As most of you should know by now, the army ultimatum for Morsi expired yesterday and they made good on their threat to get involved. General Al-Sissi told Morsi that he was no longer president and the army took to the streets. US media immediately labeled this a coup on Egypt’s first democratically elected president. “So,” you rightly ask, “why the celebration? Why the jubilation in the streets? Isn’t this a step back for Egypt?”
The short answer in my opinion is yes, this is a step backwards for Egypt and her desires to establish a democracy. But sometimes we need to step backwards if we realize we’re heading down the wrong path so that we can get ourselves on the right track. The Egyptians who you see rejoicing over the destruction of their infant democracy are the Egyptians who believed it was so flawed it couldn’t be repaired and needed to be scrapped and started over.
What happened is a coup– it can’t be labeled anything else. But it came at the bequest of the people– millions of people. June 30 marked the biggest protests in Egypt’s history, millions across the country uniting and calling for the ousting of Morsi. The idealists were hoping he would simply resign and call for early elections but the realists knew from the get-go that Morsi wasn’t likely to leave unless he was forced to, and that the only one with the actual power to do so was Al-Sissi and his armed forces. These same realists also knew that giving power back to the army wasn’t a great alternative. But the people had placed getting rid of Morsi as their highest priority– an end that justified any means. And so, even though these same people cursed the army just a year ago for managing politics, they cheered for them when they decided to intervene this time. Thanks to their involvement, their main objective has been reached: Morsi is overthrown.
Reaching such a seemingly impossible goal is certainly something worth rejoicing over. Every Egyptian who participated in those protests played a crucial role in seeing it happen and they deserve to celebrate. I celebrated with them. But I think everyone realizes that now it’s time to face the fallout. Morsi is gone (hooray!)– but here’s what’s left in his wake: a broken democracy, a sectarian division that has just grown much deeper and more hateful, and a country under military governance for an indefinite amount of time (even though there’s an “interim president” put in power, he was put there by the army– not the people, so I consider that military governance). Sorry to be a party pooper but correct me if I’m wrong.
Egypt has chosen a long and difficult road, I’m afraid. They must now face the deep and seemingly irreconcileable differences between the Muslim Brotherhood and the rest of the population. The death toll is rising as clashes between the two entities flare up throughout the country. And with each death, the hatred is deepening. If Egypt ever hopes to be able to unite under one president, they are going to have to find some way to bridge this divide, otherwise the unrest is fated to continue, regardless of who is elected.
They must also face the truth that they have usurped democracy. They set democratic governance as their goal after ousting Mubarak but have decided to go around it now and have thus undermined it. I’m not saying this is wrong– but Egypt needs to face up to the truth that this is what they’ve done. They can justify it– and I too, will justify it if you want my opinion– but we all need to call it like it is if we want to move forward. Ousting Morsi was undemocratic, pure and simple. Those of you who know me personally will know that I’ve never been the biggest advocate for democracy anyway– so don’t take this as a condemnation of the Egyptians’ decision. I’m just calling a spade a spade.
Egypt has now had a taste of democracy– and didn’t like it. So now, they need to decide if it’s still their objective. And if it is, they’re going to have to rebuild it, which is going to be a long, difficult road, full of disappointments and hangups. I hope that this has taught them that democracy isn’t as romantic as it sounds. It’s frustrating! Because it is founded on the principle that the will of the majority is right– and sometimes the majority will make decisions that you disagree with, decisions you wish you could change. But to be a part of a democracy is to have faith– to have faith that you can bring about the change you want to see within the framework of democracy, over time, with hard work. Democracy doesn’t work quickly; it works slowly, particularly in a system that is divided along bipartisan lines.
Democracy doesn’t work to satisfy the will of the individual; it works to satisfy the will of the populace. Democracy isn’t clean and easy; it’s messy and difficult and painful and frustrating. America is supposed to be the model for modern democracy– so just ask any American. No one is satisfied with our government. No one. What I hope the Egyptian people realize is that even at it’s worst, Morsi’s presidency was democracy at work. And it kinda sucked, didn’t it? Whatever happens next, if it’s within the framework of democracy, it’s going to suck at times! No matter who’s leading it. The sooner Egypt realizes that, the sooner they’ll be able to move forward.
So back to your original question: “Isn’t this coup a step back for Egypt?” Yes, it is. But as I said, sometimes, stepping back is the only way to see the path forward. I have every faith that the Egyptian people will choose a good path forward when the time comes– but I hope they realize that even the best path will be rocky and hard and long.
I can’t walk this path with them– all I can do is pray from wherever I am in the world and cheer them on as they take control of their future.