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Reform: Within You, Without You

Many reasons have been given for the widespread discontent that led to Morsi’s ouster.  Political elites will say it is his autocratic-drive, and particularly the constitutional declaration that ‘put the President above the law.’  Several issues:  The Egyptian President has always been above the law.  If this were really so big a stumbling block for the people, Egypt would never have exited its First Intermediate Period, let alone have gotten to this –  its Fourth Intermediate Period.  Others may tell you that Morsi stacked the decks with Brotherhood loyalists, at the expense of creating a broader coalition.  And then there’s probably a large majority, similar to those that hate President Obama for indiscernible reasons, that simply fear the Brotherhood.

I don’t blame the last camp for suspicions: the Brotherhood and the then the FJP have not proved themselves either specifically competent or truthful given campaign or political promises on which they reneged.  But a flat-out rejection either of Islamism or the FJP, after a whopping electoral victory, would be totally anathema to liberal democracy.  This is not a valid actionable opinion if the end goal is liberal democracy.  Paste Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson’s head on Badie, and that would sort of be the analogy.  While that might make a lot of American extreme secularists happy, one cannot be a liberal and support arbitrary and warrantless detention.

Some have forsaken the coup after the obvious violence and crackdown to which it led.  Some will perhaps claim that this extreme violence and crackdown was not foreseeable.  It was, for many reasons.  Namely, after the Republican Guard deserted the President of the Republic, allowing the latter’s illegal detention by the military, his entire presidential team (dozens of civilians) was also detained without charges or warrants.  Most (all?) have been in illegal detention without prosecutorial investigation since July 3rd.  It would seem that no rights organizations or journalists have desired to discuss this.  But it was my first indication, when a former boss – a former school principle – was disappeared and has yet to be charged, that the gains in rule of law (however slight) were rendered irrelevant.

And when the rights to freedom of these low-level civilian government appointees were sacrificed on that day (the day of the coup), it became clear that those without the potential protection of connections were going to fare much worse.  In other words, the military had shown its regard for the value of Egyptian life.  This, in turn, probably isn’t shocking as they had done similarly when they ruled Egypt from February 2011 to June 2012.  But whatever, let’s take these people at face value and say that the violence was not foreseeable – or that they didn’t foresee it, or know about it, or whatever.  I say it is admirable for one to admit one’s mistakes.

False Trichotomy Should Give Way to Metaphysical Dichotomy

It has become quite popular, in the desperation of the last few days, to reject what many see as a dichotomy.  On the one hand, there are the pro-Morsi campers and the Brotherhood; on the other hand are the supporters of military government and the military itself, along with Nationalist-Liberals.  People rightly see this as a false ideological dichotomy.  However, a very real metaphysical dichotomy exists over action in general.

What is most troubling about the coup is not the removal of President Morsi.  I apologize to pro-Morsi supporters, but he ultimately was not the right person for the job – even though he ultimately got screwed (a better person for the job wouldn’t have gotten screwed, basically).  What is most troubling is the means of removing the President.  I, personally (though as an American), would have advocated a referendum – and I might even have sympathized with the military enforcing one.  But the perceived popular will for the direct use of the military in politics has set a precedent that has created this brinksmanship.  It is not the same as during January 2011 for two reasons.  Firstly, Morsi was actually elected; secondly, the point of the election was the permanent withdrawal of the military.  If those suspicious that the military took over in February 2011 to salvage their regime configuration had known they were right, there might have been a greater drive to push them out.  That confirmation came just before July 3rd.

But, again, whatever – it has happened.  The position of many if not most Liberals is that because they didn’t support Morsi, we can just move on and work forward from here.  Just like during the revolution, the coup was a rejection of Morsi and the Brotherhood’s rule.  It didn’t posit anything in response, other than severe repression of that current.  (/Liberal-)Nationalists, as the only popular faction currently represented in military governance, are not likely to change their minds.  They couldn’t care less about elections, and are ultimately interested in using the military to isolate the government from what they see as religious-reactionary democratic forces.

They were not likely to have been allies in a democratic struggle in any case, as it was clear from the beginning that Islamists would win at least a plurality in Parliament.  They will again; although I think it is somewhat clear that the Presidency will not go in that direction in the near-term (from polling and electoral data).  However, the same overriding interests of reform have not disappeared in the midst of either the FJP’s betrayal of security sector reform, or many previously-democratic-oriented revolutionaries’ support of a military coup and junta.  This is occurring in tandem with a deliberate political and institutional effort, clearly controlled by the military and buttressed by the media, to build an anti-Liberal, anti-democratic populist Nationalist coalition.

