The Roots of the Coup: It Is Political Despair and Lack of Credible Leadership That Have Led Egyptian Revolutionaries to Support the Army's Removal of Morsi

By Gerbaudo, Paolo | Soundings, Summer 2013 | Go to article overview

The Roots of the Coup: It Is Political Despair and Lack of Credible Leadership That Have Led Egyptian Revolutionaries to Support the Army's Removal of Morsi


Gerbaudo, Paolo, Soundings


A military coup? Or a popular insurrection? Or a popular insurrection turning into a military coup? The removal of the Islamist president Mohammed Morsi by the Egyptian army a few days after the massive protests of 30 June has cast into serious doubt the destiny of the 2011 revolution and its promise of democratic change. Moreover, the event has raised some troublesome questions for those who have seen in the Egyptian revolution and in the Arab Spring as a whole an exhilarating promise of global democratic change. How is it possible that the demonstrators in Cairo have been applauding the comeback of the very army they fought against after the departure of Mubarak? What has led revolutionary activists and opposition politicians, many of whom supported Morsi in the presidential election runoff in 2012, to sanction his removal by the armed forces? And what is left of the calls for democracy that were proclaimed as the most important of demonstrators' demands in January 2011?

The situation in Egypt was still very much in flux at the time of going to press, but this article looks at some of the background against which recent events have unfolded. It argues that support on the part of revolutionaries and the political opposition for the intervention of the army is the final result of the wave of political despair and nihilism of pure resistance that has been engulfing veterans of the 25 January revolution. The social and political opposition was unable to develop a credible alternative to Muslim Brotherhood rule; and it had no realistic mid-term strategy to defeat the Islamists - not just in the squares but also in the elections, where the Islamists had easily prevailed. And this ineptitude has ultimately resulted in their seeing in the intervention of the army the only possible means of regaining control of what they have perceived to be their hijacked revolution.

Certainly much of the blame for the current situation of political chaos in Egypt lies with the Brotherhood's disastrous performance in power. With its arrogance and monopolising tendencies, the oldest of the political Islamist organisations has reinforced many of the suspicions that were harboured against it. Moreover, it has proved itself completely incompetent in economic policy, so preoccupied has it been with using the state as a vehicle of moral indoctrination - an endeavour that has quickly attracted the disapproval of large sections of the Egyptian population.

In confronting the Brotherhood in power, the opposition, spear-headed by the newly born Tamarod (Rebel) group, has demonstrated a renewed vitality, and has managed to generate a powerful wave of protest that has sent over ten million people onto the streets all over Egypt. However, its mobilising capacity has not been matched by efficient political leadership. By accepting the intervention of the army against an elected president, the opposition has committed a grave political mistake, raising the prospects of a civil war, and putting into serious doubt one of the few notable gains of the 25 January revolution, namely the transition to an elected political authority. As I will argue in this article, this disastrous decision is the ultimate manifestation of an underlying structural weakness of the revolutionary process in Egypt: there has been a nihilist focus on resistance to the powers that be, an inability to articulate a positive vision for the future of Egypt, and an absence of any credible leadership to pursue such a vision.

Against the brotherhood state

The current phase of political turmoil in Egypt is first and foremost the result of the arrogance of the Muslim Brotherhood in power, and its inability to construct a broad consensus base. Morsi insisted in his inauguration speech that he would be 'a president for all Egyptians', including women, Coptic Christians and youth. But his record during his presidency provided abundant evidence of an impending 'Brotherhoodisation' of the state; he inaugurated a process of monopolisation of all its different apparatuses - schools, courts, public companies, hospitals, the army - with the aim of long-term political domination. …

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