by Robert Fisk
Protesters, who are against Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, hold a poster featuring the head of Egypt’s armed forces General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, in Tahrir Square in Cairo
For the first time in the history of the world, a coup is not a coup. The army take over, depose and imprison the democratically elected president, suspend the constitution, arrest the usual suspects, close down television stations and mass their armour in the streets of the capital. But the word ‘coup’ does not – and cannot – cross the lips of the Blessed Barack Obama. Nor does the hopeless UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon dare to utter such an offensive word. It’s not as if Obama doesn’t know what’s going on. Snipers in Cairo killed 15 Egyptians this week from a rooftop of the very university in which Obama made his ‘reach-out’ speech to the Muslim world in 2009.
Is this reticence because millions of Egyptians demanded just such a coup – they didn’t call it that, of course – and thus became the first massed people in the world to demand a coup prior to the actual coup taking place? Is it because Obama fears that to acknowledge it’s a coup would force the US to impose sanctions on the most important Arab nation at peace with Israel? Or because the men who staged the coup might forever lose their 1.5 billion subvention from the US – rather than suffer a mere delay — if they were told they’d actually carried out a coup.
Now for the kind of historical memory that Obama would enjoy. In that dodgy 2009 speech in Cairo – in which he managed to refer to Palestinian “dislocation” rather than “dispossession” – Obama made the following remarkable comment, which puts the events in Egypt today into a rather interesting perspective. There were some leaders, he said, “who advocate for democracy only when they are out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others…you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.”
Obama did not say this in the aftermath of the coup-that-wasn’t. He uttered these very words in Egypt itself just over four years ago. And it pretty much sums up what Mohamed Morsi did wrong. He treated his Muslim Brotherhood mates as masters rather than servants of the people, showed no interest in protecting Egypt’s Christian minority, and then enraged the Egyptian army by attending a Brotherhood meeting at which Egyptians were asked to join the holy war in Syria to kill Shiites and overthrow Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
And there is one salient fact about the events of the last 48 hours in Egypt. No one is happier – no one more satisfied nor more conscious of the correctness of his own national struggle against ‘Islamists’ and ‘terrorists’ — than Assad. The West has been wetting itself to destroy Assad – but does absolutely nothing when the Egyptian army destroys its democratically-elected president for lining up with Assad’s armed Islamist opponents. The army called Morsi’s supporters “terrorists and fools”. Isn’t that just what Bashar calls his enemies? No wonder Assad told us yesterday that no one should use religion to gain power. Hollow laughter here — offstage, of course.
But this doesn’t let Obama off the hook. Those Western leaders who are gently telling us that Egypt is still on the path to “democracy”, that this is an “interim” period – like the ‘interim’ Egyptian government concocted by the military – and that millions of Egyptians support the coup that isn’t a coup, have to remember that Morsi was indeed elected in a real, Western-approved election. Sure, he won only 51 per cent — or 52 per cent — of the vote.
But did George W. Bush really win his first presidential election? Morsi certainly won a greater share of the popular vote than David Cameron. We can say that Morsi lost his mandate when he no longer honoured his majority vote by serving the majority of Egyptians. But does that mean that European armies must take over their countries whenever European prime ministers fall below 50 per cent in their public opinion polls? And by the way, are the Muslim Brotherhood to be allowed to participate in the next Egyptian presidential elections? Or will they be banned? And if they participate, what will happen if their candidate wins again?
Israel, however, must be pleased. It knows a coup when it sees one – and it’s now back playing its familiar role as the only ‘democracy’ in the Middle East, and with the kind of neighbours it understands: military rulers. And if Egypt’s wealthy military king-makers are getting a nifty $1.5 billion dollars a year from Washington – albeit postponed — they are certainly not going to tamper with their country’s peace treaty with Israel, however unpopular it remains with the people for whom it supposedly staged the coup-that-wasn’t. Stand by then for the first US delegation to visit the country which has suffered the coup-that-wasn’t. And you’ll know whether they believe there was a coup or not by the chaps they visit on their arrival in Cairo: the army, of course.
Expert: ‘not terribly hopeful’ after Morsi
Late on July 3, Egypt’s military suspended the constitution and announced steps to move the country toward a new presidential election, following days of protests by millions of Egyptians against the Islamist-led government.
RFE/RL’s Heather Maher talked to Egyptian-born Mirette Mabrouk, deputy director for regional programs at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, about the events in Cairo that led to the ousting of Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi.
RFE/RL: There are differing views as to whether what happened constitutes a military coup — was it?
Mirette Mabrouk: I think we would have to say, yes, it is a military coup, but it’s a military coup that took place with overwhelming public support and in my considered opinion it is a coup that never, ever would have been attempted or even considered if the army had not realized there was overwhelming public support for this. I think the army wanted to be on the right side.
RFE/RL: Morsi’s supporters are vowing to fight. Will military force be needed to make then stand down?
Mabrouk: I think it’s really very difficult to tell and I think people who leap up and give you considered opinions on what’s happening are either hopeful or just enthusiastic. The [Muslim] Brotherhood has not made a habit of making intelligent, considered decisions since it has taken power. It had for the last 80 years but I think since it’s come into power it has not been particularly considered in its responses.
If it had been, the former president would have made the offer that he made [on July 2] a long time ago, which was to sack the prime minister and sack the government and consider constitutional amendments. That would have happened a long time ago and it probably wouldn’t have come to this.
I’m not terribly hopeful that they’re going to do the right thing, which is to say, “Well, we appear to be outnumbered, the country really does want a change and, if we’ve chosen [once] to go the democratic route, we can go back to the ballot boxes” — because they do very well at the ballot boxes — “we can go back to the ballot boxes and take it from there.”
RFE/RL: So you don’t see a likelihood of violence in the next few days?
Mabrouk: I am worried that there might be. I don’t think that it is a foregone conclusion at all. I think there will definitely be scuffles, I don’t know about the extent of the violence. I worry about it, but I’m hopeful that it won’t come to that.
RFE/RL: Is this a setback for democracy or a positive development for Egypt in its post-Mubarak evolution?
Mabrouk: I wish there was a black-and-white answer to that. It’s a coup, so generally speaking, under normal circumstances one would never consider a coup a big step forward for democracy.
On the other hand, there is no doubt that this really was the will of the people. I’ve been getting calls from Cairo and you cannot hear over the beeping of horns in the street and the fireworks going off and the sheer jubilation in the street. Apparently these have been the largest demonstrations ever recorded, and I don’t mean in Egypt, I mean apparently ever recorded.
So there is no doubt that there is overwhelming public support for this. So hopefully, hopefully, Egypt is going to get back on the road to the democratic transition that it started on when we first had a revolution two years ago.
RFE/RL: The military has promised elections — how long do you see this interim period lasting, and how long will it take to restore Egypt to normalcy?
Mabrouk: It depends what you mean by normal. If you mean some sort of stability I think as soon as we get a caretaker government then you are likely to see some form of stability. I think people need to know that there is someone at the helm and that the person at the helm is going to take into account all of Egypt and not a narrow interest group, which I think was the feeling with the previous government.
I don’t know when elections would be held. I think the figure of about six months was being bandied about, but I haven’t seen it. So we really can’t tell. But definitely we have an interim president already, and we’ve been promised a government that is going to represent Egyptian society — all of it — and we’ll take it from there