Egypt’s instability undermining the revolution

Lt. Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, Egypt’s interim leader

Now that Mohammed Morsi has been deposed, it is worth considering the multiple problems besetting Egypt, and how they are going to influence Egypt’s recovery – or lack of it – and how they will affect the wider region.

First, in some background analysis, Stratfor discusses Egypt’s atypical coup:

A debate is underway in Egypt on whether the move to oust President Mohammed Morsi is tantamount to a military coup. Considering that the Egyptian army is forcibly removing a democratically elected president in the wake of nation-wide unrest, the military intervention is indeed a coup. However, it differs from other coups in that direct military rule will not be imposed.


Herein lies the problem of the Egyptian military, which has been the mainstay of the regime since the founding of the modern republic in 1952. For most of its history, especially since after the end of the 1967 war, Egypt’s military has never directly governed the country; rather, it ruled from behind the scenes, except for the year when the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces ruled. Until the fall of Mubarak, this was achieved by means of single-party rule where the now-disbanded National Democratic Party administered at the behest of the military. The destruction of the National Democratic Party was a major dilemma for the military, which no longer had a civilian partner. This was further complicated by the onset of a multi-party era.


Morsi’s government failed to do that. His focus on consolidating power for his group is what triggered the current massive public backlash. As a result, the army is once again without a civilian partner. There are no alternatives to the Muslim Brotherhood because the opposition is a large protest movement without any coherent core. However, it is notable that the impetus for these protests was the liberal and secular opposition, who for the first time demonstrated an ability to establish a united front. It is unclear whether the opposition will coalesce and whether Tamarod’s political wing, June 30 Front, represents a political alternative to the Brotherhood’s established social networks in the country. Mohammed ElBaradei’s appointment as the negotiator for much of the opposition could be a first step toward a political entity besides the Brotherhood that could wield civilian power.


Morsi’s downfall shows that the army’s decades-long strategy of ruling without governing is proving increasingly difficult to impose. It cannot impose military rule because doing so would only aggravate tensions. It also shows that the country needs a coalition government. Such a government would be extremely difficult to create. Even though Egypt is constrained by the different factions and pressures in the country, the military remains the ultimate source of power in the country.

Another Stratfor article identifies the problems undermining Egypt’s stability:

Underlying the question of what political structure will emerge from this week’s crisis, the fundamental fact is that Egypt is running out of money. Dwindling foreign reserves point to a negative balance of payments that is sapping central bank resources. At the same time, Egypt’s reliance on foreign supplies of fuel and wheat is only growing. Egyptian petroleum production peaked in 1996 and the country first became a net importer in 2007.


The second major challenge stems from Egypt’s extreme vulnerability to international food markets.


In fact, although Egypt is a vast country geographically, most of it is uninhabitable desert. Population growth is accelerating in Egypt’s densely packed urban centers, threatening to worsen these underlying challenges. Population growth in 2012 hit its highest levels since 1991, reaching 32 births per 1,000 people and bringing the country’s population to 84 million, according to initial government estimates. This represents an increase of 50 percent from 1990,…


Ousted Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak faced similar problems, and growing poverty and joblessness are arguably among the root causes of the uprising in 2011 that unseated him. The wave of protests that challenged Morsi, who became the first democratically elected president in the country’s history, should be understood as a continuation of this swelling trend.

In the light of these problematic findings, it becomes clear why Israel is worried that the US might cut off aid to Egypt in protest at the ouster of the democratically-elected Morsi.

Israel is concerned that the Obama administration will suspend the $1.3 billion annual military aid to Egypt following the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi, and that suspension of aid could jeopardize the Israel-Egypt peace treaty. Israel may ask the US to find a way to continue the aid program, even though US law bans financial aid to regimes that seized power in a coup, US sources told “Globes” yesterday.The sources familiar with the complicated three-way US-Egyptian-Israeli relationship said that keeping the Israel-Egypt peace treaty was one of the pillars of the Morsi government. The US Congress, which controls the purse strings, was suspicious, and even hostile, to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government. Its agreement, albeit with gritted teeth, to keep the peace treaty with Israel, was one of the main reasons why the pro-Israeli Congress agreed to continue aid to Egypt after the fall of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011.


Morsi’s ouster puts Obama in a bind: should the US, which sees itself as the world’s leading democracy, support democracy as an institution and process, or a democratically elected leader who abused the process to seize dictatorial power and trample his political opponents? Should the democratic process trump everything else, including its self-destruction?

This dilemma forces the White House to ask the following question: does Morsi’s ouster reflect the will of the people, and is therefore a democratic act, which excuses his ouster by the military, which was carrying out the people’s will? Morsi won 52% of the vote in legitimate elections a year ago. Is it conceivable that Obama’s opponents would march on Washington and demand that the US Army oust him because they do not like his governmental decisions?

In other words, was Morsi ousted in a military coup, or in a popular revolution? The difference will not just determine the Obama administration’s support of the interim government and its successor, but the continuation of US military aid to Egypt.


