Egypt: How the coup happened -- a counterview

July 14, 2013

In Green Left Weekly #972, Tony Iltis wrote on the huge protests against the Morsi government, the military intervention that removed it and the immediate aftermath. These events, hailed by many on the Egyptian left as a “second revolution”, have sparked widespread debate around the world. Below, Tim Dobson, presents a different view of the events ― one that argues it was an outright reactionary coup. You can also read Iltis's most recent piece.

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Since the removal of Egypt’s first elected president, Mohammed Morsi, on July 3 by the military, a furious debate has occurred whether it represented a military coup or a continuation of the January 25, 2011 revolution. Some have even dubbed it the “second revolution”.

What it represented, above all else, was the culmination of the major split in the forces of those who had supported the revolution that overthrew Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak. This split, mostly between those who supported the Muslim Brotherhood or the political Islam project and secular youth forces, occurred a long time ago. But it only intensified as time went on.

The Muslim Brotherhood invested their hopes in gaining a majority in elections. The secular youth forces, on the other hand, sought to continue the occupations and mobilisations that brought so much success in January 2011.

Parliamentary election results in November 2011 provided a fairly good insight into the support for different forces. Islamist forces dominated and received 69% of the vote, liberal forces 20.3%, forces representing the old regime (the Felool) got 7.4%, while leftists received 2.8%.

Islamist forces had split, with Salafist forces represented in al-Nour leaving the Brotherhood.

While results were “respected” at the time, they were subverted from within. The judiciary, particularly those in higher positions, loyal to Mubarak's old regime, ruled the elections as “unconstitutional” and dissolved them.

This was denounced by many political forces as a “coup” by the judiciary and the military ― in the absence of the parliament, decision making reverted back to Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which took power after Mubarak's overthrow.

The presidential candidate for the Muslim Brotherhood, Morsi, said the court decision should be respected, but it indicated that some in Egypt “plan ill against the people”.

This was announced just before the presidential elections and was timed to give a maximum boost to the candidature of Ahmed Shafik, a prime minister under Mubarak. Shafik was the political representative of the felool.

After the first round, the two with the highest vote, Morsi and Shafik were to run against each other. Secular and liberal forces were divided, some supported Morsi to keep out the felool, and some preferred to abstain. Others preferred a vote for Shafiq to keep out “Islamism”. Morsi ended up winning by 3.4% of the vote.

Shafic was widely believed to be the candidate of SCAF as well as the felool. He boasted about his close ties with the army and in fact, SCAF were the ones who accepted his appeal to run to overturn a ban on Mubarak era figures running.

Morsi, though, was left with little support, except from those who voted for him. The parliament was dissolved, the judiciary and SCAF already showing their disdain for the Brotherhood, as did the felool ― believing them to be usurpers.

However, these forces were joined by a new force, embittered liberals, not happy with how “democratic Egypt” had turned out for them. The Muslim Brotherhood had won every election they had participated in and there were no indications this would change. The only means left to the liberals to gain power was through undemocratic means.

All these forces had an interest in bringing Morsi down and all were happy to use each other in that quest. A power struggle for the state structure had already begun.

One of Morsi’s first moves was to remove Field Marshal Tantawi, the head of SCAF, and appoint General Sissi in his stead.

The battle, however, was mostly played out over the new constitution. The constituent assembly was appointed, not elected. Worried that the judiciary would seek to abolish it as well, Morsi sought to centralise power within the presidency to stop that move.

Morsi also sacked the Mubarak-appointed prosecutor general.

This was a power struggle between Morsi and the judiciary. However, it led to protests on the street that decried it as the move of a dictator. When these protests occurred, liberals forces were already invoking the specter of a military coup to “restore law and order”.

The constitution eventually went to the vote and passed relatively easily, with 63% voting for. Importantly, though, Cairo voted against it as a majority.

A new formation was set up called the “National Salvation Front”, a united front ranging from far-left socialists to Felool figures, all united against Morsi.

