The Military Coup in Egypt: Challenges of the Transition

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The ousting of President Mohamed Morsi by the Egyptian army is a military coup d’état pure and simple. Morsi’s ousting qualifies for a military putsch which is by definition the illegal removal of the head of the state by the army or a faction within it, or the security services, through the use of force or the threat to using it. Past experiences of military coup d’état such as the toppling of the Mossadegh government in Iran in 1953, Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973, and the military putsch in Algeria in 1992 remind us that military coups are never a smart tool for conflict resolution. The military coup in Egypt is a regrettable testimony for the failure of all political actors and stakeholders to manage the transition period, as a result of acute polarization. Now that the constitution has been suspended and the army has taken over what are the challenges faced by Egypt today?

Domestically, the coup may aggravate further an already deteriorated situation. The coup will exacerbate further the vertical polarization of the Egyptian society. The measures taken by the army to arrest the top leadership and middle rank cadre of the Freedom and Justice Party of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the decision to take off air at least five of the pro-Morsi satellite TV channels constitute a decapitation of the movement’s leadership. A militant base cut of its leadership in times of delicate political crises may push radical elements within the Muslim Brotherhood or other Islamist groups to undertake violent acts. Having breached the constitutional legitimacy of a democratically elected president it would be an uphill task for the new leadership to establish its authority due to its lacking in terms of constitutional legitimacy. The coup government will still be able to govern de facto given the backing of the army, but its legitimacy is devoid by de jure. The new leadership will inevitably rely on the support of the military turning thereby Egypt into an authoritarian country as it has been the case in Pakistan and Algeria, to name a few examples.

Regionally, the coup in Cairo is a setback for the Arabs’ aspirations for freedom and democratization that were expressed after the 2011 uprisings. Regional stability is at stake in that the coup may not only provide further justification for Jihadist groups but also discredit the Islamist Salafi movements that underwent discourse revisions and decided to enter politics and abandon the use of violence. Jihadist groups may brandish once again the argument that the West supports democratization in the Arab region only when it does not bring Islamists to power, as has been the case with the Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria and Hamas in Gaza. Moreover, this regional challenge will be compounded by the precarious security situation in Libya and the free flow of weapons trafficking.

Internationally, not only the failure of the Western capitals to condemn the ousting of Morsi but its tacit support for the army takeover will solidify the perception in the minds of Arab societies that the establishment in the West is never genuine in its support of democratization and freedom in the region. Furthermore, Jihadist discourse might be re-fueled, in a time when the Sahel region has become a new hotspot belt in the vicinity of an instable Arab region theatre.

From the outset we advised all actors and stakeholders, through different channels at the highest ranks, that the failure of political leadership and opposition elite to manage the transition period might lead to extreme polarization which could provide justification for calls of securitization of public affairs, or even force a return to authoritarian rule. The recent developments in Egypt show us once again that during transition periods following political upheavals the goal must be to achieve large national coalition governments, and the integration of consensual codes of conduct in the new constitutions or laws.

For the political transition to succeed in the Arab region elections and constitution drafting processes should avoid severe polarization in general, and specifically between political parties with a religious reference and seculars. Coalition building as a mechanism to defuse, or at least lessen polarization is therefore one of the key instruments to build just and sustainable societies.

There is now a need to call on all Egyptian political actors and stakeholders to launch an inclusive national dialogue initiative in order to reach a consensual agreement capable of reversing the dangerous measures and decisions that have derailed Egypt’s political transition and exacerbated antagonism within the Egyptian society. But ultimately the international community also shares a responsibility for this inclusive national dialogue initiative to take place and succeed.

Lakhdar Ghettas

04 July 2013


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