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An Impending Bloodbath in Egypt: Will It Break the Coup?

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Source: CounterPunch


There is no parallel in modern history to the recent events in Egypt, which have so quickly and effortlessly stripped people of their will. Within a year, the nation that went to the polls in free and fair elections to elect the lower and upper houses of parliament, choose the first civilian president in a multi-candidate race, and approve a new constitution, remarkably witnessed the reversal and invalidation of its nascent democratic institutions. After the triumph of the great Egyptian uprising in February 2011, such a tragic outcome was not the anticipated feat of its promising trajectory.

But the setback to the march of freedom and democracy in a region that has been plagued with despotism, repression, foreign domination, and corruption, could not have taken place without the active scheming and subversive action by myriad players led by the fulool counter-revolutionaries, or Mubarak loyalists and corrupt oligarchs, as well as the "deep state," which is a decades-old web of corruption and special interests entrenched within the state's institutions. 

Former justice minister Ahmad Makki detailed in recent interviews the depth of the entrenched elements of Mubarak loyalists including the judiciary, which actively undermined Morsi's introduction of real reforms. Other actors who were dismayed by the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and the Islamists in general, also played a critical role in dislodging them from power and creating a constitutional crisis. These players have not only included most secular, liberal and leftist parties and elites, but have also involved foreign powers such as Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which saw the Egyptian revolution as a threat to their interests. Moreover, youth groups and ordinary citizens were frustrated with the slow progress in fulfilling the declared promises of the revolution, namely "decent living, freedom, social justice, and human dignity."

A Military Coup with Civilian Co-conspirators

As I argued before, the July 3 military coup was not in response to calls for a second wave of the revolution as falsely presented by the anti-Morsi forces. It was a determined and well-orchestrated plot to oust the democratically elected president after a single year in power. One of the co-conspirators, Mona Makram Ebeid, plainly exposed some of the details in her speech before the Middle East Institute (MEI) on July 11. Ebeid is a veteran of Egyptian politics, jumping between the regime de jure and the opposition. She was not only appointed to the legislature by Mubarak as well as Morsi, but she also served as an advisor to the Military Council during the transitional period. As a Coptic Christian woman who espoused a secular outlook, she embodied the elements of an ideal minority representative. She was also appointed to the Constitutional Constituent Assembly -- the body charged with writing the constitution -- before the mass resignation of its secular members last November. 

According to her statement before the MEI, she was invited on the morning of June 30 to a meeting at the mansion of former Mubarak loyalist and housing minister Hasaballah Al-Kafrawi. Seated next to him was retired Gen. Fuad Allam, a former deputy chief of Egypt's internal security service and a hardline MB foe. Having led the unit that monitored and investigated the religious groups for over two decades, Gen. Allam was one of the most notorious torture experts in the world. Among the attendees were also two-dozen secular journalists, academics, and opposition leaders. 

During the meeting, Minister Kafrawi stated that he had been in touch with the army, the Coptic Pope and Sheikh al-Azhar. He added that army chief Gen. Abdelfattah Sisi had privately requested a "written popular demand" in order to intervene on behalf of the opposition. By 3:00 PM, a statement by over 50 anti-Morsi public figures was delivered to the army demanding its intervention. Since the organizers had previously announced that the demonstration at Tahrir Square would launch at 5:00 PM, the statement issued that morning was in fact requested by the army and provided by the secular opposition before any meaningful anti-Morsi demonstration had ever come onto the streets.

If the military is in charge, can anyone still say it's not a coup?

Gen. Sisi ousted President Morsi on July 3 as his co-conspirators, including opposition leader Muhammad ElBaradei, were looking on. The anti-Morsi forces believed they had outmaneuvered the hapless president, the MB, and their Islamist allies. Furthermore, they were convinced that within days their Islamist opponents would accept their fate and recognize the new status quo. If not, the new military-led regime was ready to beat them into submission using its Mubarak-era hardline tactics.

But contrary to these expectations, the MB, their Islamist allies, and hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens who believed their votes had been discarded, took to the streets in large demonstrations. Tens of thousands camped out in major squares in Cairo, Giza, and around the nation. In their desperate attempt to scare off the demonstrators, the police and the army had committed within few days several massacres that included the July 5 carnage near the Presidential Guards social club that left over 50 people dead and hundreds wounded.

In his attempt to disguise the military rule behind a civilian facade, upon declaring the coup on July 3 Gen. Sisi appointed the head of the Supreme Court as the interim president. A few days later he chose ElBaradei as Vice President and economist Hazem Al-Beblawi, as Prime Minister. As the anti-coup demonstrations persisted for almost four weeks, Gen. Sisi delivered a speech on July 24 asking the public to demonstrate in the streets to give him "a mandate and an order" to crackdown against "violence and terrorism."  It was a brazen request to use brutal tactics to subdue the anti-coup protesters, who incidentally had called for massive demonstrations across Egypt to take place on the same day in their call to reinstate Morsi, activate the constitution, and restore the parliament.

Legal experts were perplexed by Sisi's request since the army did not need a mandate to fight terrorism. That was part of its mission anyway. Even if a popular mandate was needed to crackdown on the opposition in the name of fighting terrorism, such an appeal should be made by the interim president or prime minister, not the military leader of the country. It was another unmistaken sign of who is actually in charge.

In his attempt to justify and rationalize the coup, Gen. Sisi told the public during his speech that he had been loyal to the deposed president and had done everything in his power to counsel him to compromise with the opposition. As evidence he stated that all his attempts were witnessed by former presidential candidate Muhammad Salim Al-Awwa, Ahmad Fahmy, the president of the upper house of parliament, and Morsi's Prime Minister, Hisham Qandil. Within 24 hours, all three figures denied his assertions.

License to Kill

By July 26, both pro- and anti-coup demonstrators were mobilizing in the streets. In response to Sisi's plea, the former mainly gathered around Tahrir Square, the Presidential palace, and a few other places around the country such as Alexandria. But as I discussed in an earlier article, Tahrir Square could not hold more than half a million demonstrators. Despite their unverified claims to the contrary, pro-Sisi crowds could not have exceeded one million nationwide. On the other hand, the anti-coup demonstrators assembled in 35 different locations in 25 provinces across the nation with some estimating the crowd to number 5-7 million. 

Yet both sides exaggerated their numbers as the pro-coup declared their number to be over 30 million while the anti-coup claimed 40 million. Since June 30, the opposition has insisted on using the figure of 33 million in order to beat the highest turn out of 32 million voters during the parliamentary elections won by the MB-affiliated party in early 2012. Such an improbable figure would mean that two-thirds of the Egyptian adult population was in the street.

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Esam Al-Amin is a regular contributor for a number of websites.

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