Meanwhile, the economy continued to struggle. Morsi had left the economic realm mostly untouched; in fact, he signed a loan agreement with the International Monetary Fund. This built up general discontent. Last year, 53% were satisfied with the situation in the country, but this fell to 30% this year.

Morsi’s approval declined from 78% near the end of last year to 53% in May. Capitalists in the country mostly remained loyal to Mubarak–era figures, and are believed believed to have engaged in economic sabotage to fuel opposition to Morsi.

They also politically supported his overthrow. Billionaire Naguib Sawiris was the financial backbone behind “Tamarod”, the youth-led movement that led the street mobilisations before the coup. As the New York Times reported on July 11: “He donated use of the nationwide offices and infrastructure of the political party he built, the Free Egyptians. He provided publicity through a popular television network he founded and his major interest in Egypt’s largest private newspaper.

“He even commissioned the production of a popular music video that played heavily on his network.”

“Tamarod did not even know it was me!” he said. “I am not ashamed of it.”

Confirmation that Tamarod were coordinating with Felool figures was provided in a profile of its “leader” Mahmoud Badr in Ahram Online.

It said: “Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak's last prime minister and a former air force general now living in Abu Dhabi and accused publicly by Morsi of pulling strings behind sabotage in Egypt, says he was in close touch with the protesters. He predicted on July 1 that Morsi's reign would end within a week and said he was 'in continuous coordination with colleagues in Cairo'.

“One Tamarod activist who spoke to Reuters said she resigned three days before the giant protest because she was concerned that the secret police and former Mubarak supporters were infiltrating the movement.

“'Suddenly, the faces had changed,' said B.A., who asked not to give her full name for fear of retribution from the security services. 'Many of the people I'd worked with left, and some of the new faces I knew were felul (remnants), nostalgic for Mubarak, or justifying the work of state security.’”

The leaders were supportive of Mohammed ElBaradei, a liberal figure who was one of the first to raise the prospect of a military coup during the Morsi era.

Badr said: “Baradei is our Bob (daddy), the leader of the revolution…He won the Nobel and we will take it as well.”

Tamarod claimed that 22 million had its petition for early elections but this figure hasn’t been confirmed by anyone.

This alliance was joined by al-Nour, a Salafist formation, which opportunistically joined hoping to become the dominant force.

That this coordination was occurring, received confirmation by Muslim Brotherhood figures, who revealed afterwards that on June 23, they were given a seven day ultimatum by the military to resolve the situation.

With so many forces allied against Morsi and the Brotherhood, the protests that occurred against him on June 30 were huge. Reuters reported that 500,000 were in Tahrir square alone. The military, though, were quick to set the narrative, claiming 14 million were on the streets. Three days later, on CNN, an Egyptian military figure inflated it further to 33 million.

The police force effectively went on strike during the June 30 protests, leading to Muslim Brotherhood offices being torched. The state apparatus had abandoned Morsi long ago, but June 30 provided cover, so that a coup could occur in the name of the “people”.

Nearly all political forces saw June 30 and a military intervention as their way to power, which explains why normally opposed figures could combine so easily.

Supporters of ElBaradei saw this as a way for him to become prime minister, Salafists saw it as a way to have earlier elections in which they would overshadow the Brotherhood, the Felool saw it as a way to defeat their most organised enemy and pave their way back to power. Leftists saw it as the next stage in the revolution.

All, except the felool have been disappointed in the wake of the coup. ElBaradei was set to become prime minister but the Salafists vetoed it. The Salafists themselves withdraw from the process after the military massacred 51 Muslim Brotherhood members as they prayed.

Leftists have been completely marginalised in the process, as they were never leading it.

Tamarod rejected the army’s timeline in which a new constitution and elections would occur. But in reality, SCAF has been the most empowered institution by what has occurred.

Its first act was to seek to destroy the Muslim Brotherhood through terror and murder. It seems unlikely it will stop there.

According to polls conducted in Egypt, the coup was an unpopular act ― supported by only 26%. The SCAF will take its time to make sure the felool can return under the fig leaf of the “popular will”.

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