Directed Incitement, Politicized Criticism

But let’s actually take one step further back.  Critics claimed Morsi was an autocrat, and yet his ouster has yielded the worst period of autocracy and unchecked violence probably in Egypt’s history (in brute numerical terms).  Secondly, critics claimed that Morsi’s constitutional declaration put him above the law.  What it actually did was immunize Presidential decisions from judicial review, along bestowing some expanded powers given the lack of a Parliament.

The problems here are threefold.  Firstly, there’s never been a serious discussion about the power of the presidency or the nature of Egypt’s political structure.  Given strong calls for decisive reform, one would expect a somewhat decisive president.  Secondly, Adly Mansour – Egypt’s interim President – is also the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court.  This negates the relevancy of judicial review, as he would be chief reviewer.  This, along with Sisi’s various official positions, clearly and seriously undermines separation of powers.  Moreover, the willingness of anti-coup protesters, headed by the Brotherhood, to confront the military directly does sort of speak to some short-term reasons Morsi’s government may have praised the latter – it may have been a tactical attempt to solidify power.  We won’t know.

Finally, given no real questioning of Egypt’s strong-President makeup, and consistent public opinion polling showing support for a strong President, alongside fierce and competing calls for reform, everyone should have expected strong Presidential action.  But strong action by Morsi elicited, mostly from the elites, cries of autocracy.  There were both widespread demands to curb corruption without requisite definitions on what the corruption entailed.  The independent current within the judiciary overshadowed what should have been the public view – a broadly corrupt judiciary would have to be shaken up.  Many of the same people who decried Morsi’s lack of reform of the security services now support the latter in their quest to murderously eliminate the previous administration’s backers.

The lack of opponents responding to worse examples of the same concerns speaks volumes to the real fears underlying popular support for the Brothers’ removal.  I will not support the stilted and sometimes hate-mongering rhetoric that did occur, but replacing pronouns has not been helpful.  The only way for reconciliation to occur is basically twofold, and it does not seem very likely.  True Liberals must apologize for the coup, renounce its validity, and join a supra-organizational structure – essentially a Democratic Alliance – calling for bureaucratic, judicial, and military reform.  The NSF might be an appropriate venue, but toying with the military’s presence in politics – or trying to oust it while it looms – is not likely to work in the future, having failed until now.

This is not some sort of moral strong-arming.  Rather, unless there is general recognition that there was a coup and that it was not in any support of democracy, it is not likely that any reconciliation would be in furtherance of democracy anyway.  The next mandate will have to one fully in support of civil government, and hence is likely to be trying.  But the AntiCoup Alliance must also drop its demand for the reinstatement of President Morsi.  He is a useful symbol, one who may even be an historic player, particularly if he acquiesces to a referendum that legally ends his presidency.  In the end, he is also a polarizing figure, and an inappropriate symbol for a broad-based coalition that can help pull the Brotherhood out of its social isolation, unenviable if not somewhat admirable, in resistance to unabashed military rule.

The only real path forward is extremely broad consensus, most likely devoid of Nationalists.  In part, the fundamental prerequisite must be an acceptance of the ballot box over any other means.  This is the primary loss of the last few months.  Despite criticisms of Brotherhood autocracy, the rejection of legal or electoral means of challenging it has proven the most potent threat to democratic reform.  Despite the travails of struggling against an elitist leadership as that of the Brotherhood, marginalized minorities stood a far better chance, overall, of having their voices heard with transient autocrats than permanent ones.  Now the minority coalition will be tightly controlled, allowing the expression of one minority viewpoint at the expense of all overs.

Ultimately, while ‘third path’ people and masmou3 ideas are admirable, they negate the necessity for a basic shared reality.  The mechanism used to remove the legitimate government was not legitimate.  As a result, to restore that legitimacy, Egypt requires a referendum instead of false and conflated numbers estimating the viability of which mob should rule.  At present the bitterness of the Islamists who supported the displaced government is understandable.  They should probably understand the bitterness of Liberals and Liberal-Nationalists who supported them in the second round, and were marginalized first.  However, minorities within a democratic context still have the power of popular influence.  Under a junta, influence is arbitrary.

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