Revisiting Egypt’s 2013 military takeover

A breakdown of the misconceptions surrounding the removal of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi.

Supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi protest his death sentence
Activists protest against court's decision to seek death penalty for Morsi [EPA]

Two years ago, Egyptian protesters gathered in Tahrir Square to participate in what was called the second wave of Egypt’s revolution. They called for the removal of President Mohamed Morsi – who had only completed one year in office – and claimed that it was a necessary continuation of the 2011 ousting of President Hosni Mubarak.

Yet many justifications for Morsi’s removal were little more than unfounded myths. Below, I’ll address these claims and explain some of the false beliefs that were used to remove Morsi from power.  

Myth 1: Morsi was a dictator

A common refrain from anti-Morsi Egyptians was that Morsi had become a dictator – a modern-day pharaoh. As evidence that Morsi was simply “Mubarak with a beard”, critics commonly pointed to two things: a controversial November 2012 decree that gave Morsi sweeping powers, and allegations that Egypt’s president had been “Brotherhoodising” Egypt. 

Inside Story – No mercy for Morsi

Myth 2: The dictatorial decree

Claims that Morsi’s November 2012 decree qualified him as a dictator are unconvincing for several reasons.

First, Morsi’s decree was temporary.

Second, the decree was issued to facilitate the completion of Egypt’s democratic transition. Morsi wanted to complete the constitutional drafting process and hold parliamentary elections.

Egypt’s heavily politicised judiciary – which Morsi bypassed with the decree – had played an obstructive role during Egypt’s transition to democracy. By the time Morsi issued his decree, the judiciary had already disbanded Egypt’s first constituent assembly and the nation’s first-ever democratically elected parliament.

More importantly, in the fall just before the decree was issued in 2012, judges threatened to disband Egypt’s second constitutional assembly and rescind an earlier democratic decree that had removed the military from politics.

At the time, Morsi’s move was defended by Harvard Law Professor Noah Feldman, who argued that the decree would save, not sabotage, Egypt’s fledgling democracy. Morsi’s decree was poorly explained and delivered, but claims of dictatorship are gross exaggerations. In any case, Morsi’s decree was rescinded in December 2012, less than a month after it was issued.

Myth 3: Brotherhoodisation of the state

As an elected president, Morsi had the democratic right to surround himself with his own party members and those who could help him implement his political programme. Many in Egypt’s opposition, however, took Morsi’s appointments of Brotherhood members and loyalists as evidence that he was “Brotherhoodising” Egypt. 

Ultimately, whether intentionally or not, these myths served to steer Egypt far away from the path of formal democracy.


As I’ve written elsewhere, these claims of “Brotherhoodisation” were both exaggerated and misguided.

By the end of June 2013, only 11 out of 35 Egyptian cabinet members and 10 of 27 governors were from the Muslim Brotherhood. These are hardly egregious figures, especially given that many Egyptian non-Islamist politicians had systematically rejected participating in Morsi’s government.

Myth 4: Egypt’s 2012 constitution was written by the Muslim Brotherhood

Contrary to claims made by anti-Brotherhood Egyptians – legitimate concerns about Egypt’s 2012 constituent assembly notwithstanding – the Brotherhood did not write Egypt’s 2012 constitution by itself. It is true that some of the Egyptian non-Islamists in the assembly withdrew, but their withdrawals should be understood as part of a larger attempt to suspend formal democratic procedures and elections.

Those who withdrew had complained about the assembly’s composition. But the entirety of Egypt’s summer 2012 political spectrum – 22 Egyptian political parties in all – signed off on the assembly’s basic composition, which, in keeping with the results of several elections, included a slightly greater number of Islamists than non-Islamists.

According to one liberal member of the assembly, Mohamed Mohie El-Din, non-Islamist complaints about the assembly were driven mostly by politics, not substantive concerns.

The document that was ultimately produced by the 2012 process was far from perfect, but also hardly an Islamist manifesto. It included demands for presidential elections, term limits, an impeachment article and political inclusion.

Fears over Article 2, which decreed that Islamic law would serve as the nation’s primary source of legislation, were mostly baseless. The article had already been part of Egypt’s constitution since 1971, and most Egyptians supported its inclusion. Tellingly, Egypt’s new post-Morsi constitution also includes the Islamic law provision.

Myth 5: The nation had rejected Morsi

Morsi supporters rally against an Egyptian court's decision [Reuters]
Morsi supporters rally against an Egyptian court’s decision [Reuters]

Perhaps in an effort to justify extra-democratic procedures, Egyptian media and political figures referred to anti-Morsi protesters as “the nation” and argued that tens of millions of Egyptians had gathered in the streets to protest Morsi’s rule.

Yet the cited estimate of 33 million protesters represents a logical and mathematical impossibility. Tahrir Square, the site of the largest anti-Morsi protests, is the size of a small football stadium and cannot possibly contain millions of protesters.

Between June 30 and July 3, 2013, there were about 20 protest sites across Egypt. Using crowd-sizing methodology, and assuming a generous estimate, there may have been between a million and two million Egyptians protesting out of a total 84 million. The protests were large, but not nearly as large as was claimed.

According to the only credible polling data available, Morsi had more than a 50 percent support rate among Egyptians before the coup and has maintained a support rating of more than 40 percent in its aftermath.

Mohamed Morsi [AP]
Mohamed Morsi [AP]


The myths presented here – along with other myths concerning the Muslim Brotherhood’s alleged opposition to the January 2011 uprising against Mubarak – provided ammunition for the 2013 protest movement.

Ultimately, whether intentionally or not, these myths served to steer Egypt far away from the path of formal democracy.

In post-Mubarak Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood won five consecutive free and fair elections, four of which were landslides. To challenge Morsi, Egypt’s opposition could have waited a few months until parliamentary elections. 

If it genuinely believed it had a majority, the opposition could have then taken a majority of parliamentary seats in elections and addressed the root sources of its political grievances.

Instead, Egypt’s anti-Morsi opposition chose to bypass democracy altogether, ignoring domestic and international warnings about the dangers of a military takeover. Sadly, they, and all Egyptians, are now paying the price.

Mohamad Elmasry is an assistant professor in the Department of Communications at the University of North Alabama.

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