Commentators say that the Obama administration will find it difficult to keep the aid program to Egypt following Morsi’s ouster, because of the explicit provisions of the law. The law requires the suspension of US military aid to allied countries if there is evidence that the military ousted a democratically elected government. The question of how the White House will define Morsi’s ouster – military coup or popular uprising – is therefore critical.

Honest Reporting however brings us a different point of view:

US law requires the suspension of foreign aid to any country that suffers a military coup. But since that’s probably not in America’s interests with Egypt, the Washington Post says the White House will avoid the C-word, and perhaps make some symbolic aid cuts. It’s a very sensitive issue, and according to Globes, Israel worries that a suspension of aid will jeopardize the Israel-Egypt peace treaty.

Looking at the wider picture, Meir Javendafar is of the opinion that toppling Morsi was a mistake:

The Egyptian army toppling Morsi could be one of the biggest mistakes made in Egypt’s post 2011 revolution history.   During his term as president, Morsi has made a lot of mistakes. There is no doubt about that. He even tried to challenge Egypt’s newly found democracy by giving himself more power.


My friend Daniel Brumberg Associate Professor and Co-Director of the MA in Democracy & Governance Studies at Georgetown University and Senior Program Officer, Center for Conflict Management at the US Institute of Peace put it very succinctly on his Facebook page:

If you want to once and for all discredit Authoritarian Islamism, then defeat it at the polls. A military intervention, even one backed by the street, will never achieve the lasting impact of an electoral defeat, and will always leave the impression that those backing the intervention fear that they cannot win an election. Beware the boomerang!

I agree with Dan. Morsi is bad, but toppling him by force, especially through the army could have reverberations around Egypt and perhaps the region for many decades.


Lets not forget that Morsi is close to the Muslim Brotherhood. If they are driven from power through the barrel of the gun instead of through votes at the ballot box, then they could turn to the gun to try to reclaim their lost position. They could adopt the slogan “What was taken away from us by force can only be returned to us by force“.

That could be destabilizing for Egypt and the region. It could also drive Islamists away from participating in the democratic process in other places in the Middle East, thus radicalizing them even more.


Also, we all want democracy for Egypt, don’t we? So since when toppling democratically elected leaders by force is democratic?

In other words, we must ask the question: would toppling Morsi by force turn Egypt of 2013 into Algeria of 1992 ?

[…] But all I can say is that in my opinion you can’t fix what is a democratic issue through the barrel of the gun. Morsi was elected. He was brought to power through the ballot box, and he must be removed the same way, if stable democracy is what we want.

I very much admire Mr. Javendafar’s expertise and research, but I think he is being a tad naive and optimistic in this case. Of course I agree with him in principle but I have strong doubts that Morsi was going to allow himself to be voted out power democratically. Right or wrong, the Egyptian people felt this was the only option.

Who will be able to inculcate into their society the real values of democracy?

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3 Responses to Egypt’s instability undermining the revolution

  1. ealha3 says:

    Keep you eye on the ball. These are religious versus secular wars. Democracy is possible with secular institutions, it is anathema to Islam. Ultimately, the Moslem Brotherhood will succeed with its majority and better organization and it will impose its tyranny irrespective of the economic or international consequences. Ultimately, as a result we will witness tits inevitable demise to that of a failed state. Other Islamic states will follow and they will devour each other internally and externally as rival religious factions attempt to extend their hegemony, and their members prove their martyrdom through terror and self sacrifice. It serves no interest, either for Israel, the US or the rest of the civilized western international community to accelerate Islam’s confrontation by eliminating or reducing its internal and external problems so that it can concentrate on attacking the infidel. Allow the Islamic attempt at political tyranny to meet its own failure, e.g., Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, North Africa, etc., and thereafter permitting the inevitable successful and enduring rise of secular institutions – including democracy.

  2. Andrea says:

    With dissolved parlament and no clear constitutional balance of power among President, Government and Parlament there were not so many chanches to dismiss Morsi “democratically”.
    Yet the worse could be coming – after all Morsi MB were not so effectivly dangerous (for Israel) when in power. I mean that their threat was less harmful than Hezbollah or similar. Now outvoted and with no political responsabilities it could be worse. I think it was wise asking them to join a coalition government as Mansour did. You must keep your enemy close to you – not too much but always within reach, this is how it works in the Mediterranean.
    Arabs and democracy : I am one of the few following B. Lewis saying that Islam per se is not contradiction with “democracy” if we take this conscept as government of majority. Sunni religion is based upon UMMA the community of belivers and not upon a Pope, a Bishop or Queen.
    The problem is not the ruling of majority but respect for the minority and this is lacking today.
    I can accept that most of Iranians supported Khomeiny or most of Syrian supported Assad – the point is that each minority was persecuted with no possibilty to recall any governement.

    • anneinpt says:

      I agree with your assessment Andrea. Morsi and the MB might be more dangerous to Israel outside rather than inside the government. But there’s not much that Israel can do about this.

      Also, I like Lewis’ concept of Arab democracy being faulty because they do not allow the minority to be represented.

      Interesting times for all of us.

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