THE BLOG

Would Naguib Mahfouz Oppose the Military Coup in Egypt?

Egypt's first elected president Mohamed Morsi was ousted by a military coup two weeks ago and leadership cadre of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) was jailed. A week later, the military opened fire on supporters of Morsi during the morning prayers, and within a few hours around dawn killed 51 civilians and wounded more than 400. But still the international community is reluctant to say this is a coup.

I believe Naguib Mahfouz, the Egyptian novelist who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988, would call it a military coup and oppose it. He was obviously not a supporter of the MB. Despite the fact that he came from a devoutly religious family and had a strict Islamic upbringing, he distanced himself from Islamic extremism as expressed by the MB. He strongly criticized radical Islam in many of his books, starting from the very early ones like "Al-Khalili" and "New Cairo" and also in his articles.

He was a keen supporter of Egyptian nationalism. He supported Gamal Abdel Nasser when he nationalized the Suez Canal in 1956 and embraced Anwar al Sadat when he signed Camp David Peace Treaty with Israel in 1978. Islamist hated him and his books were banned in his own country, and in the wider Arab world, until he won the Nobel Prize.

In 1994, He was attacked by a fundamentalist, who was a follower of the blind sheikh (Egyptian theologian Omar Abdul-Rahman), just because of the secular topics he tackled in his books and for his support of Salman Rushdie after Iran condemned Rushdie to death in 1989. Still, he refused to leave his country, even for the Nobel Prize ceremony.

Naguib Mahfouz was Egypt. He told the true story of his country with all its light and darkness, strengths and weaknesses, dignity and disgrace, mostly through its alleys and palaces and cafes. He also told us the dark side of the revolutions and military coups; unfair detentions, mass arrests, long days and nights in custody, torture, torture and torture. From what I know of his books, his hatred of military coups, detentions and torture surpassed his disapproval of the MB.

Literature vs. Realpolitik

It was unfortunate that the democratic West followed in the footsteps of the autocratic regimes of the Middle East and the Gulf-Arab countries in praising the military takeover. There was a belated and mild rebuke from European Union's Catherine Ashton, who said, "The EU has deep concern about events in Egypt."

Soon after the military takeover, the Gulf countries led by Saudi Arabia, all monarchical systems uneasy with the Brotherhood's republican interpretation of political Islam, began pouring in billions of dollars into the cash-starved country.

Fuel shortages and other economic problems that plagued the country until the overthrow of Morsi, suddenly vanished overnight. The US, which hands over $1.5 billion a year to the Egyptian army, found it appropriate to deliver the order of F-16 fighter jets just last week.

This is realpolitik in the crudest sense and only encourages those groups in the region that are against representational government. The hope that the Arab Spring would spur a wave of democratization through the region has tempered quickly. A country that could have become a beacon of hope for the whole region opted instead to return to military rule. The West shares blame in this state of affairs.

No matter what you call it, military coup is a military coup. There is no such thing as a liberal or popular coup. There's no legitimate coup. Taking over the government from the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood doesn't justify it. There are legitimate ways to change the government and liberals and secularists should have done better than calling for a military takeover. A coup interrupts the democratization process, harms the economy, undermines freedoms and regardless of the reasons, hurts the most vulnerable part of the society. And eventually those who benefit most from an open society, like the intellectuals, minorities and students, end up in jail.

As a citizen of a country that had to live through five coup d'états and military memorandums in last five decades, I advise my Egyptian friends to beware of any type of military rule. I believe a day will come when a new generation of writers grown up on Naguib Mahfouz's books will tell the story of today's military coup.