Military coups are no reason to celebrate. They derail the very idea of democratic institutions and sentiment. And it so happens that democracy gave Egypt the now deposed President Mohamed Morsi, an option that his opponents found contentious. The Egyptian military, in its espoused wisdom, decided that keeping Morsi was too much to bear, a costly experiment that was taking lives and fracturing the state.
Enter then, by default, the position Egypt found itself under General Hosni Mubarak, when the Muslim Brotherhood was regarded with deep suspicion and kept under strong military wrapping. Now Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected leader, and leading followers have been re-wrapped, and the experiment of the Muslim Brotherhood put on deep ice. The Tamarod campaign has gotten its prized scalp, ostensibly centred on a secular counter to the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Tamarod campaign was itself founded in April by members of the Kefaya movement, which reached prominence during the Mubarak-era. Tamarod prides itself on being a grassroots response, lacking supporters from the big end of town. The claim is not clearly verifiable, and once the campaign gathered steam, other parties latched on its coattails with tactical enthusiasm. Last week, the movement claimed to have obtained the spectacular number of 15 million signatures, 2 million more than those who voted for Morsi. Now, the number stands at over 20 million.
The responses to Morsi’s ouster have varied, though they follow strict lines of political and religious thinking in the region. The Syrian government has found reason to cheer at the overthrow and detention of Morsi and his supporters. “Syria’s people and leadership and army express their deep appreciation for the national populist movement in Egypt which has yielded a great achievement.” Hypocrisy is something some regimes do better than others, and Bashar al-Assad’s endorsement of one form of populist uprising over another shows the state of mental confusion that attends some governments. His is by no means the only one. The Obama administration will not miss the Morsi regime, yet is happy backing an opposition movement in Syria seething with fundamentalist sentiment.
Nor will the United Arab Emirates, whose regime is happily disposed to crushing dissent and any whiff of democratic ferment, feel any remorse to Morsi’s departure. The statement by Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan was filled with encouragement, not for the secular movement that had initiated the army’s reaction, but the Egyptian army itself. “Egypt’s great army once more proves that it is Egypt’s protector…that will ensure it remains a country of institutions and law that protects all components of the brotherly Egyptian people.” This is the rhetoric of despotic vengeance, not reform. Needless to say, any Egyptian Tamarod campaigner is unlikely to be welcomed in the UAE, a political entity that prohibits the membership of political parties altogether.
In contrast Turkey, facing its own populist movement against a long term ruler, has expressed concern over the undemocratic ouster. It all depends on how that fictitious term “a people’s will” is interpreted. For Turkish deputy prime minister, Bekir Bozdağ, claimed in Ankara that, “The power change in Egypt was not a result of the will of the people. The change was not in compliance with democracy and law.” The sentiments are hardly surprising given the efforts by Turkey’s Islamic Justice and Development Party to establish ties with Morsi’s government.
Where Tamarod goes, or for that matter the Egyptian military, are the open questions for the moment. Coups by definition repudiate democracy, and Morsi was the choice of the democratic movement, however misplaced it might have initially seemed. His opponents thought otherwise. They will cite, with some justification, that democracy at the end of the gun is a sham experiment. The fear now is whether one of North Africa’s most significant powers becomes the enlarged battleground for the Islamic experiment in what was misguidedly labelled the Arab Spring.
In Tunisia, there is a promise that a mirrored movement will take the reins of protest. Their target is the Islamic experiment that came to replace the despotism the “spring” was meant to remove. Few in the new movement will miss Morsi, but there is little reason to be too joyous. When nature abhors a vacuum, it fills it with the most astonishing assortment of things. A military regime with no timetable for transitional change is hardly a point of encouragement.