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In Egypt: Elation and Caution Follow 'Popular Coup'

Dramatic developments demand serious and informed perspectives on movement that ousted Morsi from power

Jon Queally, staff writer

Judge Adly Mansour, head of Egypt's supreme constitutional court, was sworn in as interim president on Thursday following the dramatic ouster—or what some are calling a 'popular coup'—of the nation's elected president, Mohammed Morsi, on Wednesday.

In remarks following being sworn in, Mansour—who was appointed to the post by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) who declared the end of Morsi's rule—said that he would protect the ideals of the revolution, maintain respect for the rule of law, and help forge a government that would include all Egyptians, including members of Morsi's party, the Muslim Brotherhood.

"The revolutionaries of Egypt are everywhere and we salute them all," he said, "—those who prove to the world that they are strong enough, the brave youth of Egypt, who were the leaders of this revolution."

"The ultimate goal must be to subdue the military to civilian will, as per democracy's basic tenets - but also to oppose a president and a group that has attempted to put itself above constitutional-based accountability." – Sara Khorshid, Egyptian journalist

"The Muslim Brotherhood group is part of this people and are invited to participate in building the nation as nobody will be excluded," he continued, "and if they responded to the invitation, they will be welcomed."

Meanwhile, the ousted Morsi, along with his top aides, is believed to be in the military's custody at an army barracks in Cairo.

Deeper concern is surfacing, however, following reports that members of the Muslim Brotherhood are now being targeted for arrest. As the Association Press reported, and Reuters confirmed, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Badie, has been arrested by security officials and as many as 300 other party members may be targeted.

Such developments were condemned by those worrying that ill-treatment and marginalization of MB members would only further destabilize the political situation and speak ruin for the democratic ideals espoused by those calling for an inclusive and peaceful transition.

The overthrow on Wednesday was greeted with jubilation by the hundreds of thousands who had gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square demanding the elected leader, who they accused of executive overreach and mismanagement, to step down.

That the popular movement calling for Morsi's removal—which contained a diverse set of consituences opposed to the president—was ultimately backed by the powerful military council has gone a long way to complicate how many, both in Egypt and around the world, are interpreting what is happening there.

Many in the West were quick to call the takeover a coup d'etat, while others stressed it was a clear continuation of the same revolution that first took root in early 2011 and ousted the authoritarian rule of Hosni Mubarak.

What follows is a snapshot of those reactions and some of the necessary context and perspective with which to view the ongoing events in Egypt.

Sharif Abdel Kouddous, Egyptian-American journalist and Democracy Now! correspondent, has been offering on-the-ground reports and commentary on his much-followed Twitter feed:

Khaled Shaalan, a political science doctoral student at the School of African and Oriental Studies, makes the case that the majority of Western media continue to misunderstand what's taking place in Egypt, writing:

The failure of Western media and pundits to both recognize and project the nuances of the current conflict in Egypt through their negligence of people’s agency in shaping the political outcomes is both pathetic and shameful. It is pathetic because it indicates the degree to which Western intellectual circles—especially those profiteering from Western policymaking bodies—remain willfully entrapped in an outdated and out-of-touch Orientalist worldview of the region.

Serious analysts are not in demand, not only because they have long overcome this Orientalist paradigm in analyzing the politics of change in the Middle East, but also because they don’t have the talent of crafting ... superficial, short, studio-made answers to questions of news anchors. [...]

The insistence on ignoring the possibility of there being other factors at play, quite frankly, conceals a deeply embedded fear by Western powers, especially the US and Britain, of the emergence of a true grassroots democratic alternative in the Arab world’s largest country. Such an alternative would most certainly challenge the US hegemony in the region, even if only by beginning to address different possibilities regarding the future of Egypt, its people and its regional state of affairs.

Sara Khorshid, an Egyptian journalist and columnist, pushes back against the idea that those who worked hardest to overthrow the rule of Morsi, even if he was fairly elected, have somehow "betrayed democracy." Acknowledging the delicate situation, she writes:

Military rule runs contrary to democracy and it should be rejected and overturned by civilian, democratic rule. At the same time, the Brotherhood's attempt to replace state apparatuses and seize the nation state's role in society is clearly undemocratic and cannot be justified on the grounds of advancing the revolution.

Democracy falls within a framework that is wider than just the ballot boxes, and the rule of a group that has constantly defied democratic principles cannot be accepted under the pretext of honouring the "democratic process" or "electoral legitimacy".

