THE BLOG

The Army in Egypt Did Not Carry Out a Bloody Coup against a Civilian Government

While US President Barack Obama is hesitating before he forms a view on the events in Egypt, and while members of the US Congress deliberate over whether what took place there was a "coup" that would compel them to cut off aid to Egypt, Arab Gulf countries have moved to pledge funds to the tune of $13 billion to Egypt, dwarfing the stick of threats and the carrot of enticement waved by the Americans, involving $250 million in annual economic aid and $1.5 billion in military aid linked to the Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel. The Gulf countries have done well to take the initiative of saving Egypt's economy and protecting it from collapse. Hopefully, the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) will realize that the wager of those who would wish to dwarf them, on the other hand, is on their failure to deliver the funds, because those countries have a record and a reputation of making pledges but not fulfilling their commitments. Meanwhile, the Obama administration continues to try to catch up with events without a bearing of its own, and has succeeded at making itself the focus of polarization between, on the one hand, the Muslim Brotherhood, whose rise to power it rushed to embrace, and on the other, modernists and secularists, whose uprising for a secular government in Egypt Washington is taking its time to endorse. The Europeans too are wavering over the definition of what is in fact the continuation of the Egyptian people's revolution against monopolizing power and imposing religion on the state, at times by hiding behind the "legitimacy of the democratically elected government," and at others citing what the BBC insists on describing as a "coup d'état," without referring to the formal definition of the term or indeed the reality of the events in Egypt. Russia, for its part, is comfortable with any form of Sunni political Islam falling from power, while its ally Iran adopts a different stance, in reflection of a fundamental principle, namely to endorse the rise of political Islam to power - exactly as took place in Iran more than 34 years ago.

The West is required to stop obstructing the path to secular government in the Arab region - and in Egypt in particular. From Washington to London, the West had rushed to encourage the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood to power in Egypt a year ago, and it is today taking its time before supporting a secular state in Egypt. This is a big mistake, not just in terms of wronging the Arab peoples, but also in terms of being harmful to the West's strategic interests in the Arab region. The army in Egypt did not seize power, and it did not carry out a bloody coup against a civilian government. Rather, it has made clear that it was implementing a road map to hand over power to civilians through legitimate elections, a secular government, and a serious democracy. Fellow journalist Jihad el-Khazen turned to the Encyclopedia Britannica's definition of a "coup" (or "coup d'état"): "the sudden, violent overthrow of an existing government by a small group. The chief prerequisite for a coup is control of all or part of the armed forces, the police, and other military elements. Unlike a revolution, which is usually achieved by large numbers of people working for basic social, economic, and political change, a coup is a change in power from the top that merely results in the abrupt replacement of leading government personnel."

What happened in Egypt contradicts literally and in the details the definition of a "coup." In spite of this, Western correspondents continue to shed doubt on the fact that what happened was not at all a "coup d'état." Indeed, 22 million Egyptians took to the streets to demand reform to the revolution they carried out two years ago, which was hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood. The latter then abused its power to seize control of all levers of power in all branches of government, and failed to respond to the Egyptian people. American and British think tanks, which claim to have experts on the issue of Islamism and political Islam, fell in love with the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood to power, to such an extent as to be blinded to reality and to be lured away from the radar of the people in the Arab region. Their insistence on describing the events in Egypt as a "coup" is not devoid of ignorance or the desire to harm Egypt as a country, knowing that the US Congress is bound by law to discontinue any support to Egypt if what happened there really was a "coup."

Those who threaten to cut off US aid to Egypt are wounding the pride of the Egyptian people and of Arabs in general, not because the amounts in question are scanty and not deserving of all this arrogant posturing, but because the threat comes against a popular revolution aimed at correction and reform. President Obama avoided in his first reaction using the term "coup," and he has since avoided calling for reinstating deposed President Mohamed Morsi. President Obama has stressed the priority of the constitution and of elections, giving the army a chance to act responsibly and deliver on what it has pledged. Yet the spokesperson for the US Presidency recently said that the administration was looking into whether what happened was a "coup," bringing back the prevailing impression that the US President is always hesitant and someone who is constantly running behind events. Now is not the time to hesitate regarding what is happening in Egypt. The US President should inform the Egyptian army of the meaning of him trusting in its pledge that it will not turn to military rule, will not exercise power, and that it is resolved to hand over all levers of power to civilians on the basis of a swift timetable.

Furthermore, the US President is required to make clear his support for the rule of a secular state in Egypt, after the people have chosen to separate religion from state, especially since many in Egypt and in the Arab region are under the impression that Barack Obama supports the rise of Islamists to power, in particular the Muslim Brotherhood. The US President should also activate American-European diplomacy in support of a secular government in Egypt. Indeed, American diplomacy under Obama has been costly for the Arab region, as a result of its hesitation with regard to Syria for two years, and now with regard to Egypt as well, albeit for different reasons.The Egyptian Armed Forces must commit to and fulfill what they have pledged. They must also abide by the rules of engagement, even if they are facing provocation and incitement. Indeed, excessive use of military force against the Muslim Brotherhood would not be in Egypt's interest, despite the fact that the side that resorted to violence was the Brotherhood and that the one engaging in incitement is its Supreme Guide, Mohammed Badie, who is calling for martyrdom for the sake of Mohamed Morsi.

