Thursday, 18 July 2013

Coup or Revolution. Does it matter?

Well yes it does.

The reason you differentiate sandals from sneakers is to know whether you need to tie laces. Likewise the distinction between coup and revolution defines how you react. So...

Was it a revolution?

Of course it was.

Millions of people demanding change took to streets all over the country with very valid grievances. Rising prices, fuel shortages, power cuts, government incompetence and a failing economy affected everybody day in day out. Criticism of the government was met with stubbornness and intransigence boding foul for the future. Furthermore, autocratic, power-grabbing measures including a November, God-like constitutional decree and a December divisive constitution were threatening everybody’s future and Egypt’s very identity.

The people on the street were not a homogeneous group and claims that felool or Christians or anti-Islamists led the fray are ridiculous.  Egyptians of different ages, income classes, religions, political affiliations and geographies were all present.

They had different drivers but shared a single goal, defined clearly on the Tamarud petition: changing the president through early elections.

Morsy and the MB failed to deliver on their campaign promises. More critically they failed to fulfil the demands of the January 25th revolution and therefore they needed to go. So much so, that for many, this is an extension of the original revolution. The streets again demanding change.

So yes, very clearly, this is a revolution.

Was it a military coup?

Of course it was. The Chairman of SCAF, Minister of Defense and Military Production, Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces unilaterally suspends the 64% approved constitution, removes the first ever democratically elected President in Egypt’s 7,000 year history, puts him, his family and advisers under house arrest, installs a new temp president, gives said temp God-like constitutional decree powers (ring a bell?), dissolves the elected Senate, shuts down opposition TV stations, arrests their owners and employees and detains some 300 of the President’s party.

The military had its reasons for taking all these measures, but none of these measures, with the exception of early elections, was a demand of the revolting millions on the streets. In the days that follow it becomes clear that the temp President is no more than a place holder and that all strings are held and pulled, by the military.

So yes, very clearly this is a coup.

Conclusion.  It was a revolution AND it was a coup. So how to react?

Only one way.

We must resist the coup as if there were no revolution and support the revolution as if there were no coup.

Resist the coup

The coup means the military has decided that civilian Egyptians are incapable of running the country in a way the military finds acceptable. It means we have been re-infantilized, our budding political processes nipped, our dreams of democratically running the country rudely awakened by the guys with the tanks. It means to recurrently press “pause” right at the moment when the late Omar Soliman reflects rhetorically and philosophically “Everybody wants democracy. But when?”

It means a quick return to – if you believe we ever left –the patriarchal control of the military and its less subtle nephew the police. It possibly means witch hunts for Islamists first then other opposition, whoever they may be. It possibly means human rights abuses galore (virginity tests anyone?) It likely means a setting back of the clock, hopefully to some year within this current decade and not much earlier.

This must be resisted in every non-belligerent way. Police brutality cannot be allowed to return. Corruption cannot be allowed to return. Those who for decades raped and pillaged Egypt’s economy and its politics cannot be allowed to return.

Our military must be preserved outside of the political game. Their preferred position seems to be above and beyond politics, which is not exactly the same thing.

Support the Revolution

On the other hand , a revolution as we have learned over the past 30 months, is a fierce but fragile creature full of potential and fraught with weakness.

We must learn from yester-revolution’s mistakes. Here are the main seven lessons.
  1. No piggy-backing. The old regime cannot be allowed to take credit for, or benefit from, this revolution. The clean slate the MoI claims is a glaring example, there are many others.
  2.  No infighting. As quickly as possible, and at serious signs of good will, all parties, including the MB, must be brought back to the table.
  3. BUT. No noble expectations this time. Nobody should be in any doubt that only promises which carry penalties and which we are capable of enforcing will be kept.
  4. The revolution must have a voice. A huge lesson here is the role of media. It cannot be ignored. Media creates perception. Perception is everything. The revolution must have its media. Not felool media. Not Islamist media. Not foreign media.
  5. No side-battles. It is imperative to maintain laser-sharp focus on our goals: Bread, Freedom, Social Justice and Human Dignity.
  6. We must build political parties around these principles. Parties that are well-financed and organized. Parties capable of winning elections.  
  7. We must identify and support new leaders who believe deeply in these values, leaders who are willing and able to inspire Egyptians
A Blessing. Optimism.

