Thursday, 4 July 2013

Egypt 2013: Coup, Revolution or Uprising ?

The events of 2011, which saw President Mubarak removed, and those of the past 48 hours in which the Egyptian army has removed and put the elected President Morsi under arrest have been both classified as 'revolutions' when they are better described as revolts or uprisings that the army exploited to their advantage.

The Egyptian revolts can not amount to a revolution which, by definition, means the total overthrow of the existing political, economic and social order. The overthrow of Mubarak was coordinated by the army in response to the mass demonstrations of 'People Power' in Tahrir Square in Cairo no less that the removal of Morsi.

The difference is that in 2011 the overthrow of Mubarak was broadly the removal of a dictator and the move towards a democratic system of elections.  The problem was that the election of President Morsi did not see much of the structure of Mubarak's state dismantled or reformed but being used to promote

If anything, the events of 2011 and the past few days have seen Egypt move towards a position akin to that of Turkey in the past and Latin America where periods of parliamentary rule alternates with military dictatorship and constitutional life continually restored or constantly threatened.

The overthrow of Morsi may well be part of a longer process towards a democratic 'political revolution' that is yet to be completed and that is being driven by events on the streets. Yet the army controls 40% of the Egyptian economy and employs 25% of the workforce.

For there to be a revolution the army would have to completely purge the Egyptian state and civil institutions of Mubarak era hangovers and preside over a period where the state is protected from potential attacks from radicalised Muslim Brotherhood supporters.

Yet the radicals who were prepared to go along with Morsi's more moderate course and the Muslim Brotherhood's decision to take power through the ballot box as opposed to Islamist revolution will now see the army's move as 'counter revolutionary' because Morsi did gain 51% of the Egyptian vote.

Essentially, what there is in Egypt is two conceptions of what revolution really ought to be, one depending on Islamist notions that do not necessarily embrace democracy as much more than a means of enforcing Godly authority, and a secular idea of revolution against that authority and dictatorship.

A clash between the two is set to happen in Cairo and only the army can prevent the potential spiral into violence on the streets between two camps, one already massed in Tahrir Square now departed along with Morsi's departure and the other yet to amass itself in opposition by occupying public spaces in Cairo in protest.

By all accounts the army's intervention has proved popular in Cairo with the protesters which is why news of Morsi's removal was greeted with euphoria-the army is seen as the guarantor of stability against Islamist misrule, incompetence and economic collapse.

It is precisely the instability that is hindering economic recovery and why the Egyptian stock market bounced upwards when news of the army takeover was announced. There has been and will be no 'revolution' but a carefully choreographed managed transition.

Given that Egypt is polarised between the poorer classes and struggling shopkeepers and traders who support Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood and those poorer Egyptians who are against Islamism, the army will try to preside over, if anything, 'top down reform' of the economy and the political system.

The alternative to a period of army rule now that it has effectively been imposed, for right or wrong, is a complete bloodbath. Whether that rule will be gradually used to promote conciliation and pluralistic democracy under controlled circumstances remains to be seen.

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