Fear is as thick as tear gas in Cairo’s streets this week. Uncertainty is the only thing which everyone which everyone can agree on. Indeed, there is even debate about whether we have or haven’t witnessed a military coup.
Is a coup a coup when the citizenry support the military’s action? Of course it is; the only legitimate method of replacing one administration with another is a free and fair election. A military intervention is about as far from this as you could possibly get, although they are trying to soften the edges by installing the head of the constitutional court as ‘interim’ president. No one, including the army, seems to have any idea how long such an interim will last, or what will come afterwards. New elections have been hinted at, but it is hard to tell if they will ever happen – the last time Egypt’s army staged a coup it held on to power for twenty-six years. If elections did take place, what would happen if the Muslim Brotherhood won, as is well within the realm of possibility given the huge demonstrations in favour of the deposed president? One doubts that a second Morsi would be allowed to take power, and that would cause further chaos. Speaking of Morsi, where is he and what does the army plan to do with him? There are many questions, and possible answers are not cheering. Belief in the army’s good intentions faded with the sound of bullets being used on protesters.
Like everything, this story is multifaceted. The coup-or-not-a-coup debate is founded on the fact that Morsi’s government was far from democratic. Being elected is not enough to bestow legitimacy on an administration, especially when the president interferes with judicial independence and steers the direction of the constituent assembly as it tries – and fails – to write a decent constitution. Hopefully, this process can be restarted and a new document written to replace the shambolic constitution ratified last year – although this is perhaps too optimistic. It seems, then, that in Egypt the choices offered to the people are equally ugly – rule by an autocratic-but-elected Islamist or by an illegitimate and brutal army. They will not be envied the decision.