On Friday, July 5th, thousands of supporters of recently ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi took to the streets. Reports claimed that as many as seventeen protestors were killed by gunfire in clashes with Morsi’s opponents in Tahrir Square. Many others were wounded.If you’ve been alive for more than two years and either have some interest in world news or huge crush on NBC’s Brian Williams, then you’ll remember…the “Arab Spring” of 2011.If you’ve been alive for more than two years and either have some interest in world news or huge crush on NBC’s Brian Williams, then you’ll remember that Egyptians ousted Hosni Mubarak from power after a thirty-year dictatorship during the “Arab Spring” of 2011. After eighteen days of violent protests, during which demonstrators battled with pro-Mubarak armed forces, Hosni Mubarak resigned and transferred power to the governing body of the Egyptian military. After the new government tried Mubarak for crimes committed against protesters, which included the outright murder of many who came unarmed to Tahrir Square, they sentenced him to life in prison. Shortly thereafter he suffered a stroke. Today he remains in a military hospital. His successor, Mohamed Morsi, was the first freely elected leader of Egypt. Morsi is a leader in the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group that, under Mubarak, was banned and persecuted, but later grew in popularity and prominence.
Unfortunately Morsi has been unable to stabilize the Egyptian economy, nor has he responded to a subsequent upswing in crime and other pressing social issues. He has also struggled to find support among government officials and bureaucrats fearing internal struggles with the Muslim Brotherhood. Additionally, many Egyptians accuse Morsi of “Brotherhoodization,” and take issue with the increasing influence of Islam in Morsi’s government and the apparent move towards a one-party state. (The New Yorker ran a great essay a few months back on women in Egypt.)On Monday, July 1st, the military gave Morsi 48 hours to step down.Protestors came to Tahrir Square on June 30th–nearly one year after the historic elections–with a petition for Morsi’s removal signed by over 20,000 Egyptians. On Monday, July 1st, the military gave Morsi 48 hours to step down. Afterwards the military suspended the constitution, took control of radio and television stations, and appointed Adly Mansour, a judge who served under Mubarak, as interim president. Morsi and other members of the Muslim Brotherhood have been arrested on charges for “enticement to kill demonstrators.” However, according to Mohamed ElBaradei, Egypt’s most prominent liberal and the interim Prime Minister, “everybody who is being rounded up or detained, it is by order of the attorney general–and being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood is no crime.” Today, the African Union suspended Egypt from all activities following the coup, a punishment delivered in response to any “interruption of constitutional rule” regardless of a country’s size. They will likely lift the ban if and when the elections promised by Mansour occur. All of this is, admittedly, confusing, as evidenced by attempts to wrap our heads around it all.Fireworks exploded over Tahrir Square after the announcement of Morsi’s removal. In all, twelve protestors were killed and nearly 100 women were sexually assaulted, including a foreign journalist, who was gang-raped. All of this is, admittedly, confusing, as evidenced by attempts to wrap our heads around it all. Do we want to call this a coup or a “military intervention?” Is it a blow to democracy, or the continuation of the Arab Spring? Are we already disappointed, or still waiting to see how it turns out? Obama has urged Egypt to quickly restore democratic rule, and other Islamist countries have voiced their disapproval over Morsi’s ouster. But what about the people of Egypt?
As The Guardian‘s Simon Jenkins notes,
It may be ironic that Cairo protesters should demand their army save them from the same politician who so recently saved them from the army. But it is an Egyptian irony, for Egyptians to resolve. All revolutions manufacture their own realpolitik. As for implying that democracy sometimes needs soldiers to act as safeguard against elected politicians who break their promises, we should remember that Horse Guards Parade is just over the wall from Downing Street.
(For all of you non-Anglophiles, Horse Guards Parade is the former headquarters of the British Army, and 10 Downing Street is the Prime Minister’s residence.) Jenkins also points out that Western rhetoric often supports the “underdog” uprising–not only in Egypt, but throughout the Muslim world–but is often reluctant to acknowledge the violence meted out on both sides. It’s important to note that there’s no real “winner” at the moment. The situation may change if the protests continue, if civilians continue to be hurt, and so on. It’s unlikely that Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood will simply disappear. Rania Abozeied writes in The New Yorker that “Egyptians have made it clear that they can and will quickly turn on their new leaders. The fear is that they may also turn on each other.” This reality, rather than the the rhetoric, should be the focus of any continued discussions.