Every coup d'etat in history begins with a military General announcing the overthrow and arrest of the country's leader, the suspension of the constitution, and the dissolution of the legislature. If people resist, it turns bloody. Egypt is no exception.
As the dust settles and the fog over the events unfolding across Egypt dissipates, the political scene becomes much clearer. Regardless of how one dresses the situation on the ground, the political and ideological battle that has been raging for over a year between the Islamist parties and their liberal and secular counterparts was decided because of a single decisive factor: military intervention by Egypt's generals on behalf of the latter.
As I argued before in several of my articles (as have others), there is no doubt that President Mohammad Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) committed political miscalculations and made numerous mistakes, especially by ignoring the demands of many of the revolutionary youth groups and abandoning their former opposition partners. They frequently behaved in a naive and arrogant manner. But in any civilized and democratic society, the price of incompetence or narcissism is exacted politically at the ballot box.
Elections and Obstructionism: Do Elections Matter?
To their frustration, the liberal and secular opposition failed time and again to win the trust of the people as the Egyptian electorate exercised its free will when tens of millions went to the polls six times in two years. After overthrowing the Mubarak regime a month earlier, they voted in March 2011 by 77 percent for a referendum, favored by the Islamists that charted the future political roadmap. Between November 2011 and January 2012, they voted for the Islamist parties with overwhelming majorities in the lower (73 percent) and upper (80 percent) houses of parliament. In June 2012, they elected, albeit narrowly, for the first time in their history, the civilian Muslim Brotherhood candidate as president in a free and fair election. Finally, last December the Egyptian people ratified by a 64 percent majority the country's new constitution. The next parliamentary elections were scheduled for this summer had not the Mubarak-appointed Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) intervened yet again and invalidated the new election laws.
From the standpoint of the MB and its Islamist allies the SCC played an obstructionist role throughout this process. To their consternation, in June 2012 the court dissolved the lower house of parliament within four months of its election on technical grounds. It was also aiming to dissolve the upper house of parliament as well as the Constitutional Constituent Assembly (CCA) -- the body charged with writing the new constitution -- days before it was to finish its work. This forced Morsi to intervene and issue his ill-fated constitutional decree on November 22, 2012, in order to protect the CCA from judicial nullification. In an attempt to force its collapse, all secular members of the CCA resigned en masse even though its formation and the parameters of the process were agreed upon in advance, as evidenced by an opposition member who announced it in April 2012.
However, Morsi's declaration proved to be a watershed moment that galvanized the opposition, which predictably accused him of an authoritarian power grab. In turn, Morsi argued that his decree was necessary to build the democratic institutions of the state that were being dismantled by the SCC one by one. Under intense public pressure he backtracked and cancelled the decree within three weeks, but only after he ensured that the new constitution would be put to a referendum.
After a vigorous public campaign by the opposition to reject the constitution, it was approved by the public by almost two to one. The next constitutional step would have been parliamentary elections within 60 days. But even though the election laws were similar to the laws agreed upon by all parties in the 2012 elections, the opposition complained that the laws favored the Islamist parties and threatened to boycott the elections. Within four months, the SCC twice rejected and halted the elections on technical grounds, thus further solidifying the perception in the eyes of the Islamists that the Mubarak-appointed court continues to thwart the country's budding democratic institutions.
Strange Bedfellows: The Unholy Trinity of Gulf Sheikhdoms, the Fulool, and Egypt's Secular Opposition
On April 22, 2011, UAE Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed brought his intelligence and security chiefs to meet with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and his security officials to discuss the ramifications of the Arab Spring. Bin Zayed warned that unless the GCC countries developed a proactive policy to preempt the wave of popular uprisings sweeping the Arab World at the time, none of the region's monarchs would survive. Three weeks later in an emergency summit meeting in Riyadh he delivered the same message to all the GCC heads of state. While Qatar remained indifferent to his message, the other five countries were receptive. Bin Zayed and Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, the Saudi intelligence chief, were tasked with submitting an effective plan to counter the Arab Spring phenomenon in the region. Subsequently, King Abdullah solicited and received the help of King Abdullah II of Jordan to join this effort while Qatar was excluded from all future meetings.
