THE BLOG

Egyptian Reform: A Coup and Presidential Election to Restore Authoritarianism?

06/23/2014 03:25 pm ET | Updated Aug 21, 2014

Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Egypt's former military chief, who led the coup that toppled Egypt's first democratically elected civilian president Mohamed Morsi, was sworn in as president on June 8, 2014. Amidst a continued climate of fear and intimidation, the new "alleged democratic elected" government continued to arrest and imprison critics of the regime, regardless of faith or political ideology and in particular to eradicate the Muslim Brotherhood based on the claim that it is a terrorist organization. On June 21, 2014, an Egyptian court, in a trail that lasted 15 minutes, sentenced the Muslim Brotherhood's spiritual leader and over 180 others to death in the third of three mass murder with death sentences (March 529 and April 683) trials. The cases spriag from an attack on a police station in the town of el-Adwa near the southern city of Minya on Aug. 14, 2013 in which one policeman and one civilian were killed.

The MB has been declared a terrorist organization by the el Sisi-led government. Gulf allies (authoritarian monarchies) like Saudi Arabia and the UAE, who were complicit in the coup and are major financial supporters of El Sisi, have lobbied other governments, including governments, to follow suit and proscribe the Brotherhood. But the Brotherhood's history tells a different story.
For more than fifty years, despite provocation, arrest, detention, rigged elections and state sponsored violence under successive authoritarian regimes led by former military officers (Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak), the Muslim Brotherhood did not engage in political or religious violence.

The Fall of Mubarak & Election of Mohammed Morsi

Although the MB did not officially participate (many individual members did, especially youth) popular uprising that toppled Mubarak in February 2011. However, in June 2012, its political party, The Freedom and Justice party and its candidate, Mohammed Morsi, won in Egypt's first free and fair democratic election after six decades of authoritarian rule.

Mohammed Morsi became Egypt's first civilian and Islamist president.

Morsi and his government indeed made many mistakes, mishandled opportunities to reach out more effectively to build a more representative coalition government and implemented policies that alienated sectors of society.

After one year the political tide turned dramatically. Mass mobilization and demonstrations by millions across Egypt, demanding reforms and early elections. Sectors of the deep state (military, judiciary, security forces) with an assist from the media used growing dissent to legitimate a military-led coup under General Sisi, Morsi's Minister of Defense. The democratic process was bypassed to topple the first democratically elected government in Egypt's history and usher in a return to authoritarianism in the guise of a restoration of a secular, democratic safe secure future.

Retreat from Democracy: Violence and Terror in the Name of State Security

Despite initial post-coup claims by General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and his appointed interim president of Egypt, Adly Mansour, to support an inclusive democratic process, el-Sisi and the unelected government demonized the Muslim Brotherhood as terrorists and sought to eradicate them. The interim government's track record stands in stark contrast to the record of those who overthrew them. Mohamed Morsi and the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party came to power through ballots, not bullets.

El-Sisi and the government moved quickly to crush any and all opposition, putting themselves beyond the rule of law:

The first 6 weeks after the coup alone signaled the true nature of Sisi's interim govt.'s "democratic transition" with three massacres of Muslim Brothers and supporters as well as other political opponents (July 7 and 27, and Aug. 14, 2013).

• The third and largest occurred at al-Nahda and Rabba al-Adawiya Squares, where some 1400 (other estimates were as high as 2600), the vast majority unarmed civilians including women and children, were slaughtered and thousands injured at two pro-Morsi sit-in camps. Human Rights Watch described it as the most serious incident of mass unlawful killings in modern Egyptian history. "Egypt: Security Forces Used Excessive Lethal Force."

The mass arrest of political activists across the ideological spectrum

Trials in April with mass death sentences by a discredited court system, sentencing more than 1,200 people to death -- in two trials lasting less than an hour each. An estimated 43,000 opponents have been arrested including 23,000 still in prison, members of the MB as well as other dissenters

• HRW reported, Egyptian authorities "demonstrated almost zero tolerance for any form of dissent, arresting and prosecuting journalists, demonstrators, and academics for peacefully expressing their views."

Amnesty International in the briefing Roadmap to repression: No end in sight to human rights violations (23 January 2014), reported, "On the eve of the third anniversary of the "25 January Revolution", the human rights outlook in Egypt remains grim. ...The Egyptian authorities are using every resource at their disposal to quash dissent and trample on human rights... Across the board the Egyptian authorities have tightened the noose on freedom of expression and assembly. Repressive legislation has been introduced making it easier for the government to silence its critics and crack down on protests. Security forces have been given free rein to act above the law and with no prospect of being held to account for abuses."

The above scenario reflects the fears expressed by Egyptian and Tunisian activists, including members of the MB and Ennahda, in the aftermath of the Tahrir Sq., at a workshop in Istanbul in early October, 2011, "The Arab Awakening: Transitioning from Dictatorship to Democracy." Two concerns about two major obstacles to a democratic transition: (1) Remnants of the old regime and entrenched elites remained in the military, judiciary, bureaucracy, interior and police and could work to undermine the revolution and democratically-elected government. (2) Despite the Obama administration's assurances of support for self-determination and democratization, questioned, whether the US and EU would be influenced by its longstanding ties with former authoritarian allies and elites.

The concerns that surfaced in Istanbul seem almost prophetic in light of: the overthrow of Morsi by a military-led coup and electoral restoration of its military hero; the US failure to call a coup and coup and Secretary of State John Kerry's talk of Egypt's army "restoring democracy; the EU's vacillation and equivocation; and both the US and EU's rhetoric about a new relationship with Egypt.