian urban elites chose to vote for Morsi because they could not bring themselves to vote for his opponent, Ahmed Shafik, a holdover from the regime of Hosni Mubarak. So they talked themselves into believing what Morsi was telling them.

As it gradually became apparent that Morsi, whenever he had a choice of acting in an inclusive manner – and pulling in all sectors of Egyptian society – or grabbing more power, would grab more power, a huge chunk of Morsi voters, Islamists and non-Islamist, started to feel cheated by him. They felt that he and his party had stolen something very valuable – their long sought chance to really put Egypt on a democratic course, with more equal growth.

However, a year and a half ago, Friedman wrote in Watching Elephants Fly:

If you do, the first thing you’ll write is that the Islamist parties — the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafist Al Nour Party — just crushed the secular liberals, who actually sparked the rebellion here, in the free Egyptian parliamentary elections, winning some 65 percent of the seats. To not be worried about the theocratic, antipluralistic, anti-women’s-rights, xenophobic strands in these Islamist parties is to be recklessly naïve. But to assume that the Islamists will not be impacted, or moderated, by the responsibilities of power, by the contending new power centers here and by the priority of the public for jobs and clean government is to miss the dynamism of Egyptian politics today.

Friedman’s old assumption was that the responsiblities of governing would moderate the Muslim Brotherhood. It wasn’t a hope, but an expectation (despite the qualification about not being worried.) So I don’t think it was “gradually apparent” that Morsi wouldn’t respect the rule of law; it was to be expected. (I have a similar reservation about Cohen’s column.)

Six months ago, in a remarkably prescient article, Think Again, Eric Trager laid out why the Muslim Brotherhood should have been expected to moderate, and noticed that the opposition was starting to coalesce.

Jackson Diehl of the Washington Post sees no good coming of the coup. He writes in Egypt’s Misguided Coup:

Applauders of military coups have in common two illusions: that the generals share their agenda and that their hated opponents, despite their electoral victories, can be politically nullified. Invariably, neither turns out to be true. Armed forces aren’t good at convening roundtables or implementing liberal platforms; they are good at using force. Even if they don’t torture and kill, they sweep up nonviolent political leaders, shut down media they regard as troublesome and try to impose political rules protecting their own political and economic interests.

That is what the Egyptian army did after removing Hosni Mubarak in 2011. On Wednesday it began shutting down television stations and rounding up Muslim Brotherhood leaders while Egypt’s self-described liberal democrats were still celebrating their supposed popular revolution.

Unlike Thomas Friedman, Diehl is serious. He compares Egypt’s recent coup with others in recent years. However, his failure here is a failure to acknowledge the nature of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Egyptian Organization of Human Rights wrote One year into Mohamed Morsi’s term Manifold abuses and the systematic undermining of the rule of law:

One year after Morsi became president, it is now clear that the priority of the presidency—and, of course, the Muslim Brotherhood —was to firmly establish the underpinnings for a new authoritarian regime in place of the Mubarak regime. It is no surprise, therefore, that the past year witnessed widespread human rights crimes, on a scale that rivaled than under the Mubarak regime. The brutal suppression of political and social protest movements did not cease; indeed, the security forces are no longer the only party to use of excessive force against demonstrators, as MB supporters have also been given free rein to use violence to punish and intimidate their opponents, including through torture and even killings, whether at the gates of the presidential palace, in front of the main MB headquarters in Muqattam, or in squares in other governorates. The situation has recently culminated in the incitement of violence against Shiites and against participants in the protests planned for June 30; the incitement took place at a recent press conference attended by the president, government officials, and leaders in the Muslim Brotherhood. Repercussions of this incitement have already become all too clear – days later, four Shiites were killed by a mob in the village of Abu Muslim in Giza.

To be sure a coup is a tricky thing and Egypt’s army mustn’t be confused with enlightened Western democrats. Still it’s likely that their self interest will lead to a more open government than would be possible with Muslim Brotherhood rule.

Let me allow Barry Rubin to get the last word in:

And, sorry, but if that means that popular totalitarian movements don’t get to enjoy the fruits of their election or military victories so that they can better wipe you out, then so be it. So that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from this earth. And one day, others can enjoy those benefits when conditions are ripe.

2) Without the coup

A coup is, obviously, not an ideal way to change power. However, sometimes it needs to be asked, what would happen without the coup? Three recent stories raise this question.

  • Egypt steps up Gaza tunnel crackdown, dismaying Palestinians

    Report: Egyptian military deploys tanks on Gaza border

    Six Hamas operatives arrested in Cairo

  • While closing the tunnels affected traffic both ways, the arrest of the Hamas operatives suggest that the military authorities saw them as a threat to support the Muslim Brotherhood leadership (violently) against the protesters. Did Egypt’s military see Hamas as source of instability? An Egyptian court recently ruled that the Muslim Brotherhood conspired with Hamas and Hezbollah to orchestrate a massive jailbreak – freeing, among others, Mohammed Morsi – in 2011. (There might also be a larger question about how the Muslim Brotherhood is now being viewed in the Arab world.)

    While the degree that Hamas threatens Egypt is speculative, Egypt continues to close its border with Gaza.

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    NOTE: This post was prepared and finalized prior to the Sabbath.