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Khaled Abou El Fadl Headshot

I Mourn Egypt

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I mourn Egypt's short-lived democratic experiment. The Egyptian army claims that it was forced to overthrow a legitimately elected president because it was merely giving effect to the will of the Egyptian people. It is true that most Egyptians hated Morsi's inept government and most Egyptians rejoiced when he was overthrown. But most of these people are forgetting basic facts that do not bode well for the future.

Nasser of Egypt, Asad of Syria, Saddam of Iraq, and Khomeini of Iran share one thing. All of them pointed to enthusiasts and supporters that filled the streets of their respective countries as their source of legitimacy, and all perpetuated autocratic rule in the name of the will of the people. Last week, the Egyptian army stepped in to remove an unpopular president, but in doing so it reaffirmed a very old despotic tradition in the Middle East. Army officers decide what the country needs at a certain point in time, and they always know best.

Traditionally, there have been two powers in Egypt that have considered themselves above accountability and that have long suffered from a patriarchal outlook over citizens and their best interests. In Egypt, these powers are the military and the judiciary. Both are staunchly secularist, dictatorial, and corrupt, and refuse to answer to any civilian power. Currently, in post-revolutionary Egypt, simply criticizing the military or insulting an officer is a criminal offense. Likewise, criticizing the judiciary, or even commenting on a judicial decision is a criminal offense.

Both the military and judiciary are thoroughly elitist, privileged, and firmly rooted in the old regime, which Mubarak anchored over 30 years. The military assured the U.S. and world that it does not plan to intervene in politics after overthrowing an elected president. But at the same time, the military is unlawfully issuing orders banning Morsi's supporters from leaving the country and reportedly arresting others on charges such as "insulting the judiciary," "criticizing the military," "endangering national security," "disrupting national unity." Keeping with the utter lack of judicial independence in Egypt, all charged will likely be convicted. At the same time, the same judiciary failed to convict people in the Mubarak regime who tortured, murdered, and robbed the country dry.

Soon after the coup, the military called upon all Egyptians to come together, forget their differences, not to retaliate or seek vengeance and many other lofty principles. At the same moment, the military failed to show any regard for the basic principles of the rule of law. It arrested members of the Muslim Brotherhood and of Morsi's political party for sedition and advocating violence, but conveniently failed to arrest any of the people responsible for burning the buildings of the Muslim Brotherhood or even investigating the multiple occasions in which Morsi's supporters were gunned down in the full view and presence of the military and security forces.

So many so-called liberals are praising the military for upholding personal freedoms while blissfully ignoring the fact that one of the first acts of the military was to close down without even the color of legality all media that the military, in its infinite wisdom, decided is a danger to the public order. This, of course, includes Al Jazeera channel, which was not only closed down in Egypt but whose workers have been arrested and are reportedly being subjected to a well-orchestrated campaign of threats and terror by the brutal Egyptian amn al-dawla (the security forces).

Those rejoicing Egyptians forget that there is nothing new under the sun. What the army did in Egypt is just reaffirm and further aggravate a decades-old feud between the secularists who believe that they are the only ones who understand democracy, and the Islamists who believe that secularists only believe in democracy when it serves to exclude and marginalize the Islamists. In the history of the region, secularists fail at the ballot box because of their lack of support among the masses and so they are forced to rely on the repressive might of the military. Islamists do well in the ballot box but they win on emotional appeal and not real competence. Ultimately, the secularists monopolize power by excluding and repressing the Islamists. The invariable and predictable result is that this leads to the radicalization of the Islamists who lose trust in the lofty principles of democracy and human rights.

Those rejoicing Egyptians forget that the same police force that since the revolution have been absent from the streets and have claimed to be ineffective and incapable of performing their duties, in an instant, when the possibility of the reinstatement of the old regime came back, this same force showed a great level of competence in supporting the side they like, and in brutally repressing the side they do not support.

As we can already see, the army is throwing the Islamists in prison, and while the military goes on preaching about inclusiveness and not excluding anyone, there is a complete logical disconnect. How are the Islamists supposed to be included when they are being thrown in prison, and why should they engage the democratic process when they know that if they win the elections, the devilish alliance between the secularists and the military will most certainly intervene to neutralize them again?

Those rejoicing Egyptians forget that after the revolution of January 25, after the military council took over they promptly thanked the Egyptian people for their revolution, but then told them to go home, and leave the country to the discretion of the unelected military junta. Now, these same rejoicing masses have given the military an excuse to execute a coup, and to paternalistically decide the fate of the country.

It speaks volumes that no country did more to undermine Morsi's regime and no government openly celebrated his overthrow more than the Saudi government. This is because the Saudi government understands something that all of the rejoicing people in Egypt are failing to understand. Another military coup means the death of the Egyptian democratic experiment. Saudi Arabia realizes what will come next. The exclusion of the Islamists will lead to radicalization, and radicalization will mean violence, and violence will be the foundation upon which the military and old security forces of Mubarak will arrest, torture, and kill all in the name of public safety and high national interests. Saudi Arabia understands that the democratic threat that the Egyptian experiment once posed to Saudi autocracy is over because today, it is the Brotherhood that is being thrown in prison and possibly tortured. In a year from now, the young dreamy youth who rejoiced and danced when Morsi was overthrown will find themselves in the next cell block to the Brotherhood.

Indeed, because the military agreed with the protestors in this instance, they claimed to execute the will of the people, and toppled an unpopular regime that they were happy to oust. But tomorrow, when protestors call for something that is not in the army's interest, they will find they are no longer "the people" and they will meet a much different fate. Today they are called the people; tomorrow they will be labeled seditious saboteurs.

Democracy is not founded upon the principle of safeguarding the rights of the popular, but upon the safeguarding the rights of the most unpopular. What so many Egyptians are forgetting is that the same public interest that justified the overthrow and persecution of one political party today will tomorrow justify the persecution of anyone who questions the centers of power in Egypt -- the same two powers that have for long held themselves above accountability and above the law and above any process, and ultimately, above the Egyptian people themselves. These two powers are one, the Egyptian military and security forces, and two, the ideologically charged Egyptian judiciary. The secularists are deluded in thinking that they achieved a resounding victory against the Islamists. Sadly, they only succeeded in demonstrating that they excel in the rhetoric of civic values and rights, but rely on military repression to safeguard their privileges and elitist status. The only victorious party in this tragedy is the old regime with all its brutality, corruption and hypocrisy.