Originally Published 2013-07-06 00:00:00 Published on Jul 06, 2013
Even though the Egyptian army has refrained from taking over governance in the interim period, analysts say the fear of repeating the same mistakes are legitimate. Therefore, it remains to be seen whether or not this political transition will have a long-lasting impact on Egypt's nascent democracy.
Egypt: Continuing 'revolution' or military 'coup'?
The Egyptian revolution first took shape after President Hosni Mubarak stepped down in February 2011. However, the events of last week have introduced another milestone in the Egyptian revolutionary trajectory. President Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood was ousted by the armed forces following a 48-hour ultimatum to leave office. Soon after the ouster, which is being decried as a coup by Islamist supporters, army chief-of-staff Abdel Fattah El-Sisi announced a temporary suspension of the constitution and installed Adly Mansour, head of Egypt's High Constitutional Court, as the interim leader.

The army has managed to secure the support of Sheikh Ahmed El-Tayyeb of the Al-Azhar, the Coptic Orthodox church through patriarch Tawadros II; Mohamed El-Baradei, who leads the National Salavtion Front (NSF) as well as the Salafist Al-Nour party. El-Sisi, in consultation with political and religious leaders, has proposed a 'roadmap' that includes a revised constitution, avenues for national reconciliation and early presidential elections.

The army's actions were supposedly in response to the mass demonstrations demanding that Morsi vacate office, exactly one year after he assumed power on June 30, 2012. The protest rallies coalesced around a movement called Tamarod or 'rebellion' that claimed to have collected over 22 million signatures in favour of a change in government. The protests were largely in response to the government's failure to address the goals of the revolution -- 'bread, freedom and social justice'. Specifically, they were fuelled by rising poverty, unemployment, electricity and fuel shortages as well as recent cabinet re-shuffles that brought many Islamists and Muslim Brotherhood members to public office.

Morsi's ascent to power itself was the result of a democratic facade projected by the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood initially promised not to field any presidential candidates, but went back on their word and propelled Morsi to power. Morsi took office by narrowly defeating Ahmed Shafik with less than 52 per cent of the votes. The margin between the two was of only 800,000 votes.

His victory could be attributed to a certain divisiveness that took over Egypt at that time. On one hand, there were those who grudgingly supported Morsi instead of Shafik, who was Mubarak's last prime minister. On the other hand, the liberals and secularists were wary of Egypt moving forward towards becoming an Islamist state. Lastly, there were those eager for a democratic transition and sympathised with the Brotherhood's ideologies in the light of their years under persecution.

Morsi's rule too was riddled with actions of questionable legitimacy. His one year tenure was marked by growing resentment amongst the liberals and secularists, who accused him of 'emboldening' Islamists and inaction towards an ailing economy. A news report aptly called it, 'authoritarianism without autocrats'. Soon after assuming office, he took actions to enfeeble state institutions and centralise power for himself. Some of these actions were prompted by the endemic character of institutions like the military and judiciary, which was remnant of the Mubarak days.

After the military establishment took over from the autocratic Mubarak government, the Brotherhood was engaged in a perpetual stand-off over the issue of legislative powers, including the army's accountability. Just before the second run-off of the elections, Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) stripped the President's office of some vital powers and made themselves arbiters of issues like writing the constitution and passing the budget. They dissolved the elected parliament, dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and assumed the charge of legislating. Additionally, they also accorded the military vast powers with regards to the detention of citizens.

However, SCAF had also extended some 'accommodationist' gestures towards the Brotherhood post-Mubarak. The most significant action was permitting MB and other Salafist movements to form political parties even though the Egyptian constitution barred the formation of parties based on religion.

Despite an accusatory tone towards the military's 'power grab', the drafting of the MB sponsored constitution took place within a SCAF framework. The constitution also ratified some of the questionable elements relating to the military's budget and other activities as being above parliamentary oversight and accountability.

Therefore, the oscillating relationship between the Brotherhood and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) from the days of the 'Arab Spring' up until now speaks volumes of the power play amongst the traditional bureaucratic structures of the Egyptian state

As the Brotherhood back-tracked on the presidential front, they were compelled to alleviate the threat from the military establishment which eventually led to the 'forced retirement' of senior military leaders, including the army chief of staff, defence minister and other senior generals. This was largely because the defence minister, Field Marshal Tantawi, had been a close ally of Hosni Mubarak. Similarly, the judiciary too was filled with members close to the previous regime. In a move to consolidate authority and safeguard his rule, Morsi also curbed the judiciary's power in November 2012, when he declared that his 'decrees' were above and exempt from judicial review.

One of the major causes of contention with, and unpopularity of the MB backed government, was the flawed referendum on the new constitution in December 2012. The FJP allegedly dominated the 100-member constituent assembly that drafted the constitution, the draft almost re-produced the autocratic 1971 constitution and voter turnout in a hurriedly called referendum, was a meagre 30 per cent. This cast severe doubts upon the will of the majority.

There was also considerable fear that the constitution laid out the path towards a theocratic government. While Article 2 spoke about Sharia (Islamic Law) as the source of legislation, Article 4 subjected Sharia principles to Sunni Muslim jurisprudence. This implied that the Al-Azhar, one of the most respected Sunni Muslim religious institutions, would have the authority to supersede the rule of law. Even though there were clauses that would exclude Bahai's, Christians and other faiths from religious law, the lack of an inclusive democracy alienated the MB government from liberals, secularists, intelligentsia and the Egyptian citizens at large.

Even though a majority of the population seems jubilant to see Morsi go, Egyptian society appears polarised as the Brotherhood mobilises support for further protests. The National Alliance to Support Legitimacy (NASL) was formed last week in support of Morsi against the 'unconstitutional' military coup. The NASL is led by the Muslim Brotherhood supported by the moderate Islamist Wasat Party, the Salafist Watan Party and the Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya's Building and Development Party. According to these supporters, the 'coup' is reminiscent of the events that followed the 2011 revolt that ousted Hosni Mubarak. The army at that time had presented itself as the 'guardian' of the people, but was engaged in clashes with revolutionaries, accused of colluding with the Islamists, of initiating a crackdown on freedom of press and of violating human rights.

Even though the army has refrained from taking over governance in the interim period, according to political analysts, the 'fear of repeating the same mistakes are legitimate'. Therefore, it remains to be seen whether or not this political transition will have a long-lasting impact on Egypt's nascent democracy. Moreover, the likelihood of this impact being positive largely rests on the shoulders of political leaders and their participation in a more credible political process.

(The writer is a Junior Fellow with Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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