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The battle for the soul of Egypt

September 11, 2013 at 11:41 pm | News Desk

Javid Husain

The Egyptian army’s coup in July to overthrow the country’s first democratically elected President, Muhammad Morsi, and the subsequent clashes in which hundreds of his supporters have been brutally killed by the Egyptian security forces reflect the battle being fought for the soul of Egypt.  Arrayed on one side in this battle are the forces defending the authoritarian rule of the Egyptian army, which has already lasted more than six decades, and its vested economic and commercial interests. They are supported by the westernized and the so-called liberal classes of the Egyptian society who, while championing democracy and human rights, fail to see anything wrong in the military coup against a freely elected government and in the cold blooded massacres of the Egyptian people committed by the Egyptian security forces.


The third layer of support for the military coup lies in some of the regional countries, which probably see in the strengthening of democracy in Egypt a threat to their dynastic rule, and the Western countries which would rather support a dictatorial but pro-West government in Egypt than a democratically elected government which may have Islamic leanings or which may have the courage to defy their commands. If this is not true, one may ask why the US, the champion of democracy, has so-far failed to condemn unequivocally the military coup in Egypt or even to declare it as a military coup which would automatically result in the termination of the US military assistance to Egypt.  This, however, should not come as a surprise to anybody familiar with the role of the CIA in the overthrow of Muhammad Mossadegh’s government in Iran in August, 1953 or the way some of the Western governments supported the military coup by the Algerian army in 1992 to block the democratic process in Algeria after the Islamists won the election in the country.

Pitched against this formidable combination of forces are the majority of Egyptian people, who want democracy and constitutional rule in the country reflecting their Islamic cultural values as against the despotic regimes of the Egyptian military rulers which denied them their basic human rights and freedom. They won both the parliamentary and presidential elections in Egypt after Hosni Mubarak’s ouster. It is these people who have been cheated out of their democratic right to govern Egypt by the Egyptian army.

The Egyptian army’s claim is that the demonstrations preceding its coup against Morsi gave it the right to overthrow a democratically elected government is problematic on several counts. Firstly, there is no legal, moral or political justification of the Egyptian army’s claim that it is the guardian of the “will” of the Egyptian people. This right has been asserted in modern times by the military establishment in many Muslim and other Third World countries to the detriment of political stability, democratic and constitutional rule, economic progress, and welfare of the people at large. In actual practice, this claim has been exploited by the military establishment in these countries for strengthening its stranglehold on political power and for safeguarding its vested economic and commercial interests and privileges. The sooner this misguided notion is consigned to the dust bin of history, the better it would be for these countries, particularly those in the Muslim world.

Secondly, the point made by the Egyptian army and its supporters in Egypt and among the Western governments and media that Morsi had lost the support of the majority of the Egyptians because of the admittedly large demonstrations by his opponents lacks veracity. Further, a democratic system cannot function in an orderly manner if large scale demonstrations against a democratically elected government are considered to be sufficient justification for its army to topple it. One wonders how the US and other Western governments would react if their armies claim the same right to stage a coup against them if their popularity ratings go down or if they have to face large scale demonstrations. In short, the change of government in a stable democracy must take place through elections and not through demonstrations followed by military coups.


Finally, the criticism that Morsi’s one-year rule did not bring about any significant economic improvement in the life of the Egyptian people is almost laughable. Hosni Mubarak’s three- decade old military rule left Egypt in a political mess and its economy in shambles. The subsequent year and a half after Hosni Mubarak’s departure, when Egypt was under the rule of the generals, further worsened the Egyptian economy and the living conditions of its people. According to this criticism, Morsi, in one year, should have brought about an economic miracle in the difficult conditions of a transition from a dictatorial regime to a democracy. Even in the best of circumstances, governments are given at least two to three years before their economic performance is judged by the electorate. Certainly, the Egyptian army, which was responsible to a large extent for the mess that it left for Morsi to clean up, is in no position to sit in judgment on the Morsi government.

The fact of the matter is that the Egyptian army and security agencies saw in the strengthening of democracy in the country a threat to their power, privileges and economic interests. They had gone along with the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorial and despotic rule reluctantly in the face of the overwhelming demand of the Egyptian people for a change. Therefore, they used the first opportunity which came their way to topple Morsi’s democratic government. In view of the pervasive power of the military establishment in Egypt, it is possible that it may even have clandestinely encouraged and facilitated anti-Morsi demonstrations. In this effort it was supported by the remnants of Hosni Mubarak’s ancient regime and the westernized and so-called liberal sections of the Egyptian population.

Unfortunately, Egypt is likely to remain in turmoil for quite some time at a tremendous cost in the form of loss of precious human lives and the deterioration of its economy because of the battle being waged for the future political, economic and cultural directions of its society. The recent developments in Egypt may also have the unfortunate effect of encouraging the Islamist elements to resort to the use of violent means to capture political power since their efforts to do so through peaceful means have been thwarted by the Egyptian army. It is in the interest of durable stability and progress of Egypt that its various political groups including the liberals and the Islamists are able to synthesize their divergent views about the future of Egypt. Only such a synthesis and the withdrawal of the Egyptian army from politics will enable Egypt to restore democracy and realize its full potential.

The writer is a retired ambassador and president of the Lahore Council for World Affairs and can be reached at

News Desk

Economic Affairs Editor

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