Western analysts have spent the past week trying to make sense of developments in Egypt, with most expressing concern over what they assert to be a military coup deposing a democratically elected president. Engaging in a debate over whether former President Mohamed Morsi’s ouster was a coup or a revolution detracts from the main issue: Egyptians have learned to question their fate and have committed to taking responsibility for shaping Egypt’s path forward.
Millions of Egyptians took to the streets because they believed the January 25 revolution was hijacked by an authoritarian regime that, in many ways, maintained repressive Mubarak-era practices with no hope of improvement in sight.
It is an oversimplification to dismiss developments in Egypt as little more than a group of sore losers (the opposition) working with the military to remove a democratically elected president only one year after his inauguration. This is not the case. Morsi’s slim electoral victory would not have been possible without the help of revolutionary factions who helped him gain more than 13 million votes in the run-off election so as to keep Mubarak’s last Prime Minister, Ahmed Shafiq out of office. Morsi won 5 million votes in the first round when supported only by his faithful base. These factions and others had a vested interest in seeing Morsi succeed as Egypt’s first civilian elected president.
Assessing the situation in Egypt through the narrow lens of whether deposing Morsi constitutes a coup or not is largely beside the point to the millions of Egyptians who took to the streets last week. Most Egyptians vowed never to return to a pre-January 25 authoritarian state, and they saw Morsi’s rule as nothing more than an extension of that state. Left with no options in the face of a defiant regime, the people took a stand to impeach Morsi and protect their revolution from being hijacked under the guise of an electoral process. These Egyptians are not inviting another era of military rule similar to the one Egypt endured following Mubarak’s ouster. Rather, they want a swift transition to a civilian government that would facilitate the establishment of a true constitutional democracy that enshrines human rights, protects the rights of minorities and the most vulnerable, and values the interests of its citizens, not simply those in power.
Many are skeptical of the military’s intentions and their willingness to relinquish power. While I share their concerns, I have faith in the Egyptian people’s ability to protect their democracy. The same people that mobilized the streets twice in less than three years will be the watchdogs monitoring any attempts by the army to hold power a day longer than necessary. After all, it was the same people who rallied against the army to hand power to a civilian government in the first place in 2012. The most important outcome of the January 25 revolution is that it has changed the mindset of the Egyptian people for the foreseeable future. Egyptians have learned to question their fate and hold their government accountable. On June 30, tens of millions of Egyptians went to the streets to express their discontent with the government. If that does not reflect the ultimate spirit of democratic values, then I am not sure what does.