Coming from a region which has seen the baleful consequences of military rule, no one in India is likely to endorse the overthrow of the first democratically elected government in Egypt. It is true, though, that President Mohammed Morsi, who came to power in June 2012, did not meet the aspirations of most Egyptians and showed little competence with the enormous job he had been entrusted.
He was unable to grow beyond his origin as a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and sought to run the country as a fiefdom of his organisation, rather than as a politician who was tasked to lead a complex country which had come through the long night of a dictatorship. Just how insensitive he was to the concerns of others was apparent from the fact that he appointed Adel Mohammed al-Khayat as the governor of the province of Luxor, infuriating many Egyptian liberals because al- Khayat belonged to the radical al-Gama al-Islamiya, a once banned radical party that had carried out a massacre of foreign tourists at Luxor in 1997. Public pressure forced al-Khayat to resign. He had similarly appointed Islamist governors in many other Egyptian provinces, but the Luxor appointment was the most blatant.
The past year had seen a steadily growing tenor of protest against his government indicating that he had failed to seize the opportunity that he had got when he got a narrow victory during the elections. Instead of reaching out to the opposition, Morsi alienated them by declaring that they were traitors. But what probably undid him was the collapsing Egyptian economy, shortages of electricity and fuel.
The protests began two months ago, beginning as a signature campaign calling for Morsi’s removal. Grouped under the name Tamarud —Arabic for rebellion — the petition gathered over 20 million signatures, but the protests at Tahrir which attracted lakhs of people began only in late June and were met by counter-protests by Morsi’s supporters resulting in violence which culminated in the military takeover.
There is an irony in the fact that the protestors of the Egyptian opposition who demanded the ouster of Morsi, took the help of the military. It may be recalled that the last time around in 2011, the demonstrators had at that time opposed the military. The military played a significant role in the overthrow of Mubarak, but this was a negative one. By refusing to crack down on the protestors, they enabled the revolution. But, recall, they did try to cling to power and only left it with great reluctance. Even though Egypt has had a façade of civilian rule, it has in reality been ruled by the military, barring the last two years since the election of Morsi as president. Gamal Abdul Nasser overthrew the monarchy in Egypt and he was succeeded by Anwar Sadat, who had been part of the junior officers group that overthrew King Farouk. Mubarak was a former commander of the Egyptian Air Force. Formally, the current army chief Gen Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi has declared that the military had no special interest in politics and had intervened because of the situation that had been created by the Morsi government’s failings.
Egypt is the fulcrum of the Arab world and developments there can have a profound impact in other Arab nations. That is why it is important to get things right. The immediate challenge for Egypt is to ensure that it does not degenerate into civil war. Just how divided the country is apparent from the inability of the new interim president to appoint a prime minister to run the government. The announcement of Mohammed el-Baradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency and a Nobel prize winner triggered protests from the Salafist Nusra party which was, oddly enough, part of the coalition that led to the overthrow of Morsi. The interim government hastily withdrew his name and it is not clear who will head the government and whether it will make an effort to be inclusive and reach out to the enraged Brotherhood.
A major responsibility for what happens now rests on the United States of America which has been a major aid provider to the country and without whose consent the Army is unlikely to have staged its coup. According to reports, the US tried to broker a compromise between the Army and Morsi, but failed because the latter refused to accept the changes in his government that could have defused the situation.
The Egyptian military does not seem to be inclined to take direct control of the country. It has made its power apparent by its action and it will probably prefer to play a behind the scenes role. They have the support of the liberal elements of the Egyptian middle classes who are looking for stability and an end to the sectarian approach of the Brotherhood.
But the Islamists are quite another category, as are the Muslim Brotherhood and they are not likely to make the process easier. While the liberals may seek to revise the constitution which has given prominence to Islamic law, neither the Brotherhood, nor the Islamists are likely to support the moves. Likewise, neither the military, nor the liberals are likely to want quick elections because the Brotherhood remains the best organised political force in the country.
The writer is a Distinguished Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.