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Egypt: Another Good Coup?

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Back in 2010, I wrote a book about the overthrow of President Manuel Zelaya in Honduras. I called it The Good Coup: The Overthrow of Manuel Zelaya in Honduras. The title was meant to be provocative and to start a conversation about why the overthrow happened and what could be done to prevent something like that from happening again in Honduras.

Well, it did provoke. But unfortunately the conversation I envisioned never followed. Instead, what ensued was a lot of silly accusations and mindless chatter about why it was or wasn't a coup, or why a coup is never ever right.

Those who supported the ousting of Mr. Zelaya asked how I could possibly refer to the event as a "coup." They believed it was something called a "constitutional transition of power." On the other hand, those who opposed the coup asked how I could dare refer to it as "good," as if it were an obvious contradiction in terms.

Now the world is faced with its latest coup -- the one in Egypt. The country's president, Mohammed Morsi, has been overthrown by the Egyptian military, led by General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and presidential and parliamentary elections have been called. Meanwhile, the Chief Justice of Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court, Adly Mansour, has been named interim president.

There are some parallels here with what happened in Honduras in 2009. In Honduras, the military, led by Gen. Romeo Vásquez, removed Mr. Zelaya from power, as has been the case with Mr. Morsi in Egypt... although in Honduras the military acted on orders from the Supreme Court of Justice, while in the case of Egypt the military took the initiative on its own. Mr. Zelaya was democratically elected, as was Mr. Morsi.

Mr. Zelaya was getting too big for his britches and starting to act like a dictator, as was Mr. Morsi. During the first half of 2009, Mr. Zelaya spoke incessantly about staging a referendum to gauge public support for establishing a National Constituent Assembly to rewrite the Constitution or about holding an opinion poll on that referendum. He specifically talked a lot about changing the part of the Constitution that limits presidents to one four-year term, leading to wide speculation that he was seeking a method to remain in power.

Mr. Zelaya ignored rulings by his own Public Ministry and Attorney General, and ultimately the Supreme Court, that such referendums and polls would be unconstitutional because they were aimed at changing Articles of the Constitutional that, by law, could not be tampered with. Mr. Zelaya simply played dumb.

By ignoring the rulings and by his increasingly confrontational and erratic behavior and meanderings, Mr. Zelaya appeared to be implying that he was above the law -- vaguely similar to the way Mr. Morsi granted himself unlimited powers in November 2012 to "protect" his country. This display of bravado led to massive public protests of tens of thousands of people in Honduran cities -- much in the same way as we've seen in Egyptian cities in recent months.

In Honduras, the National Congress named the president of the Congress, Roberto Micheletti, as interim president. In the case of Egypt, Judge Mansour was named by the military. In Honduras, general elections were already scheduled to take place in November 2009. In the case of Egypt, it's still unclear when elections would occur.

In Honduras, the Constitution was never suspended. In the case of Egypt, the Constitution has been suspended. In Egypt, it's crystal clear that the military holds power. In the case of Honduras, the military never really held power, but rather was acting on behalf of the Supreme Court, Congress, and leaders within Mr. Zelaya's own Liberal Party.

Millions of people in Egypt are cheering Mr. Morsi's overthrow. Tens of thousands of people who showed up in Tahrir Square on Wednesday erupted in celebrations. By the same token, millions of Egyptians are also angry and hell-bent on defending Mr. Morsi.

So... was it a coup or not? The Egyptian military says no -- that it was merely carrying out the will of the people.

If it was a coup, was it a good coup? Can any coup ever be described as good? There may never be a consensus on an answer to this question. What is certain is that the world will not be as eager to condemn what has happened to Mr. Morsi as it was with Mr. Zelaya.

Honduras was an easy country for the 192 members of the United Nations to condemn. It's the third poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, and it is relatively insignificant and uninfluential. Egypt is an entirely different animal all together, and so you can bet the global community is not going come piling on too quickly -- if at all.

Big countries in delicate regions get all the breaks.