In a way, this coup-revolution revolution-coup is a blessing.

Everybody is learning in Egypt. At break neck speed.

The military are learning that massive change needs popular support and that power is tenuous.

The MB are learning that you just can’t do things this way. They must change. They need to open up and learn to trust and share.

The liberals are learning they have to actually work to get things done. That real power needs direction and leadership otherwise it is easy to have your efforts and even your ideals usurped.

We are all learning the power of media and the scarcity of truth. We need to individually and collectively create filters that are beyond personal preferences.

One of the biggest lessons that I am not sure has been delivered is that we are all here to stay. The MB are not going to all be hanged or jailed. The liberals aren't all going to run off to Canada. We’re all here to stay. 

Let us all not widen the gaps more than we can hope to bridge soon.

Optimistic? Of course I am. We have switched the lights on and commenced class. 
Not once. Twice. 


  1. This is perfect description and analysis of what really happened & very optimistic, more than I thought.

    I do not think that Egypt can sustain the continued revolution, not the peaceful path any way.

    In my opinion, assuming good intentions of MB, their methodology is not practical. Changing a country the size of Egypt requires massive efforts and decades.

    Most important, there is an international "Supreme" will to maintain its supremacy.

    I recall how Iraqis hated the Ba3th, and how they regret the continued bloodshed since 1990.

    Now, it is easier to use media to create powers that fight their wars.

    The scenario is visible in both, Iraq (Shiet/ Sunni/kurds) & Syria with more divisions. With the hatred messages in the media, Egypt is being set for a very dangerous scenario. MB/SCAF/Coptics/Sini/... the list is long. The mindset is almost there, and I do not think that SCAF knows what the international plans are.
    May Allah save all the people of Egypt.

  2. Thanks for the interesting take on things!

  3. Great post. i agree with all your conclusions even though i have so comment in regard :) so...

    1. Re the revolution or coup... well. agree it's both but i dont think that it's that important to continue obsessing about it .... it's distraction. it's happened the way it happened. nothing anyone can change. and it doesnt really matter if there are or were better ways to do it. waste of energy. moving on...

    2. you still dont have the 3 goals: Freedoms, Rights and Democracy let alone Bread. what you did in the last 2 and a half years is taking down the old system. old building must collapse before one can build a new one. you cant do simultaneously both. it doesnt work like this.

    3. The most important thing now is to do 2 things: a. fix a new constitution aka new Infrastructure to secure freedoms + human rights+equality + defines the roles of each holder of state power and the relationship between all forces and will be the basis on-which democracy would be built slowly in the next 5-10 years. b. asap find a new leader (not from the old regime) that represent the change that you all wants. an old authority will never build something new (even if they honestly want to. they cant). You have a certain amount of energy and should you save it. Do not waste it on the fronts that are less important. work now with the army and the conservatives (feloul) to amend the constitution. then move to the other fronts.

    4. Re reconciliation with the MB's. as one cant build something new before destroying the old structure, one cant skip phase while undergoing a changing process. meaning. you cant go for reconciliation with the MB's as much as you want it and as much as it needed. Islamists are established fact however the MBs are not. the movement is based on an old ideology and structure and must undergo, again a profound changing process and reforms before any reconciliation can work. they will.

    5. Stay optimistic. you are all doing great job. dont let anybody to tell you something else. a changing process is painful, never clean, gradual, and with a lot of narratives. stay focus of the original goals. we are only humans :D


