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Debating the Egyptian “Coup”

Debating the Egyptian “Coup”

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.


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


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    Egypt is not Democratic as we think in the West, but the will of the people does matter. From Nassar, Sadat, Mubarak, and Morsi it has been a series of regimes with heavy military and crony capitalist interests, with a minimum socialist safety net (which keeps the poor barely fed). Egypt realized continued war with Israel was a losing proposition (thankfully Sadat got Egypt on the road to peace), but it is still highly schizophrenic when it comes to Israeli relations.

    What was the breaking point for Morsi was the fear he might go backwards with Israel (the last think the Army wants is a fight with the IDF) and the Muslim Brotherhood managing to collapse the Egyptian economy in about a year (it went from 7% to about 0% growth). Tourism, a significant source of hard capital for the country, is basically dead right now.

    The Army had this fear before Morsi and the MB took power, but politically they had to give them a chance. The MB failed that test and the Egyptian people called for their ouster.

    One thing that I’ve noticed more with the Left is the ideal of “buyer’s remorse. They seem to think that you can get a “do-over” if you choose badly.
    Reality is that you usually don’t get a “do-over” .. at least in 99.9% of the cases. You have to look past the rhetoric and judge the person.
    For millions of Americans, they still can’t come around to believe that Obama didn’t deliver on what he promised .. a post-partisan post-racial America. If it was a close approximation, I could forgive their stupidity, but it isn’t even close.

    Carol Herman | July 6, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    While our busy Secretary of State, Kerry, got a Drudge headline, and a photo of him “solo sailing” and also being on his Yacht. When Kerry comes back I hope he brings the hat he found in Cambodia to prove he was there at Christmas.

    At first, Kerry’s office claimed he wasn’t on his yacht. Bot was at Obama’s meeting in the White House. So, the White House releases a photo. And, Kerry’s not there. Hillary, who no longer has business with this team, isn’t there, either. But Hagel is leaning back in a chair. If they have pads and pencils they can play: “Where’s Morsi?”

    How in the world can these people think they are taken seriously?

    Yancey Ward | July 6, 2013 at 1:00 pm

    What happens will depend on just how much hard-core support Morsi and the MB actually have. What worries me is the parliamentary support they had in the elections- that level of success suggests that it is a significant fraction of the population, even if it might not actually be a true majority. If the opposition to the MB is fragmentary, too, you may well see the country descend into full-scale civil war like Syria.

    It’s silly to debate foreign policy with Obama sitting in the White House. It’s going to be whatever he thinks best feathers his own nest and the nests of his fascist allies, here and in countries he likes better than the USA. And regardless of what you think about him, he’s world class at doing that, so just get used to it.

    What it means is that attempting to interpret his actions in terms of a framework that furthers the interests of the US, or any other country for that matter, or any moral framework, is a total waste of time.



    Drudge doesn’t think much of Barry does he?

    Gotta’ love that incendiary Drudge.

    Further more the article does seem to indicate that Barry, loves him sum’ bros of the muslim variety as tooooo..

    David Brooks:

    Once elected, the Brotherhood (Democrat leftists) subverted judicial review, cracked down on civil society, arrested opposition activists, perverted the constitution-writing process, concentrated power and made democratic deliberations impossible.

    It’s no use lamenting Morsi’s (Obama’s) bungling because incompetence is built into the intellectual DNA of radical Islam (Leftists). We’ve seen that in Algeria, Iran, Palestine and Egypt: real-world, practical ineptitude that leads to the implosion of the governing apparatus.

    The substance people are right. Promoting elections is generally a good thing even when they produce victories for democratic forces we disagree with. But elections are not a good thing when they lead to the elevation of people whose substantive beliefs fall outside the democratic orbit. It’s necessary to investigate the core of a party’s beliefs, not just accept anybody who happens to emerge from a democratic process.

    Wow… just three changes and Mr. Brooks could be writing about our current administration. I wonder if he realizes that? That’s just sad.

    “Coup” or not, one thing is certain: mean-spirited, vengeful OBOZO will do everything he can to hurt the Egyptian people for their success in removing their islamofascist despot, who is a member of OBOZO’s beloved anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, anti-American (except for all that OBOZO-provided taxpayer money) Muslim Bros.

