Was the coup in Egypt even necessary?

For the first 24 hours after Mohamed Morsi was overthrown the conversation was about whether this was a coup d’état by the military and what the consequences would be.  Then, numerous senior Muslim Brotherhood officials (including Morsi) were taken into military custody and state forces killed at least 30 protesters, most of them Morsi supporters, leaving no question about it: it was a coup.  At the Arabist, Sumita Pahwa lays out the pros and cons of this move by the military — I won’t try to better that effort, so you can read the full list here.

But the question not being asked right now that I suspect will come to haunt Egypt is this: what would have happened if the military had not acted and just let the protests exert their own force on the political process?  The coup was a tactical choice.  It was not the only way for Morsi to be removed from power.  The morning before the coup happened I wrote that even democratically elected leaders can lose their legitimacy — look at Richard Nixon — and that Morsi should be impeached for his efforts, in November, to put his policies beyond judicial review and thus himself above the law.  Some people on Twitter pointed out that the flawed constitution Morsi forced through in December does not allow for this but that is irrelevant: drafting articles of impeachment could have been done rhetorically as a a way of framing the push to remove him from office as one of defending democracy, not undermining it as many commentators (and 100% of Morsi supporters) believe.

What would have gotten Morsi to resign was not the threat of impeachment, legal or rhetorical, but the pressure of millions of his citizens — the largest gathering in Egypt’s history — in the street publicly repudiating him.  No elected leader who draws his legitimacy from the will of the people can survive that for long.  That is the process the military aborted by its premature and unwise intervention.  Think about that: there is a reasonable chance change would have come anyway — change effected by massive public participation, which in an embryonic democracy is a great deal more legitimate than a coup.  How much better would that have been for the long-term prospects of getting good, representative governance in Egypt?

Instead we are left with a new president, the hapless Adly Mansour, who is the Mohamed Naguib of our era.  Behind him, as so often before, there is a man holding a gun.  That’s a bad turn for the revolution.

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And if the coup was not necessary, then what?  If the military has sabotaged the revolution rather than protected it then the only thing to do is reclaim it from them.

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3 Responses to “Was the coup in Egypt even necessary?”

  1. arabist says:

    The argument that the constitution did not allow for impeachment is also untrue, though widely propagated including by experts. Art. 152 provides for it but there had to be an election for the lower house of parliament first. Perhaps unlikely that anti-Morsi forces would have done well, although a Salafi-secular coalition against Morsi might have worked to get the required two-thirds vote.

    *****

    Article 152 – Treason

    A charge of felony or treason against the President of the Republic is to be based on a motion signed by at least one-third of the members of the Council of Representatives. An impeachment is to be issued only by a two-thirds majority of the members of the Council of Representatives.

    As soon as an impeachment decision has been issued, the President of the Republic ceases all work; this is treated as a temporary obstacle preventing the President from carrying out presidential duties until a verdict is reached.

    The President of the Republic is tried before a special court headed by the president of the Supreme Judicial Council, the longest-serving deputies of the president of the Supreme Constitutional Court and of the State Council, and the two longest-serving presidents of the Court of Appeals; the prosecution to be carried out before such court by the Prosecutor General. If any of the foregoing individuals are prevented from leaving their positions, they are replaced by order of seniority.

    The law organizes the investigation and the trial procedures. In the case of conviction, the President of the Republic is relieved of his post, without prejudice to other penalties.

    *****

    Another option would have been a deal whereby Morsi declares himself incapacitated just after appointing a new PM. This might have been the route had he agreed to early presidential elections. But it’s worth noting that Morsi refused to negotiate on the length of his term and his last two speeches were very aggressive. He clearly misread his hand, or was willing to gamble that the military was bluffing.

    • Sean Rocha says:

      Good point, Issandr. Alas, this only makes it worse that this is the path not taken. Even if, in the absence of a lower house, that part of the process needed to be finagled the rest of the process involves many of the same actors in the judiciary who have been implicated in the coup d’etat. Likewise, a Salafi-secular alliance was visible (briefly, as it turns out) when Gen. al-Sisi made his announcement so could be expected to have collaborated on an impeachment. In other words, all the actors (save for the absent lower house) who have signed up for the coup had the choice available to impeach instead. The mind reels to consider how much less damage would have been done to the democratic process had they gone that route, to say nothing of the better chance that would remain of keeping the Ikhwan within the legitimate political system instead of, as now, questioning what the point is of contesting elections if the military can remove you from power at will.

    • seanrocha says:

      Good point, Issandr. Alas, this only makes it worse that this is the path not taken. Even if, in the absence of a lower house, that part of the process needed to be finagled the rest of the process involves many of the same actors in the judiciary who have been implicated in the coup d’etat. Likewise, a Salafi-secular alliance was visible (briefly, as it turns out) when Gen. al-Sisi made his announcement so could be expected to have collaborated on an impeachment. In other words, all the actors (save for the absent lower house) who have signed up for the coup had the choice available to impeach instead. The mind reels to consider how much less damage would have been done to the democratic process had they gone that route, to say nothing of the better chance that would remain of keeping the Ikhwan within the legitimate political system instead of, as now, questioning what the point is of contesting elections if the military can remove you from power at will.

      Sean

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