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Mohamed Morsi Deposed: Coup vs. Revolution, Which Narrative to Prevail?

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Mohamed Morsi Deposed: Coup vs. Revolution, Which Narrative to Prevail?

By AbdelGhany Sayed

Following 18 days of protests in around five governorates, Egyptians woke up on 11 February 2011 to see military tanks across the country, taking control of all state buildings; while rumors spread that Mubarak is about to step down. A few hours after midday, Egypt’s ex-spy chief, who was appointed as vice-president on 29 January 2011, Omar Suleiman, announced that Mubarak has stepped down and handed power over to the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), while SCAF’s spokesperson announced that the military took over power. Hosni Mubarak was then put under house arrest by the military in an unknown place, (Sharm El-Sheikh according to widespread rumors back then) before his arrest took a legal path in early August 2011, or, to be politically correct, he disappeared.

While almost the same mentioned scenario took place in Tunisia on 14 January, the Egyptian, Tunisian and international media/community were quite supportive of the extra-constitutional change of government movements and described them as ‘revolutions’. Inspired by the controversial reactions to the ongoing events in Egypt, I write this to question the legitimacy of the current movement to oust Mohamed Morsi and compare it to that of 2011.

Mohamed Morsi Deposed: What is a ‘revolution’?

While the common understanding that neither coups nor revolutions are legal, the latter enjoy political legitimacy. I view the current ‘revolution vs. coup’ debate as a very crucial one for Egypt’s democratic transition and national reconciliation – if there is a real intention to include all society sects in the future political life, including supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi.

In his book “No Other Way Out: States and Revolutionary Movements, 1945-1991“, Jeff Goodwin wrote that:

According to one (broader) definition, revolution refers to any and all instances in which a state or a political regime is overthrown and thereby transformed by a popular movement in an irregular, extra-constitutional and/or violent fashion … According to another (more restrictive) definition, revolutions entail not only mass mobilization and regime change, but also more or less rapid and fundamental social, economic and/or cultural change, during or soon after the struggle for state power.

According to different academic definitions, one should take account of two different dimensions to reach a judgment on an extra-constitutional change of governments of a given state: one is the source of the movement, while the other is the effect of the movement.

The first dimension implies that the people make revolutions, whilst relatively small and highly organised groups (often the military) make sudden un-constitutional change of governments – coups. But the matter becomes more problematic as the source of the movement is not always that clear. Indeed, it was inevitable for the Tunisian and the Egyptian people to seek the assistance of the army to enable them to oust Ben Ali and Mubarak. When the Egyptian youth started moving towards Mubarak’s palace on the 10th of February, they were aware that they would face only one of two fates; they would be either killed or protected by the military that was assigned to protect all public buildings, including the presidential palace. One day later, and a few hours before announcing Mubarak’s fall, protesters got the army’s message when the tanks reversed its canons towards the palace instead of the people.

While the two movements mentioned hereinabove were described as ‘revolutions’, the developments that took place in Egypt, on 3 July, were described by many as a ‘coup’. In my view, one should consider two different issues before reaching a proper judgment on these developments; a comparison between 3 July 2013 and 11 February 2011 form two aspects: the source and the effects of both movements.

Mohamed Morsi: The source and the effects: February 11 vs. July 3

To begin with, those who decide to deal with the latest developments in Egypt should, at least, be aware of the nature of the political arena they are dealing with. While the political scene used to comprise three main poles – the Mubarak entourage, the military and the opposition, it was clear that two poles at least have to be united together to control the state. It was also clear that the 18-day crisis – from January 25 to February 11 – was merely a reflection of a disturbance in the alliances within the mentioned status quo that was resolved following the military’s decision to abandon the fragile and collapsing player on February 11. Following the ouster of Mubarak, a new tri-polar status quo was formed in which the ruling alliance was formed of the military and Muslim Brotherhood (MB) against the weaker player– the opposition. Finally, the 9-month – from November 2012 to July 2013 – turmoil was also a result of a disturbance in the alliances within the status quo that was then resolved upon the military’s decision to take the opposition’s side.

Resembling the US foreign strategy in Egypt, the stronger pole on the Egyptian political arena – the military – seems to be quite pragmatic when it forms its alliances; it abandoned Mubarak when it appeared that he is the weaker and least controlling player; moreover, it did the same with the opposition when the MB succeeded in portraying itself as the stronger player that can best control the streets during the 2011-2012 transitional period, and finally, the MB itself was abandoned when the opposition could organise itself and win the military on its side.

Upon the lapse of his first 100 days in power, protesters started taking to the streets against Mohamed Morsi, who failed to meet his promises implied in the 100-day Plan(a list of promises made by Mohamed Morsi in his election campaign). Since the November 22 Constitutional Declaration and until Mohamed Morsi’s ouster, protests never stopped across Egypt, recording the highest number of protests on an international level. In late June, Egypt witnessed the largest protests in its history, demanding that president Mohamed Morsistep down.

Resembling the first revolutionary wave in Egypt in 2011, protesters also sought the assistance/protection of the army. With the MB supporters’ violent response in different governorates and incitement to violence against the ‘infidel’ protesters, it was inevitable for protesters to seek the military’s aid against those who fight for the ‘divine legitimacy’ of their leader and chant, amid clashes, “our souls, our blood for Islam.”

In fact, the ‘source’ of the extra-constitutional change of the February 11 government does not differ from that of the July 3. Moreover, some may argue that the latter was even more representative of the public opinion bearing in mind that the numbers that participated in the last protests, and those who signed the Tamarod (Rebel) petition, were a lot larger than those who voted for Mohamed Morsi and those who took to the streets during the first revolutionary wave.

It is clear that the anti-MB movement was not ‘sudden’, as it lasted for months, contrary to what different definitions of a ‘coup’ require. Nevertheless, similar to the January 25 wave, there is a ‘relatively small but highly organised group of political or military leaders’ that interrupted this popular uprising. Indeed, some analysts (i.e. Tariq Ramadan) argue that both movements were mere coups. However, I would argue that the ‘effects’ dimension is often underestimated by academics when they describe extra-constitutional change in governments. While different ‘coup’ definitions refer to a ‘small group’ taking control of power, it seems that eventually a ‘small and highly organised group’ has to lead any extra-constitutional change of governments; whether

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