Navigating the Recent Egyptian Military Coup

by Cliff Burton

On July 30, the then Defense Minister, Abdel Fatah El-Sissi announced that the Egyptian military had deposed and detained the elected President, Muhammad Morsi. El-Sissi described this move as a response to mass protests against Morsi that had been taking place for several weeks prior.

He suggested that the Egyptian military was simply responding to the will of the people, and that it was protecting the revolution that deposed the then dictator Hosni Mubarak in January 2011.

Despite efforts by the US government to paint the situation otherwise (Secretary of State John Kerry suggested that deposing the democratically elected leader of the country was necessary to save democracy), it is clear that this was a coup, and not another revolution. The elected President is under detention, while unelected leaders rule the country (El-Sissy and the prime minister he appointed, who is former judge from the Mubarak era).

Secondly, despite the large protests that preceded the coup, the military did not take action in order to respond to the mass protests. Instead, the military had been planning the coup for roughly a full year (from the time Morsi was first elected president in the summer of 2012). The Tamarrud (Rebellion) Movement that organized the mass protests was bankrolled by the military and by business elites tied to the old regime. Once the protests were big enough, the military felt they had the popular cover to carry out the coup.

The strategy for preparing the ground for the coup also included deliberately causing shortages in gasoline and electricity through out Egypt. Pro-Mubarak bureaucrats made sure that shortages would arise to discredit Morsi, then “magically” restored these services to remedy the shortages the day after Morsi was deposed.

The private Egyptian press, army, and judiciary (all loyal to the former regime) also engaged in a smear campaign against Hamas (immediately accusing Hamas of killing 16 Egyptian soldiers in a base near the Gaza border in the summer of 2012) just as Morsi was attempting to soften the embargo on Gaza and open the borders for additional trade and allow Gazans to freely travel to and from Egypt. If Hamas could be discredited, this would discredit Morsi as well due to their close relationship.

Despite the fact that Morsi and the Brotherhood did not attempt any type of heavy handed crack down once the Tamarrud movement protests reached very large levels (including when protesters attacked and burned down several Brotherhood offices), the Egyptian military is now planning to try Brotherhood leader Badia for inciting Brotherhood members to kill protesters (for example, when attempting to protect themselves from protesters attempting to burn down Brotherhood offices, with these Brotherhood members still inside).

At the same time, the Egyptian military has now committed three separate clear cut massacres against peaceful Brotherhood supporters, who had established camp cities in Adu Rabia and Nahda squares to press for the reinstatement of Morsi as president. In the first massacre on July 8th, the Army killed 51 people, and on July 27th the second massacre killed at least 65 people. The third massacre occurred yesterday, August 14, early in the morning. Using Israeli style tactics, including the use of bulldozers, live ammunition and snipers, the Egyptian Army violently cleared Raba’a al Adawiya and al Nahda squares. Early reports from 278 dead and many thousands more wounded.

All the while, US President Barak Obama has refused to call the ouster of President Morsi a coup, in order to keep $1.3 billion in US aid flowing to our friends in the Egyptian Army. Despite the fact that US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has been in frequent telephone contact, and despite warnings from the Egyptian military that a crack down on Brotherhood supporters in the two squares was coming soon, both he and President Obama happened to be on vacation today.

This brings back memories of when Algerian Islamists won elections in the 1990’s. The secular Algerian military, with the backing of France and the US, promptly canceled the elections, leading to a brutal civil war that led to the loss of between 44,000 and 200,000 lives.

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