  4. Orit, thanks for your, as expected, intelligent comments. I'd like to respond
    1. I know it's a waste of energy to try and give it a name, my only objective is to define how to deal with it not for the semantic academic purpose
    2. Over the last 30 months I don't think we have done anything to destroy the old system. In fact this is my biggest worry, if the MB who are the most organized, most politically intelligent body outside of Mubarak's regime failed so miserably, what chance do the naive revolutionaries like me or the academic liberals or the loud but weak socialists have? If the army/police "finish off" the MB then Egypt will effectively have no competition for the army/police over control of the country. I have said before and still believe that the only thing between Egypt and another 60 years of military rule is the MB. Until the liberals, revolutionaries, socialists get their acts together (and they have done ZERO in 30 months) that is the case.
    3a. Agree in principle, but the cynic in me says "what good is an excllent constitution if the army can suspend it at will?" The deep cynic in me says, the army probably loves the blood on the street, makes it easier to pass a constitution which curbs freedoms based on people fear. 3b. Is my numbers 6&7 fully agree
    4. Disagree with this one. MB are established fact, they are a few million I believe, they need to change their leadership but that has to come from within. Jailing, persecution, executing etc...only creates a martyr mentality and strengthens their belief that democracy is not for them and there is no legitimate path to power. There are only two places they can be, above ground or below. I prefer above.
    5. Always, I almost can't help it :)

  5. Thanx darling for responding on my long comments :D but here we go again...
    1. 3 wrongs.... army + MB's are the weakest as can be. army failed 3 times. a) to rule alone aka SCAF ruling. b) the alliance with the MB's collapse after a year. c) to take the MB's alone. they needed you. the 17M or 22M or 33M (different sources:) in the streets. they were powerless with you. They derive their legitimacy from you. they know it and you know it. MB's also fails 3 times. a) to rule alone ake Morsi.
    b) To rule with the army support on their side + the support of the west who believed they're democratically elected + majority+pragmatic. c) they dont have the numbers they thought they have. they believed they can burn cairo down. they cant. flames here and there. not fire. and if that's not enough.... now they're finishing the work for you by weakening each other even more. they're fixed on each other which leaves the political arena for you guys. that's why i said that your attention a must be devoted to this. and this only :)
    2. now re the MB and the jailing part. as i said before this transformation part is not gonna be clean. unfortunately you cant have it all. They were defeated. They are not ready to accept it. So they do what they know to do best: violence and incitement. That's dangerous. The country on the brink of economic collapse. Loan, investment, economic aid etc. will not come if there isnt semi-stabilization and responsible adress. So this transitional government and the current ad-hoc coalition of conservatives (felouls),revolutionaries (liberals/seculars) and the Military junta is very much important. otherwise we will witness a revolution of the poor. and Egypt is not that far from that. that can be dangerous cause no one will be able to contain it or control it. not the army not the MBs, not the revolutionaries.
    3. I agree with you that the islamists must be a part of any future political process it will make them more pragmatic and responsible rather than radicals. but for that to happen they must, first accept the rule of the democratic and modern politics game. otherwise it wont last.
    4. The revolutionaries/liberals/seculars are the only authentic and real answer. and yes it takes time for you all to mature into this reality. maturity needed but it also takes time.... dont be harsh. i agree with you that it's easier for you all to unite against something and it's more difficult for you to unite for something - still a missing part :)


  6. Great insight and analysis. It is unfortunate if we start with credibility for example to see it erode whether in the media, the political figureheads, or in leadership. The lack of trust and the "one man show" approach to things have damaged the country from top to bottom. Also, the physics of Egypt's political scene is that whom ever arrives to power after Camp David must go through the American Gatekeeper whether we like it or not. That doesn't make the participant evil but a political player with the full Machiavellian sense of the word. And finally we are at the first step of democracy now comes the hard part, namely independence from excessive foreign intervention (intervention is inevitable just limiting and managing it is realistic) and the age old Islamic tradition of accepting the other i thought ideals recall the 4 Imams and their landmark work of transforming a religion in to a framework that binds rather than divide. Ironically the rise of the "Fascist liberals" will be their own undoing. Why because their legitimacy is not from ballot box but from the bullet box. If we can avoid a civil war or at the vert least civil unrest as a stepping stone of think shift from the military as the backer to the notion of the ballot and truly have a coalition of mutual benefits in the political sense of the word and abandon isolationist rhetoric about mutual assured irrelevance than and only then can we have an window

  7. Love that term: Fascist Liberals.