What the Egyptian people witnessed after the death of 51 people in the confrontation between the army and the Muslim Brotherhood has done away with any popular sympathy left with the Brotherhood, after young Colonel Ahmed Ali explained what had happened and revealed the use of images of murdered Syrian children, claimed by the Brotherhood to be Egyptian children killed by Egyptian troops. Colonel Ahmed Ali also clarified that the Muslim Brotherhood had been purposely driving the Egyptian army towards a confrontation, and that their protests did not consist only of civilians, but also armed men tasked with provocation.

The army is refraining from being too decisive, because it is being careful not to allow matters to get out of hand and head towards civil war. That is why it is taking steps to reassure the Muslim Brotherhood that it is welcome to join the transitional process. The problem is that the Brotherhood is angry, and does not want to admit to failure or defeat. Indeed, it has lost a historical opportunity and is in a state of denial about what has happened. Its members claim to be the representatives of "legitimacy" and are imploring the West to intervene to save them, in the name of their President having ascended to power through democratic elections. They forget that their President had seized all levers of power, and that the people have the right to depose a president who has lost their confidence by betraying the democratic process.

The Muslim Brotherhood is being flooded with advice, with some calling on it to follow the Turkish model, i.e. to be patient and then carry out a coup, while others urge it to avoid the Algerian model, i.e. engaging in an armed battle against the army, because it would mean suicide. But the Muslim Brotherhood must recognize that Egypt has rejected its attempts to impose its ideology on the state and society, and that the second chapter of the popular revolution has been against theocracy, monopoly, and unilateral control of power. The Brotherhood must also stop imagining its eight decades of struggle to seize power automatically gives it the right to seize and monopolize power. It has the right to participate, not the right to exclude. They, its members and leaders, are the ones who excluded others. Today, they refused the invitation of the interim prime minister to have two ministers in the new cabinet, and are throwing away the pledges of secular leaders that they would not be excluded or prosecuted.

The Muslim Brotherhood had wagered on Qatari and Turkish promises that the West would embrace and support them no matter what. The people have seen fit to challenge these promises and to wager on their own will, not on the will of the West or of others. The Muslim Brotherhood had been prepared to please the West in order to monopolize power, and had wagered on a new "ally" that it had in the past considered to be an "enemy". The time has come for it to face reality with humility and rationality, so that it may reconsider its mistakes and accept partnership instead of monopoly.

The army is trying to entice the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafist Al-Nour Party by taking steps of which some are detrimental to the process of deliberation it had pledged to hold with secular leaders. This is why it has rushed to issue a temporary constitutional declaration stating that Islamic law would be the main source of legislation, without consulting secular opposition leaders on the issue of reviving Article 219, which the Muslim Brotherhood had forced into the constitution, defining Islamic law as the basis of all Egyptian law. The secularists want the Prime Minister to hold greater powers than the President. The army has so far not met their demands, and has made of the Prime Minister's position one devoid of powers. The army speaks of parliamentary elections first and presidential elections later. The secularists want presidential elections first, so as to provide time to organize legislative elections, and so as not to prolong the transitional phase and the army's mandate over the country. And of course, priority should be given to a secular constitution, which secular leaders seek to represent a guarantee of democracy.

Priority should also be given to the economy, and that is why the amounts of $5 billion pledged by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, $4 billion dollars pledged by the United Arab Emirates, $4 billion pledged by Kuwait are vital to save Egypt. But Egypt is also in need of institutions and of a plan for growth. Indeed, the coffers of the Egyptian treasury are empty, and without prudent management of these funds, Egypt will remain in a precarious situation. The army should exercise proper control, the Prime Minister should appoint young ministers in his government, and the cabinet should be characterized by vitality and dynamism, so as not to prolong the transitional period. The army is now leading, but it should avoid assuming the reins of power in any way, shape, or form.The coming phase will be a frightening one if the Muslin Brotherhood decides to make it a phase of violence, revenge, and sabotage, in order to soothe its own despair. It is a phase that will require wise internal measures, generous Arab funds, and international support for Egypt as a secular state.

It is a seminal moment for Egypt and the Arab region. Indeed, religious rule in Iran has been maintained for over three decades, and no matter how much a Shiite Iran might oppose a Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, their greatest enemy is liberal secular government. This is why Iran is not comfortable with the Muslim Brotherhood having been defeated and ousted from power. Turkey too is today under religious rule, through the Justice and Development Party (AKP) led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. And Turkey too is very angry at the toppling of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Israel is under its own religious rule as well, and seeks international recognition of the "Jewish State".

The oasis for secular government in the Middle East is Egypt. Then, when Egypt regains stability with a secular government, the features of the Middle East will change for the better - better for the Arab region and for the Middle East equally.

RaghidaDergham.com