For decades, the UAE had been very close to Mubarak and his cronies. Billions of dollars of ill-gotten fortunes looted from the country were deposited in banks in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. After the overthrow of Mubarak, dozens of security officials and corrupt businessmen quietly left Egypt and relocated to the UAE. When Mubarak's last Prime Minister, Ahmad Shafiq lost the presidential elections to Morsi in June 2012, he also moved to the UAE. By the fall of 2012, it became evident that the UAE hosted a web of individuals who were plotting the overthrow of Morsi and the MB.
Within a few weeks of the formation of the new government, Shafiq supporter and spokesman for his political party Mohammad Abu Hamid, announced on August 21, 2012, 15 demands culminating in the goal of toppling the "Muslim Brotherhood or Ikhwan Government." He warned against the "ikhwanization" of the state, i.e., the appointments of MB members in crucial state positions, and blamed them for the lack of basic services to the public. Abu Hamid also called for subsequent mass protests in Tahrir Square as he accused Morsi of power grab, dictatorship, and judicial interference, long before the president issued his hapless constitutional decree three months later. He further demanded the banning of the MB and its political affiliate, as well as the arrest of its leaders, who he accused of treason. All of his demands would subsequently become the talking points of every opposition party and anti-Morsi media outlet.
Even though Morsi took the reins of powers in the country and was able to force the retirement of the most senior army generals in early August, his authority was thin. Instead of purging the most entrenched elements of Mubarak's centers of power, namely, the army, the intelligence services, the security apparatus, and the police, he naively thought that he could appease them. He was lulled into believing that he had earned their loyalty. In fact, these agencies, along with the judiciary, the public and private secular media outlets, as well as most of the bureaucracy, represented the interests of the "deep state," a decades-old web of corruption and special interests entrenched within the state's institutions.
One way corruption proliferated during the days of Mubarak was by appeasing each critical segment in society, such as the judiciary or the police, at times through the distribution of vast parcels of land at hugely discounted prices to their constituents, who in turn sold them to the public for millions of pounds. For example, when Shafiq was in charge of the Military Pilots Association in the 1990s, he sold Mubarak's sons over 40,000 acres of prime land in the Nile Delta for a dollar per acre, while the actual value for each acre was in the tens of thousands. This sale was subsequently called the "Scandal of the Lands of the Pilots" after it was exposed last year, and where Shafiq was charged with embezzlement and public corruption in connection with the scandal. But despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the corrupt judicial system earlier this year absolved Shafiq of any wrongdoing.
Slowly but surely remnants of the Mubarak regime and related corrupt businessmen, better known as the fulool, regrouped and coalesced around the elements of the deep state. Meanwhile, the secular opposition, which was in disarray, formed for the first time a united movement called the National Salvation Front (NSF) after Morsi issued his decree in late November. It included most of the failed presidential candidates and several dozen secular parties, which combined did not receive more than twenty five percent in the parliamentary elections. Its leaders included Amr Moussa, Hamdein Sabbahi, Elsayed AlBadawi, Mohammad Abul Ghar, and billionaire Naguib Sawiris. The NSF chose former IAEA head, Mohammed ElBaradei, to be its spokesperson.
In November 2012, Prince Bandar presented two detailed plans to the Americans through the CIA. Plan A was a quick plot to topple Morsi in early December while Plan B was a long term plan that involved two tracks. One track was a series of destabilizing protests that would culminate in Morsi's ouster, while another track included uniting the opposition to form one coalition to defeat the MB at the polls if the first track failed. While the CIA was fully aware of the plan it neither endorsed nor objected to it because the Obama administration, playing both sides, was also pursuing dialogue with the Morsi government.