The ultimate goal must be to subdue the military to civilian will, as per democracy's basic tenets - but also to oppose a president and a group that has attempted to put itself above constitutional-based accountability.

Juan Cole, Middle East scholar and professor at University of Michigan, wants to call what happened in Egypt on Wednesday a 'Revocouption' due to the complexity of the situation.

In the end, the revolution and the coup worked in tandem. They were a “revocouption.” Such a conjunction is not unusual in history. The American Revolution against the British was a war before it issued ultimately in a Federal government, and the first president was the general who led the troops. Likewise, the 1949 Communist Revolution in China was not just a matter of the civilian party taking over; there had been a war of liberation against Japan and a civil war between Mao Ze Dong’s Communist troops and the Guomindang, and Mao’s leadership of the Red Army was central to the revolution.

The Rebellion or Tamarrud Movement began in late April (though it built on longstanding youth movements like Kefaya’s Youth for Change and April 6, which had come to see Morsi’s dictatorial tendencies as a threat to values of the revolution). Its young founders felt that President Muhammad Mursi, elected June 30, 2012, had broken his faith with the people and acted extra-legally so many times and so egregiously that he ought not to be allowed to stay in office. They engaged in two main sorts of collective action to get him out. One was a petition drive, in which they sought to collect 15 million signatures asking him to step down. He had been elected by about 13 million to 12 million against his rival Ahmad Shafiq, so 15 million signatures were enough to show that he had lost his popular mandate, in their view. The other was a call for millions to camp out in the main city squares of the country’s cities beginning on June 30, insisting that they would not leave until Morsi resigned and called new elections. They succeeded wildly with both tactics, and anti-theocratic sentiment was one of the reasons people joined them.

Stephen Zunes, professor of politics and chair of Middle Eastern studies at the University of San Francisco, took to his Facebook page to describe what many others were expressing in terms of having mixed feelings about the unfolding events:

Excited about the popular liberal uprising in Egypt and the downfall of Morsi, but worried about the decidedly illiberal and undemocratic Egyptian military, the dangerous precedent of a coup against an elected president, and a possible violent Islamist reaction. [...]

Try as they might, neither Nasser, Sadat, nor Mubarak could completely discredit the Muslim Brotherhood in the eyes of the Egyptian people. The only Egyptian president who could do so was Mohamed Morsi.

Laura Gottesdiener, a freelance journalist writing for Waging Nonviolence from New York, says that despite many "outstanding questions" the hundreds of thousands in Tahrir Square and elsewhere are "celebrating the events as evidence that the Arab Spring succeeded in radicalizing Egyptian society, re-instilling the population with the spirit of protest." She writes:

The current opposition movement began with a grassroots campaign called Tamarod, which means rebel in Arabic. Founded in late April, the movement’s participants spent months collecting signatures for a petition that denounced the lack of physical and economic security since Morsi assumed office. Using both social media and traffic-blocking sign-ins, the activists said they collected more than 22 million signatures as of this week, a full quarter of Egypt’s population.

The future role of the military — which ruled the nation for the second half of the 20th century — will be a major factor in determining the outcome of this week’s events. Currently, the armed forces and the opposition movements appear to have an alliance, one perhaps prompted by fear of Egypt devolving into a violent situation similar to Syria. On Monday, the spokesperson of the Tamarod movement backed the military’s 48-hour ultimatum, saying, “the army responding to the demands of the people crowns our movement.” Wednesday, the spokesman rejected the idea of a military coup, calling it instead a “popular coup.”

Although the idea of a “popular coup” appears counterintuitive, it is not impossible.

Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, put out this statement:

Egyptians suffered enormously under the generals and then under President Morsy’s government, which shoved human rights to the sidelines. One test of whether Egypt can return to a path of democratic development will rest on whether the Freedom and Justice Party can operate without political reprisals against its members.

The government needs to address Egypt’s new reality, one where millions of people have taken to the streets to demand an end to authoritarianism in whatever guise. Political stability in Egypt depends on protecting and promoting political space for Egyptians to peacefully mobilize for social justice and reform on the basis of a free exchange of information.

However, HRW's Egyptian director Heba Morayef, took to Twitter to condemn reports about the shuttering of Muslim Brotherhood media outlets and the targeting of its political leaders for arrest:


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