As I write this piece, the Egyptian army is claiming to have ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi. Morsi insists he is still president and that he is open to negotiations. He had only been in power since 30 June 2012, following what has been known as Egypt’s first ‘democratic’ election.
Everything about this situation defies all the obvious definitions we have come to know as questions are buzzing around; was the ousting of Morsi a revolution or a coup or… Who knows???
Democratic election? Was the election that led to President Morsi’s election democratic? Many of the anti-Morsi protestors will tell you it was not. The US government will say it was. What would make the election democratic or not?
Was it competitive; did all parties and candidates enjoy fundamental freedoms of speech, assembly, and movement? Did they have the necessary to voice their criticisms of the government openly? Did they manage to bring their alternative policies and candidates to the electorate?
Was it periodic, oh well since this was the first such election that really doesn’t count does it.
Was it inclusive; did all eligible and willing voters vote? Were any religious, racial or ethnic minorities excluded? Were women included? Were all interest groups included?
Was it definitive; was a leadership of the government chosen? Of course, there would not have been a President Morsi had that not happened.
So then was the election democratic: I don’t know…
Others argue these events oust a “legitimately elected leader.” Who confers legitimacy on a leader? Who elects a president? Is it not the people, the same people who have decided that he is not living up to expectations and have decided to remove him? If these same people with the right to choose a President were now describing him as “a political despot who was peddling religious fundamentalism to consolidate his power base,” did he still remain “legitimate?”
Oh but wait, there is a Constitution. Constitutionalism demands that the President should be removed through a democratic election but neither through a mass protest nor through the solicitation of the military’s strength. In terms of the law he obviously remained legitimate because he could only be legitimately removed through another election , but politically was he still legitimate? I don’t know that either…
To throw in another spanner, was the Constitution itself a legitimate document? Is it legitimate when citizens are trashing its provisions and crying foul about the process through which it came into being? Is it legitimate when citizens are crying foul about its provisions and crying foul about the implementation of some of its provisions? Is that Constitution binding or do the people have a right to demand a re-write of the Constitution-for the people, by the people, of the people? Again, I don’t know…
Is this a coup? The Encyclopaedia Britannica defines a coup as “a sudden, violent overthrow of an existing government by a small group, the chief prerequisite of which is control of all or part of the armed forces, the police, and other military elements.” Was it sudden-yes. Was it violent-well four people died and a whole lot more injured. Was it illegal-in terms of the constitution-yes. Did it result in the seizure of power from a government – yes. So was it a coup-hey, I don’t know…
Is this a revolution? Again the Encyclopaedia Britannica says a revolution occurs when “large numbers of people working for basic social, economic, and political change organise and execute a major, sudden alteration in government.” Were there large numbers in Tahrir-the images speak for themselves. Were they asking for social-economic change- bread, butter and bedding issues do sound economic and social to me. Were they asking for political change- definitely, against arbitrary arrests and other rights violations.
Late on 3 July, a number of civics in Egypt including the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies described the mass uprising as “tantamount to a genuine popular referendum by which the majority of Egyptians rejected all policies seeking to undermine rights and liberties in the name of empowering a single political faction to monopolise state institutions, undermine the rule of law and judicial bodies, disregard court orders, harass and prosecute political opponents, and restrict the media and freedom of opinion and expression.”
Many are giving these events many terms; counter-revolution, popular uprising, invited coup, popular coup, a coup within a revolution, a revolutionary coup. What it all adds up to is that there is nothing defined under the Egyptian sun.