I woke up the other morning hoping my Facebook newsfeed was not still asking this question. But it was.
My friend texted me, "is this a coup?"
"Technically, the military deciding to give Morsi a deadline to leave, and taking over, is a coup." I responded.
"But it's also the way the people are protecting their rights."
"Yea, it's complicated."
It is complicated. We all have horrible images in our minds of what the military do when they take power: arrests, interrogations, martial law, authoritarianism and restriction of expression being the least of the evils. This worst cases being civil war, and complete economic raping of the country by the anointed.
But what complicates any desire to call this a military coup is the people. They came first. They started what happened, not the military. And there were a lot of them. There were more people in the streets of Egypt than anyone in my generation has ever seen in their lives, and those people wanted something. One Facebook update by Hani Morsi, an Egyptian in Cairo, called it a "Quantum Coup."
But along the way there was questioning about everything that was going on. Maybe some people were out there simply for the feeling of solidarity, for the party, for the euphoria of being united with so many people.
One friend was frustrated by the double standards, that the secularly minded would support a military who was essentially doing exactly what Morsi did months earlier when he gave himself exceptional powers to decided on the constitution and other matters.
Other Facebook updates from Egypt expressed concern over the country splitting into a 33 million pieces after the protests. Lebanese friends claimed that the Arab Spring was over if the military is the solution.
The truth is, there were other better ways to solve the crisis, perhaps at some point Morsi would've come to the conclusion that he needed to give way to emergency elections. It would've been nice to see how the story would've played out without the intervention. But as the Facebook posts showed, there wasn't much consensus beyond Morsi going, and no articulation on what the future should look like, leaving a vacuum for someone to do something.
Not ideal but it happened. Now what? Everyone in power is now appointed. There are opportunities. The main opportunity is to put the state back together, to function, including the economy. From what we could see, there was a serious lack of capacity in the Brotherhood for managing and governing the state, likely from years of being on the sidelines. You need a state if you are going to have a democracy.
The rest of the opportunities are more like ideals. They depend on enlightened leaders that want a solid and stable Egypt over their own power. The first idealistic opportunity is a better process for drafting the constitution, though this seems unlikely. The constitution written under Morsi's watch was written primarily by the Muslim Brotherhood, as all other members of the constitutional assembly eventually left the table due to disagreements. From the military's speech yesterday, it seemed that there is a risk that the new constitution will take on the opposite flavor, and will be written by all non-Islamist members. Like the rest of the world, Egypt will have a problem bridging the differences between its conservative and liberal elements.
The final opportunity is to do a re-set on the Arab Spring, and have another election, with each candidate having more clarity of the redlines of the people, and complete awareness of the responsibility of careful stewardship of the country.
In the sobriety a few days after, the mixed feelings and consequences sink in deeper. On the one hand what happened over the last few days, was a positive step, in the way that it served as a feedback process, albeit a dramatic and violent one. Perhaps necessary for defining the new Egypt. A leader does something and the people react. This back and forth will likely continue until institutions are set that make people feel comfortable and secure in the new Egypt. On the other hand, somehow this people power resulted in the military taking over. And that doesn't feel quite right.
Over the last few days, two groups had aligned interests for a moment -- the people and the military. It's just the way things happened. But interests change. The problem with the all night party, is the morning after. Egyptians woke up to civilian rule put in place by the military. The best-case scenario is that military go away as quickly as it came. That it doesn't act the way everyone is scared it will. That precedence isn't being established. That the future is as complicated as the present. It's up to anointed, I mean appointed, to surprise everyone by doing the right thing. And its up to the Egyptians to continue to keep watch. That may determine whether and how history uses the c-word to describe what happened yesterday in Egypt.