The political situation in Egypt remains volatile following the July 3 military overthrow of elected President Mohamed Morsi.
A July 19 clash between Morsi supporters and opponents left at least three people dead.
Aggressive military and police crackdowns against pro-Morsi demonstrators were also reported in the days prior to those deaths. Amnesty International stated that on the day of Morsi’s deposition, the Egyptian military opened fire on a pro-Morsi crowd that had gathered in Cairo. One person was killed as a result.
Interim Egyptian President Adly Mansour has, in recent days, made his first public address to Egyptians.
“We are going through a critical stage and some of us want to move towards chaos and we want to move towards stability. Some want a bloody path, while we are hoping to settle a better quality of life and to guarantee human rights. I would like to reaffirm to you my commitment to restore security and stability in the country,” said Mansour in a taped television message, which aired on July 18.
Before moving into the position of interim president, Mansour was head of the Supreme Constitutional Court – a seat he only held for two days. Morsi appointed him to that position.
Since the overthrow, the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Morsi is a member, has rejected the possibility of opening a dialogue with the Egyptian government. The Muslim Brotherhood characterizes Morsi’s removal from power as a coup, and condemns the heavy-handed actions of the government against protestors.
Tami Jacoby, professor of political studies at the University of Manitoba, told the Manitoban that an inability to govern effectively contributed to Morsi’s ousting.
“I think the real problem was that it was an economic and security catastrophe [ . . . ] it was the economy and the politics together. The crushing unemployment. The lack of freedoms and opportunities,” said Jacoby.
She also noted, however, that while the Muslim Brotherhood was unable to consolidate their political power, they still enjoy the support of many Egyptians.
“They have deep roots. They just didn’t succeed politically at this time – they weren’t able to run the country effectively,” said Jacoby.
“They didn’t have the support of the political apparatus. I think they still have their grassroots support throughout the country.”
A COUP? THE CENTRAL ROLE OF THE MILITARY
Mina Shenouda, an Egyptian graduate student in engineering at the University of Manitoba who worked and was educated in Cairo, insists that the military’s removal of Morsi stemmed from popular outrage at the regime’s inability to provide basic resources and meet its election promises.
“The way he ruled in one whole year proved to be a distressing year for Egyptians. There wasn’t security as he promised. There was not fulfillment of any of the promises he pledged when he came into the presidency. There is no gasoline. There is no electricity. There is no water. And above all, there are massacres taking place in the streets,” said Shenouda.
While he acknowledges the role of the military in toppling Morsi, Shenouda asserts that the actions of the military do not constitute a coup. He helped organize a recent demonstration at the Forks in downtown Winnipeg in an attempt to disseminate this message.
Participants at the rally carried Egyptian flags, as well as signs emblazoned with the words “Not a coup: the civilians made a revolution and the military responded.”
“A coup, according to what we have seen before, is an eruption from the military against the system or against the regime. The chief leader of the army declares himself as the new president. For example, what happened in Pakistan. In Egypt, things are different,” said Shenouda in an interview with the Manitoban.
“The army could never remain silent in this,” he continued. “It could not be named a coup because it was not launched first from the army. The chief of the army did not name himself the president.”
Jacoby agrees that characterizing Morsi’s expulsion as a coup is misleading, but acknowledges it does exhibit some of those features.
“If you believe the military is acting in the name of the people against an unpopular government, it doesn’t look like a coup,” said Jacoby.
“It does have elements of that because military members orchestrated it and arrested former Muslim Brotherhood members of the government,” she added.
From the first phase of the Egyptian revolution up to present day, the military has consistently played a central role in the country’s politics.
Maged Nashat, a Cairo resident who spoke recently with the Manitoban, predicts that the army will continue to hold a position of significant power.
“I think Egypt is heading towards the Turkish model, where the Turkish military intervenes to resolve severe political tensions in the country. The role of the Egyptian army has been that of a neutral player,” said Nashat.
Shenouda, who served in the Egyptian military, is confident that the army can play a positive role in the lives of Egyptians.
“One of the perfect messages of the army in any country is to protect the security and the legality of the constitution,” said Shenouda. “The army is not dreaming of power. The army cares about the security of the Egyptians themselves.”
CONSTITUTION WILL BE REVISED
It remains to be seen what interim President Adly Mansour will bring to the table for Egyptians. The constitution, which was suspended during the effort to remove Morsi, is currently being modified by a committee of 10 constitutional law experts appointed by Mansour. That small committee will then present their recommendations to a larger panel.
Professor Jacoby explained that while it is important for Egypt to adopt a constitution that provides equal rights to all citizens, it would not guarantee a peaceful and stable future for the country.
“It certainly guides politics and sets out the rules, but if a government can simply override [the constitution] whenever it wants, it is not that meaningful. It is not the most important thing. The most important thing is real power sharing – bridging wide divides.”
“The divisions that have come about are really fundamental. There are such different belief systems,” continued Jacoby. “The more violence they commit against each other, the more entrenched those divisions will become.”
With files from Norbert Mibirung