The democratically elected but now deposed President of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi, seems to have managed in the twelve months he was in power to upset a lot of people on all sides of the political divides. This culminated in mass demonstrations that had not been seen since the overthrow of the dictator Hosni Mubarak. The Egyptian Defence Minister, Abdul Fatah al-Sisi, then decided that it is the responsibility of the army to unseat the President. When the news of the coup d’état was announced, the demonstrating masses went into raptures.
The sad irony here is that the demonstrators claimed that Morsi was abusing his powers yet they were happy for the army to depose the president who had won an election that was widely considered fair. A military general from the old times of Mubarak — a background that should say something about his concept of democracy — decided that the first democratically elected President of Egypt should go one year after his election. Those who sang and danced at the news of the military coup were celebrating the slaughter of democracy by the military. Their message is as simple as this: we are having a democracy, but only when it works for us. When it does not, we declared it to be false, and that only what we want amounts to democracy.
But of course, there is the obvious problem that this was a military coup. Having sold themselves as democratic yet supported the coup, opposition politicians had to work hard, using every argument they can think of to describe what happened as anything but what it really is: a military coup. What Mori’s opponents have been saying to deny the simple and obvious is nothing short of farcical and comical.
There is a lot of naivety in not expecting the first democratic President not to make mistakes, or even many of them. Democracy is not a pill that an individual or a people swallow and they become democratic. It is a culture and institutions. These do not develop overnight. A country does not become fully democratic because a dictator is overthrown by a popular uprising and a fair election brings in a new leader. This is the fact that the coup d’état and the broad support it has received have revealed.
Significantly, the army’s did not stop at deposing Morsi. They arrested him and other leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood party that he belongs to and issued arrest warrants for hundreds of other leaders of the Brotherhood. This is as clear as it could be that the problem that the army had was not only with President Morsi, but with all of the political movement of the Muslim Brotherhood. Needless to say, the army will easily find any number of charges they need against those people.
This takes me to the most significant and dangerous message of what the Egyptian army and those who supported it did: Political Islam has no place in democracy. The Muslim Brotherhood has pursued non-violent politics for three decades now. It has every right to participate in the political life in Egypt. To deny it that right, not least after it won a fair election, is to tell it and all those who pursue an Islamic political agenda that democracy is not for them. In other words, they have to resort to violence to achieve their goals. This is the ultimate tragedy of what happened in Egypt.
This is very similar to what happened in Algeria in 1991. When the Islamic Salvation Front won the election, the army moved quickly to cancel the electoral process, imprison the leaders of that party, and choose a president. Political commentators have disagreed on whether what happened in Egypt could end up in the kind of violence that swept Algeria for years. But it is not difficult to see how and why Islamists can conclude from what happened in Egypt that they would not be given a fair chance in a democratic system.
This is why world leaders should come out and condemn the military coup in Egypt. Those who have been vocal about the “terrorism” committed in the name of Islam should particularly send a clear and strong message that this coup is unacceptable. The failure to do so would suggest that those critics have a problem with political Islam itself. This is how Tony Blair, the former UK Prime Minister, showed he has no time for the involvement of an Islamic party in a democratic process. He approved of the military coup, citing the popular demonstrations. This is the same person who started, with another fundamentalist, George W. Bush, the Iraq war in 2003 despite huge public opposition, including the biggest public demonstration that the UK had ever witnessed. Barack Obama, as well as other world leaders, have not made the same mistake of supporting the coup, by they have failed to condemn it either. It is not surprising that dictators in the Arab world have raced to send their blessings to the new regime. Only the African Union has shown courage, suspending Egypt’s membership.
I disagree with a lot of what Islamic political movements, including the Muslim Brotherhood, aim to achieve. This is mainly due to fundamental differences I have with the common understanding of Shari’a and Islamic law in general and its role in the life of the individual and society. I have discussed my interpretation of the concept of Islamic law according to the Qur’an in detail in Chapter 14 of my book Abrogation in the Qur’an and Islamic Law. However, democracy means that those who win an election should be allowed to govern. Opposition may want to depose a government before the end of its term, but that must never be through the use of violence, including the army.