Events in Egypt over the past week have raised serious questions about the nature of democracy in the Middle East.
When Mohamed Morsi, the first elected president of Egypt was removed from power on 3rd July, following four days of protest, questions were asked as to whether his removal from power was necessary and legitimate democratic action, or if a coup d’etat had taken place. Several arguments have been made, for both sides, however, I believe that what took place, while not formally democratic, was an extension of democracy in action and reflected a general dissatisfaction with the political situation. Given this, it can be argued that recent events are an extension of the #Jan25 movement and the events of early 2011. I believe there are five reasons as to why this is the case.
Firstly, in the run up to the June 30th protests, a petition was distributed, calling for the resignation of President Morsi which, according to some sources, had 22.1 million signatures. Given that Egypt’s population totals around 80 million, this suggests that around a quarter of the population were unhappy with Morsi’s tenure as president.
Secondly, according to the constitution, written by Morsi and passed on November 22nd 2012, with very little oversight, there was no formal mechanism to impeach the president. This meant that in order to change the president, it was necessary to wait three more years. The increasing level of tensions across the state, coupled with a deteriorating economic situation meant that the status quo was untenable.
Thirdly, whilst Mohamed Morsi was democratically elected, the veracity of election results has been questioned, according to one Egyptian blogger:
“The elections were a sham, and the Carter observers said as much, if you paid any kind of attention whatsoever. Carter himself even said that given the restrictions imposed on their monitoring efforts, he should never have agreed to be involved in those elections.” (Omar Kamel)
Fourthly, whilst in office, Morsi made very little effort to engage with other political groups within Egypt, instead choosing to make the Brotherhood rule alone. Despite calls from numerous parties (including the military in their 48 hour ultimatum) for dialogue and engagement with other political groups, Morsi viewed his election as providing him and the Brotherhood a mandate to rule alone. Perhaps this reflects the Brotherhood's 80 year wait to get into power and a reluctance to share this once there.
Fifthly, and arguably most important, was the failure to address key grievances of the #Jan25 movement, namely 'bread, freedom and social justice'. The economic situation in Egypt remains dire, with 47% of the population living on less than $2 per day, conservative figures placing unemployment at 13% and youth unemployment considerably higher. Continued cronyism added to dissatisfaction with Morsi.
We have to remember that democratic participation and engagement doesn’t just mean voting, and that democracy is a form of contract between ruler and ruled. If this contract is broken then this suggests a breakdown of the political system. This is all reflected in the huge number of signatures for this petition. Given this, the events of the past week should be viewed as a correctional revolution, i.e. to try and get 2011 back on track, rather than it being something entirely different.
However, what is making actors across both Egypt and much of the wider international community concerned is the role played by the military in shaping events, over the past week and in the coming months. The Egyptian military has undergone a renaissance in popularity recently, but their continued role as the final arbiter of power within the state must be stressed. Indeed, it was General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi (the head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) who announced that Morsi was no longer in power, aligning the military with the anti-Morsi protesters. This continues a tradition of the military playing a prominent role within Egyptian politics. Yet in helping remove the first democratically elected president in Egypt’s history, the army have left Egyptian democracy teetering on the edge, with society also on the brink of large-scale outbreaks of violence.
Following the increase in tensions and number of deaths, it is essential that all parties embrace dialogue and restraint.
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