With the clock ticking – and now only about 24 hours to go before the announced military “deadline” for political forces to “resolve the crisis” before the Army steps in – some version of another military coup in Egypt seems not only imminent. It is already unfolding.
The millions of Egyptians that took to the streets on Sunday were, literally, voting with their feet. Their vocal and public rejection of President Mohammad Morsi made his continuation in office, at least under present conditions, totally untenable.
It was an ad hoc and massive expression of “buyers remorse” – a spontaneous Egyptian version of the American “recall petition referenda” which require sitting governors to submit to new elections by popular demand.
The terse, blunt statement yesterday issued by Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi – with the support of the Interior Ministry and much of the deep state – left little doubt that the Morsi government had failed to retain basic legitimacy and the Army was preparing to take over. Rarely have coups been announced so openly in advance.
Al-Sisi giving Morsi just “48 hours” to meet “the demands of the people,” which he did not clearly define, was deliberately unworkable. It told the opposition they need only keep up the pressure for a mere two days. The campaign initially sought new presidential elections, but came to include the specific demand for Morsi’s resignation.
Opposition leaders were unabashedly, and perhaps unwisely, delighted by al-Sisi’s announcement. The president is going to go, or at least find all his power drained.
The only potential way out al-Sisi’s announcement provided for Morsi was to try to either unilaterally call for new elections, which might have “fulfilled the people’s demands,” or, much better yet, to do so in conjunction with some opposition groups. Yet compromise, conciliation, and cooperation are anathema to the Brotherhood, and the interest of opposition groups in helping to bail them out of their crisis is hard to identify.
So far, the massive demonstration on Sunday and the military’s “kind request for the nation’s attendance at their upcoming coup” has prompted rat after rat to jump Captain Morsi’s sinking ship. So many cabinet members have resigned, including the foreign minister, that only a small handful remain.
The Salafist Nour Party, which is both an ally and rival to the Muslim Brotherhood, had remained neutral until the Army statement. Suddenly it announced that it, too, was in favor of early new elections. Meanwhile, a court added to Morsi’s misery by dismissing his crucially important new prosecutor-general, Talaat Abdullah.
The Morsi government is as gutted as the burned and ransacked Muslim Brotherhood headquarters in Cairo.
Morsi appears utterly overwhelmed and totally lost. He’s had no official response to either the protests or the military announcement, and everyone is abandoning him.
His last chance for political survival is to immediately form a national unity government, giving up so much of the power he has painstakingly accumulated over the past year, and submitting to early new elections that he will certainly not win.
Had he acted wisely, he might have continued in office. But it’s almost too late. His political career, permanently, and the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood, for now, have been effectively terminated.
But the military won’t want a return to direct governance. The most likely contours of any “roadmap” they announce in coming days will almost surely involve some kind of “national unity” government headed by a nonmilitary figure, combined with early elections. And this will be packaged as “fulfilling the demands of the people,” and no “coup” whatsoever.
But there will be no doubt that the real power will remain in the hands of the Army. Driven from office, Islamists may well turn to violence, whether in the form of sabotage or urban terrorism, or in street gang violence against the revolutionaries and “ultras” football hooligans. Street fighting already rages on the ground.
This is probably going to be ugly, unless an unlikely last-minute compromise suddenly materializes.
But how does Egypt break the emerging vicious cycle of alternating between Islamist and military authoritarianism?
This new “soft coup” the military appears to be preparing may be welcomed by much of the population, but the honeymoon will be very brief. It’s hardly the appropriate prescription for Egypt’s chronic malady, and could be the proverbial cure that makes the disease even worse.
Egyptians can’t find themselves alternating between beards and uniforms. They need a new, rational constitution that establishes a working political system and regular, free, and fair elections without bias, intimidation, or cheating.
Egyptians want a “do over.” They deserve one. This time, the country has to get it right, or the consequences could be dire. Real pluaralistic democracy that protects individual, women’s and minority rights, and not simple majoritarianism, is the sole and indispensable solution.