The criticism that has been levelled in the West at Egypt's armed forces for responding to the will of the masses of the people in removing Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood from power is instructive. It begs the question: Have we now become so duped by the received truths of liberal democracy that we believe politics should begin and end at the ballot box? Indeed, it was should never be forgotten that it was a democratic election that brought Hitler to power in 1933, while the Free Officers Revolt brought Nasser to power in Egypt in 1952.
Which of those was the more progressive event?
It is an insult to the Egyptian masses who came out in their millions demanding that the army respond to their will to characterise them as dupes or naive. If only we were so duped or naive in this country? Are we seriously saying that just as long as we get to vote for a prime minister who went to Oxford and is the product of privilege, this makes us free? Is this what we're saying? Just ask the army of orphans and widows in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, etc., about respecting liberal democratic norms. Ask them if democracy and civilisation are always two sides of the same coin.
The Mubarak era in Egypt is undoubtedly over. The Egyptian people have discovered their own power. What the world has witnessed in Tahrir Square over the past few days and nights is a free people making its own history. We in the West have no right to judge them negatively - we who have yet to make ours. On the contrary, it is they who have the right to criticise us for being so passive and lacking the will to respond to the ever deepening social and economic injustice that daily is reducing more of our fellow citizens to despair under the rubric of austerity.
But back to Egypt and what the unfolding crisis there has demonstrated is the incompatibility of Islamism with modernity. Indeed Islamism is the rejection of modernity. And while, yes, the Muslim Brotherhood at various points played a progressive role in Egypt and throughout the region, the Arab Spring revealed them not only to be opportunistic, but willing to support terrorist gangs of religious obscurantists in Libya and Syria with a predilection for savagery and bestiality.
Morsi's undoing was his ongoing struggle with the IMF. His refusal to countenance cuts in spending, particularly on food and fuel subsidies for the poor, in return for an $4.8 billion dollar loan, certainly demonstrated a commendable stance in solidarity with the poor and determination to uphold Egypt's sovereignty. But his alternative source of foreign investment via Qatar, Iraq, Libya and Turkey proved insufficient to stall country's economic woes. In a society in which over 40 percent of the population is living on less than $2 dollars per day, in which the official unemployment figure is 13 percent but thought to be closer to 20 percent, and in which inflation stands at 8.3 percent, with growth a disappointing 2 percent the die was cast. The direct consequence of the 2011 revolution that toppled Mubarak was the decimation of Egypt's tourism industry and the widespread closer of factories as global corporations shut up shop.
The contradictions that run throughout society across the Arab and Muslim world have exploded in response to the current global economic crisis. Poverty not politics or religion was the catalyst for the Arab Spring when it began in Tunisia at the end of 2010. The inability of governments throughout the region to erect a firewall between the millions living at the level of daily survival and subsistence, and the vicissitudes of the free market, lies at the heart of the ongoing chaos and flux that has Washington and London so concerned over its geopolitical interests in the region.
Morsi's response to this economic armageddon had been woeful. Declining incomes married to a rise in food prices and fuel shortages - rising unemployment, a middle class slowly but surely sinking - meant that something had to give.
When it comes to the role of the army in Egypt, it has shown throughout the nation's history that it is capable of playing both a progressive and regressive role. Soldiers take off their uniforms. They are not distinct from the people; they are the people too. This, after all, is a society in which Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser remains exalted for restoring Arab pride at a time when the colonial powers had reduced Egypt and the region to servility. His Free Officers Revolt is still treated as a high point in Egypt's history, only eclipsed in popularity and pride by his decision to nationalise the Suez Canal in 1956, prompting the military intervention of Britain, France and Israel, which subsequently failed in its objectives.
In 1973 the Egyptian army won what millions of Egyptians consider was an outstanding military victory over Israel during the Yom Kippur War, which restored the nation's pride after the humiliating defeat by Israel in 1967 during the Six Day War. During the three decades of Mubarak's dictatorship the army was spared the hatred directed at the police and hated state security services, while the refusal of the army to act on orders to fire at demonstrators in Tahrir Square during the mass protests that eventually brought down Mubarak in 2011 only further endeared it in the affections of millions of Egyptians.
Yes, this event could indeed be the harbinger of a dangerous precedent. But the willingness of the people to take to the streets in such huge numbers in Egypt means that whatever happens now, it won't be without their active participation or opposition. Here, above any other single factor, lies the key to the nation's future.
In the immediate aftermath events will largely be determined by the response of the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi's supporters to the ending of his presidency. But they and we can have little doubt that the role of the army in Egypt in this historical event was as an instrument of the people.
The real enemy of the Egyptian masses, however, is not the Muslim Brotherhood it is neoliberalism. It is the enemy of the poor not only in Egypt but throughout the entire Global South.