CAIRO (Saya Sharma)—Had one not been at Tahrir Square or peeled to the news on 3rd July 2013, the sound of army helicopters flying overhead was the only indication that something poignant had just taken place in Egypt. Sounds of jubilation erupted, fireworks and honking cars, as Egypt’s first democratically elected president was ousted.
Yes, I use the word ousted instead of coup, hastily used by many media outlets after the military issued the statement detailing a political roadmap for the country’s future just three days ago.
Looking at the enormous crowd of Egyptians protesting for days in temperatures of nearly 40°C in Tahrir Sqaure and considering the millions of signatures gathered by the grassroot Tamarod movement calling for the president to step down, in my opinion, to call the events of the past days a coup d’etat is belittling the efforts of these tireless Egyptians on the streets.
While it is accepted that the currently deposed Morsi was elected legitimately by a margin of 51.7%, to trim the idea of democracy down to a single piece of paper being inserted to a ballot box is actually doing the idea itself a huge disfavour. What about the sacrosanct notions of accountability, transparency and the rule of law? They might have be taken for granted elsewhere but in Egypt these thoughts were at the root of the protests that first began in February 2011.
For a year, Morsi attempted to give himself sweeping constitutional powers. He appointed ministers to key positions, who many believed to be unqualified and unsuitable for the job, lest we forget the fiasco with appointing a Governor who had been linked to the massacre of tourists in 1997 in Luxor. On top of that, he also attempted to stifle freedom of expression by charging the political satirist Bassem Youssef, alongside others, for ‘insulting‘ the president. Yes, insulting a person of power is considered a prosecutable crime in Egypt.
Sure, instead of letting the military to step in, Egyptians could have allowed Morsi to see out his term and vote him out at the next election if they were dissatisfied with him. However, consider this: Egypt is a country fresh from the reign of dictatorship. The people have been accustomed to dictatorial policies, so when they see the policies of an elected person of power trying the same moves in entrenching more power and in silencing dissidents something needs to be done quickly. Egypt simply cannot wait for another 2-3 years, sitting idly by and allowing the country to regress on democracy, freedom of expression and liberty.
No, this is not a religious fight
Whether you speak to a teacher or a porter, man or woman, there is a strong sentiment that the Muslim Brotherhood operating through its Freedom and Justice party should not be using the mask of Islamism to monopolise power. Pro-Morsi supporters were heard calling the opposition ‘infidels’ and claimed that they were anti-Muslim. In response we saw anti-Morsi supporters carrying the Qur’an in one hand, the Holy Cross in the other, making a clear statement that this was not about religion, it is about the livelihood of ordinary citizens. At the moment, unemployment is high, the currency devalued, there are regular power cuts and crime is rampant. Morsi’s speech just prior to the protests on 30th June did nothing to quell these concerns.
After everything that the country has been through, Egyptians deserve a leader more sophisticated than one that blames the remnants of the old regime to shift blame away from their own shortcomings. On the other hand, Egypt does not have a clear-headed or functional opposition to call out the government where it fails to address the concerns of the people, this is why ‘street politics’ is gradually gaining popularity.
The next few days will be crucial.
People appear resigned to the fact that a certain amount of violence and disruption will ensue. There are clearly a vast number of incredibly intelligent, well-informed Egyptians who are invested in the country’s future on both sides. My hope is that amidst the current chaos and the pro-Morsi ‘Rejection Friday‘ protests, that these individuals can band together to create a coherent opposition and work with the new government in a civil manner. The last thing either side wants is more unrest.
Currently, the US has indicated that the $1.3billion of aid that Egypt currently receives could be cut off if it was in fact a military coup, a fate which Egypt’s already suffering economy cannot afford, this puts additional pressure on Egypt to install a freely and fairly elected government as soon as possible and exemplifies the fact that this is just the first step down a very long road towards an Egyptocracy.
Of course, the media and pundits often like to predict that a country in Egypt’s situation will go down a dangerous path. However, only time will tell whether this ‘second revolution’ in Tahrir Square will lead to the real blossoming of Egyptian democracy. One thing should be made clear: all countries develop in different ways with different paces, just because Egypt does not tick all of the boxes of what democracy should be does not mean that the world should write the country off as a failed democracy.