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The Egyptian coup and the lessons of Turkey

Egypt's military coup threatens the democracy Egyptians fought for on January 25, writes author.

Last Modified: 13 Aug 2013 11:48
Anwar Ibrahim

Anwar Ibrahim is currently opposition leader of Malaysia and was formerly the Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister
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"This is a military coup in the borrowed garb of a people's revolt, turning the Arab spring into its winter of discontent," writes Anwar Ibrahim [EPA]

Some are calling it a fitting end to political Islam, others 'difficult moments' and yet others equivocated about 'military intervention'. So, why are the supposed flagship democracies like the US and the EU unable or unwilling to call a coup a coup? Germany did slightly better by describing what happened in Egypt as "a major setback for democracy in Egypt," even as the rest of the West attempted to mask its diabolical positions by merely calling for restraint and the avoiding of violence.  But the failure to refer to it as a coup, let alone condemn it, bespeaks the double standards of these democracies. 

Tunisia condemned the overthrow as a "flagrant coup", which undermined democracy and would feed radicalism. In a speech in Istanbul on July 5th, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan condemned it: "No matter where or against whom, coups are damaging, inhuman and against the people, national will and democracy."

In this impassioned denunciation, Erdogan is not just giving a knee-jerk response but articulating Turkey's lessons of history. It is in this shared past that Egypt may yet be able to find new hope for a destiny akin to Turkey's, undoubtedly a thriving democracy with a painful and bitter history of military interventions.  

They must demand for the immediate release of President Morsi and his supporters. President Morsi must be reinstated to his rightful office and he in turn must immediately initiate a national dialogue that includes all sides.

Thus, in one fell swoop, the fragile edifice of Egypt's newly minted constitutional democracy came tumbling down. No amount of window dressing - such as appointing a Supreme Court chief judge to head an 'interim government' - will change the fact that the iron hand of the military has turned back the clock of the Arab world's most populous country.

Some have justified the June 30 military coup on the grounds that the January 25th Revolution of 2011 that ousted Mubarak was itself backed by the Egyptian army. But that analogy is false. While the Revolution saw the overthrow of a dictator who had ruled by force for close to three decades, this was the ouster of a president who had been democratically elected through free and fair elections. The contrast could not be more glaring: one had been in power because of the military. The other came to power with the people's mandate but is forced out by the military.

Western silence

By remaining silent when the military issued its ultimatum to President Morsi, the West became complicit. The failure to condemn the coup after the fact sealed its culpability, reigniting the debate about inconsistencies in Western foreign policy when it concerns countries governed by democratically elected parties oriented towards political Islam.

Some commentators have talked about a clash between Islamists and liberals as being the main cause for the fall of Morsi. Egyptians, it is contended, do not want a Taliban-style government. Apart from the fact that there is little substance to that argument, it is also framed in a false context. Morsi did not fall - he was cut down by the military in a blatant coup. Furthermore, though there might have been some autocratic exuberance in passing that ill-fated presidential decree, equating Muslim Brotherhood with the Taliban betrays sheer ignorance or worse Islamophobia. 

Closer to the truth perhaps is that remnants of the Mubarak regime have seized the day to take back the power that was being whittled down, not immediately in the aftermath of the revolution, but after the Muslim Brotherhood came to power. Indeed, it may be no exaggeration to say that a counter-revolution has been set in place by those forces bent on reasserting their lost glory.

All major appointments to office after the coup have been made by the military. Their names resonate with those who are not averse to seeing a return of Egypt's praetorian past but send chills to those who had believed that Mubarak's minions had been given a decent burial. The lessons of history are writ large here. 

Turkey's recent past reminds us of the unceasing attempts by the military to stage one coup after another in its bid to seize back power and privileges. The Turkish people were never handed democracy on a silver platter. Just as what we are witnessing now in Egypt, the Turkish people had to fight hard for it and even harder to keep it. It was fought with the blood, sweat and tears of those united by the love for freedom and democracy and the conviction that the role of the military must remain that of defending the nation's realm, not determining the government of the day. That can only be done through the ballot box. 

Let us not be complicit to this unconstitutional and immoral coup but instead be among those on the right side of history. Let us do our part to see the people of Egypt regain the glory of their great January 25th Revolution.

It was a heavy price to pay but the hardship and suffering under military rule was even heavier. As Prime Minister Erdogan puts it, "each military coup paralysed the economy of Turkey, wasted Turkey's assets and caused the country, the nation, and especially the youth, to pay a heavy price." Egyptians too paid their price for the revolution and now is being burdened once more to pay the price for defending it. This is exacted on the Egyptian people culminating tragically in the massacre of more than 100 pro-Morsi supporters and members of the Brotherhood around the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo.

Army chief Gen Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and the leaders of the illegitimate interim government have blood on their hands and must be held to account. This slaughter of innocent people must be condemned. Attempts to justify the coup on 'peculiar circumstances' such as the incompetence of Morsi's administration, its exclusivist nature, and the protests by millions of Egyptians, are facile and highly subjective.

Furthermore, reliable evidence has emerged indicating that many of the purported spontaneous street demonstrations demanding Morsi's ouster were funded by foreign aid and regional state run bodies. In any event, since when could mass protests be a vindication of a military take over? In a democracy, pressure can always be brought to bear on a ruling government through street demonstrations so that it may be kept in check but a democratically elected government cannot be justifiably overthrown either by street protests or military cannons.

What's next for Egypt? 

Talk of reconciliation is futile in as much as it is empty rhetoric. Calling for unity and reconciliation is one thing but when it emanates from the side that's been the usurper it rings hollow. Reconciliation cannot proceed from a foundation of illegitimacy. Nor can it take place with a gun pointed against one's head.

With the rest of justice minded and democracy loving advocates, I add my voice to the call on the West, particularly the United States to do the right thing. The billions in military and economic aid to Egypt should also be aid in the name of democracy and human rights, not in support of military coups. They must demand for the immediate release of President Morsi and his supporters. President Morsi must be reinstated to his rightful office and he in turn must immediately initiate a national dialogue that includes all sides. 

This is not a failure of the revolution. This is a military coup in the borrowed garb of a people's revolt, turning the Arab spring into its winter of discontent. The course of true democracy never did run smooth. What more a nascent democracy such as Egypt's. Those democratically elected must be allowed to complete the tasks they were elected to do, or at very least where there is overwhelming demand from the people for a fresh mandate, be allowed to call for fresh elections. As long as they stay true to the constitutional process and uphold the rule of law, there is neither moral nor legal justification to remove them.

The people of Egypt stood united and fought tooth and nail in ending six decades of military dictatorship so that they could taste real freedom and democracy. Let us not be complicit to this unconstitutional and immoral coup but instead be among those on the right side of history. Let us do our part to see the people of Egypt regain the glory of their great January 25 Revolution.   

Anwar Ibrahim is currently opposition leader of Malaysia and was formerly the Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister.

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The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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