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Why Revolution 2.0 Is a Necessary Evil for Egypt

Posted: 09/07/2013 00:00

Egypt
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Statues of pharaohs are found on every main road in Cairo. They are the Kim Il Sungs of Egypt. Time has maintained the mythical, god-like status they had when they were alive. However they were essentially despots, and most Egyptians will resort to anything to prevent a President becoming a pharaoh.

The term 'military coup' has justifiably terrible connotations. Notable coups in the past in Uganda and Myanmar for example have undermined democracy's most integral foundations and have resulted in volatile, despotic and ultimately repressive regimes. But what if the army takes control to restore democracy with the consent of the majority of the population? This is a trickier dilemma to get round than many in power have appreciated. Democracy in Egypt has been hijacked temporarily to avoid a fundamental and permanent takeover.

Cairo erupted with cheers when news of the coup disseminated. Ironically perhaps, my friends working for human rights and pro-democracy NGOs celebrated more than anyone.

President Morsi had a dire 28% approval rating in June. He committed the cardinal sin of consolidating power. By attempting to become a pharaoh he betrayed the revolution he in part led. And thus the military takeover had mass support. Morsi had to be held to account before his power over the system became irrevocable. Yet this doesn't sit comfortably with the democratic Western powers that were quick to condemn the act.

The annoying truth of the matter is that no strictly Manichean analysis of the issue will suffice. Military coups are not good, but this one will at least try to restore democracy and this struggling country.

The Egyptian army is tied irrevocably with the people who adore it so dearly; and this adoration is not unrequited. The army, censured for repression and the infamous virginity tests when in power in 2011 kept its promise and gave power back to the ballot box when asked. Any sign otherwise will be universally and fiercely contested.

The army's choice of interim leader is also promising. The new President, Adly Mahmud Mansour, head of the Supreme Constitutional Court was a major rival to Morsi's undemocratic reforms. Whilst it would be utopian to insist he will have complete control his proven resilience to power should limit that of the army.

Nevertheless this 'revolution' is unlikely to lead to a quick fix. The army may enforce a kind of stability, but it has also shown what it believes is the price of it. It has recently shut down news channels across the nation giving them a dubious 'Charter of Honour' to obey; and has arrested many Morsi loyalists from the previous government. Today three pro-Morsi protesters were shot dead and BBC correspondent Jeremy Bowen wounded by gunfire.

The military will bend to the will of the people, but it will do so on it's own terms. Unfortunately it's own terms may be incendiary.

Of course the military coup also sets a disconcerting precedent that jeopardises Egypt's democratic consolidation. Similar to the Yeltsin takeover in 1990s Russia the coup demonstrates and further reifies the delicacy of Egypt's democracy. The belief that filling Tahrir Square can automatically trigger a regime change could create a system determined by unrest rather than democratic protocol and dialogue.

Unfortunately the precarious divide, between secularists and Islamists has by no means been overcome. Morsi supporters are understandably aggrieved. Furthermore the disaffection and anger felt by them could be dangerous. Whilst assuming they will now reject democracy for jihad as Islamist Party members did in Algeria is sensationalist, reintegrating Islamists into the mainstream democratic process is paramount to stability.

The military's vow to include the Brotherhood in nation building is a step in the right direction. However the offer will probably be seen as a raw deal following an unforgivable betrayal; especially while many Brotherhood officials are still incarcerated.

A potentially unifying leader is also yet to surface. The opposition movement has failed to offer conclusive support for any candidate. One anti-Morsi political activist told me: "all of the leaders of the opposition are interested only for themselves, not Egypt'. Both supposed electoral candidates former Mubarak PM Ahmed Shafik and for UN diplomat Mohamed ElBaradei will most likely entrench rather than end the current polarisation. The aggregate opposition can only boast a 35% approval rating. This indicates general dissatisfaction with Egypt's nascent democracy. This of all things is most concerning.

The new leader when elected will have festering issues to be urgently dealt with. These problems such as Ethopia's damming of the Nile, the annihilation of the tourism industry and the current fuel crisis require a skillful, statesperson with strong widespread support to solve them.

What is most important for Egyptians right now is stability. Egyptians understand the negative economic consequences of unrest. The last week has seen an exodus of foreigners from Egypt. It seems me, a few friends and an injured Jeremy Bowen are the only ones left! Egypt can only thrive when international hotels are full. However a 'military government' will terrify tourists as the 2011 Revolution did, long after it has gone.

Egypt inevitably faces another grueling few years and faces another tough democratic test in the next elections. These will determine entirely whether Egypt gets out of the mess it is in now.

Military coups are never 'good' but following the inevitable repression of military rule Egypt will be granted another opportunity to get democracy right. This is a time where Egypt needs international help, not isolation.

 

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