The removal of Egypt’s president Mohamed Morsi has done nothing to heal a deeply divided nation and an even more polarised political class. One of the many questions that will persist for some time is whether this was really a ‘military coup’ in the classical sense or whether it was ‘people power’ driven by mass demonstrations and enacted by the military.But this is a mere sematic debate that does not advance any particular practical argument, nor does it change a fundamental reality: that is any political action should always be judged by its outcome first and foremost and not simply by its discursive construction. In this case, the facts remain clear: a freely elected president was removed from power by the military and a new transitional leadership was installed until fresh presidential and parliamentary elections are held. At least this much is clear, even though no timetable is yet announced and no mechanisms for achieving these objectives are detailed.
But two main issues need to be highlighted here that relate to the way Egyptians, Arabs and foreign observers have reacted to this unprecedented development and their likely implications for the future of Egyptian political stability. Firstly, there is a discerning partisan and often affective nature to the characterisation of this event. Granted, Morsi is the Muslim Brotherhood candidate and he is by no means a unifying figure within Post-Mubarak Egypt. But in truth, once the initial euphoria following the toppling of Mubarak waned down, it was always going to be a tough challenge to maintain national unity among Islamists and Secularists; Muslims and Copts; Urban and Rural constituencies. The point here is that the seeds for the recent events have been sown not only in the immediate aftermath of the Mubarak toppling, but I would argue many decades before that through a ‘divide and conquer’ approach by the fallen dictator and his henchmen.
The second point relates to discussions about what should happen now that an Islamist government has been removed from office and fresh elections are being prepared. And the difficulty here relates to the possibility that the Muslim Brotherhood might decide to boycott any fresh elections and disengage from the political process altogether. Should this happen, and most people would hope it won’t, then the likelihood of an Algerian-style civil war (following the cancellation of the 1991 elections where the Islamists there were on track to win a majority of the votes) will become a possibility. A monumental task await transitional leaders and opposition parties in Egypt to persuade the Muslim Brotherhood and their large followers to resist the ‘violence scenario’ and to instead work towards national reconciliation that can culminate in an agreed path towards presidential and parliamentary elections. Only then, can these recent setbacks somehow engender much needed national dialogue about religion in public life, the nature of an authentic Egyptian democratic system of governance, and the role of the military in politics.