    Main Stream Media:

    “We don’t cover the news, until it becomes news”

    -Breaking; Hitler commits suicide
    -Breaking; Weiner resigns
    -Breaking; tea party candidates win mid-term elections
    -Breaking; Att.General cited for contempt of Congress
    -Breaking; President of Egypt under house arrest

    What do I mean?

    Here’s an example:

    BannedbytheGuardian | July 6, 2013 at 7:24 pm

    Who out there in whole world gives a stuff about what all the above mentioned pundits think?

    It is going to be played out in real time in a real place not in these bozos’ heads.

    Sorry Nyork. You matter fuck all in this.

    My best wishes go out to the Egyptian people. I agree that they should not have pushed out an elected president but given all the changes he was pushing through if they waited for the next election they would have been looking at a ruined country and a dictator for life.

    Henry Hawkins | July 6, 2013 at 8:41 pm

    The only way to sell democracy in the Middle East is with capitalism.

    tarheelkate | July 6, 2013 at 8:41 pm

    All the messages we’ve had from Egyptian friends have expressed profound relief that the Brotherhood is out of power. The power of the Islamists is in the provinces, but even there, the electric power’s been out a lot, lines to fill up auto tanks are nine hours long, and food is very expensive. “Islam is the answer” didn’t answer impending starvation.

    Carol Herman | July 6, 2013 at 9:32 pm

    It’s not a coup until it’s over. The military stepping in means they’ll have to be in control for at least 14 months. Which is the time it might take to hold elections.

    Will tourism return to Egypt? Isn’t that what has to be guaranteed? Like Lara Logan’s rape, this time it was a Dutch woman. What makes you think Cairo’s safe enough to visit?

    Was Morsi bad for Egypt? Yup. He did an “early” Erdogan.

    While Kerry just took off and returned to Nantucket. So he could “sail da’ bay.” Seems to love solo sailing. But was this the right time to get caught at it? Kerry’s office at first denied CBS saw him afloat.

    With all due respect to all parties involved,too many people with no skin in the game and their heads firmly (inextricably?) glued to the insides of their colons are focusing too much on legalistic bull***t. Egypt is much closer to being in the state of nature than anything else. And, because of that, all’s fair.

    I’m fed up. When a “democratically” elected figurehead of a group of 21st Century Thuggees gives every indication, after his election, that he will pursue (or at least countenance), as official policy, mass murder, serial murder, genocide, rape, mutilation, cruel and unusual punishment and torture, and a maniacal ignorance of science and compassion (and all, no doubt, in flagrant disregard of a freshly minted constitution), then the intended victims of those crimes-to-be certainly have the right to turn him out of office and take down as many of his fellow travelers as they can. And if they have a modern mechanized army run by some actual modern smart army people on their side to help execute the task, so much the better.

    Madame Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg would, of course, disapprove of my writing this, but a bunch o’ guys from 237 years ago said it pretty well in a document which is just as meaningful today as it was then To wit:

    “…We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness…”

    And, gee whiz… If the people invoke their right to alter or abolish after only a couple of years then that should serve as a teachable moment to the political harlots who sought to enslave, slay, and oppress their fellow men and women. That the insufferably whiny Muslim Brotherhood didn’t get to bring its ideas of modern day horror to full fruition, well, tough noogies to them. Too bad, so sad, sucks to be them. They need to man up. They need to grow some stones and learn to play with others. They need to learn that they can’t have it all their way all the time – or even most of the time. They need to learn that other people have other ideas and that some of those ideas are, more likely than not, just by luck of the draw, much better than anything they could have come up with in a billion years.

    The phrase “tyranny of the majority” is just as meaningful a phrase and just as much a concern now as it was 200+ years ago.

    A coup happens overnight, quietly, and is announced in the morning. This was no coup.

    Over 20 million Egyptians were in the streets demonstrating against Morsi’s regime – that’s almost a quarter of the whole population! Imagine 80 million protesting here.

    The Army saw the nation rebelling against anti-democratic and unconstitutional acts by Morsi and his allies. They told him to accommodate the people’s concerns, immediately. Instead, he gave a blustery and arrogant speech claiming the “legitimacy” of all islamists: one man, one vote – one time.

    It wasn’t a coup, it was a recall election on a fast track.