A loud chorus of media and political voices have been describing June 30th’s Egyptian transition of governmental power as a military coup. On the one hand, Egypt’s military did midwife a power transition. On the other hand, for at least 12 reasons the transition was an essential and admirable re-direction away from dictatorship, hopefully toward a more democratic future.
First, in a military coup the first step is usually taken by the military. On June 30 in Egypt the opposite happened. More than 30 million Egyptians took to the streets in cities all across Egypt to demand the removal of then president Morsi.
This surge of voices included Muslims and Christians of all types: common people, business people, the professional class, media folks and even the police. By contrast, only tens of thousands citizens, primarily Muslim Brotherhood members, protested in support of Morsi.
The people of Egypt did vote; they voted by putting their feet on the street. The military’s subsequent action in removing Morsi from the government was a response to this dramatic and remarkably unified vote of the people against a tyrannical leader, not a step initiated by the military to rule the country.
Second, if there had been a military coup, a military general would have replaced Morsi. In this instance, by contrast, as soon as the military had removed Morsi from power, military leaders selected a widely respected civilian leader to rule the country until new elections can be organized.
Third, if the balloting by which Morsi took office is the only factor to be considered, then Hosni Mubarak must still be considered the legitimate president of Egypt. Mubarak also came to power via an election. Note also that he too was ultimately removed by the military.
Fourth, the argument that Mubarak’s election had been fraudulent would apply equally to Morsi. In June 2012, Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood supporters surrounded the Supreme Court judges who had the authority to declare the winner in the final presidential race. They threatened to kill the judges and turn the country into a sea of blood if the judges should declare any candidate other than Morsi the winner. Can this be described as legitimate balloting?
Fifth, breaking his presidential oath, Morsi had seized dictatorial control of all powers of the government. To insure his power, he imprisoned and the shot with a bullet to the forehead many of the secular leaders who had launched the “Arab Spring” on social media. Is this democracy?
Sixth, Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood regard elections as just a means to obtaining political power. For example, Hamas in Gaza, a group with roots in the Muslim Brotherhood, used the power they obtained via elections to declare that there would be no further elections. As Erdogan in Turkey has often been quoted as having said, “We ride the bus of democracy until it takes us where we want to go; then we get off the bus.” That is, in the Muslim world, elections are as likely to signal the end as the beginning of democracy.
Seventh, the military deserves praise for having used relatively minimal violence, thus far at least, against Muslim Brotherhood protestors. The military faces a difficult question with regard to how to deal with demonstrators who brutally aim to kill anyone whose political preferences differ from theirs, and who carry explosives to use against police or military personally who attempt to intervene in their violent
How would American police officers respond to armed political demonstrators who throw Molotov cocktails on the officers, purposely aiming to kill both innocent bystanders and the legitimate authorities? A video circulating through Arabic social media offers a prime example of how Pro-Morsi Islamists treat those who oppose them. The video shows Islamist supporters throwing their opponents from the roof-top of a building.
Eighth, words can have opposite meanings in different cultural contexts. While the word “demonstrator” has positive connotations in America, “demonstrators” in the context of Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood connotes violence and brutality. Similarly, the word “coup” used in America sounds anti-democratic, and yet in Egypt the meaning and impact are the opposite. “Coup” in the Egyptian case refers to the removal of a tyrant to “give peace a chance.”
Ninth, some American voices are blaming the military for closing Islamists’ media outlets. Not so quick. These media outlets were promulgating a religious fatwa (edict) that incited the killing of Anti Morsi demonstrators. In Yemen, the US military killed American citizen Anwar Al-Awlaki because he issued similar fatwas encouraging Muslims to commit violent acts.
Tenth, Morsi had rejected the request from the opposition for early elections. Additionally, since nearly all elections and referendums that occurred since the Muslim Brotherhood came to power have been conducted dishonestly, Egyptians understood that the ballot box would be useless as long as Morsi remained in power. Demonstrating in the streets with the hope that the military would hear their collective voice and take action on their behalf was their only remaining option for eliminating a corrupt dictatorship.
Eleventh, the military in Egypt serves a key role. It is the only Egyptian institution with the power to save the country from chaos. It also is the only Egyptian institution with potential power to rectify the country’s increasingly non-viable economy.
Twelfth and lastly, Egypt’s military is the country’s only institution with close and positive ties to America. If Americans call its action a coup, we would prevent our government from giving further aid to the country. This pathway would directly punish our one ally within Egypt. It would also block the only Egyptian institution with potential to bring democracy to the Egyptian people.
To conclude, the military’s removal of Morsi from power must be seen as a legitimate pro-democracy step. The military acted in response to the voice of Egypt’s citizens, citizens who understood that they must remove an anti-democratic leader whose rule was leading the country into certain economic disaster, potential mass starvation and ever-increasing chaos.
Dr. Tawfik Hamid is an Islamic thinker and reformer, and one-time Islamic extremist from Egypt. He was a member of a terrorist Islamic organization JI with Dr. Ayman Al-Zawaherri who became later on the second in command of Al-Qaeda. Hamid recognized the threat of radical Islam and the need for a reformation based upon modern peaceful interpretations of classical Islamic core texts. Dr. Hamid is currently a Senior Fellow and Chair of the study of Islamic Radicalism at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies.