In the last week of June, 2013, protests against former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi numbered into the millions demanding that he step down from office. Since his election in 2011, Morsi has slowly been attempting to create an Islamic state, resembling that of Saudi Arabia or Iran, in stark contrast to what the people of Egypt desire. Under the regime of Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian people were not subject to Sharia law, and kept the peace treaty with its neighbor Israel. The protests in early 2011 were brought on due to suppression of freedom of speech, high unemployment, inflated food prices, low wages, and government corruption among other reasons. After 18 days of demonstrations, Mubarak finally resigned.
On June 24, 2012, it was declared by the election commission that Mohamed Morsi had won the majority vote, making him the first democratically elected president of Egypt. In November, 2012 Morsi granted himself temporary unlimited powers to “protect” the nation, and exemption from any judicial review of his power. Hundreds of thousands started to protest this power grab by Morsi, and the Islamist-backed Constitution he attempted to draft through referendum. These actions by the president pushed the Egyptian people to the edge, and they had enough.
With the support of the Egyptian military, and ultimatum was given to Morsi. Morsi rejected the ultimatum, and was officially removed from power by the Egyptian military; the chief justice from the Supreme Constitutional Court was selected as the interim president. What remains the situation now is to assess the aftermath of this action by the military, and the rioting still going on in the streets in Egypt.
Most mainstream sources will say that a military coup ousted Morsi. Is this really an accurate statement? The cultural definition from dictionary.com reads that a military coup is “A quick and decisive seizure of governmental power by a strong military or political group. In contrast to a revolution, a coup d’état, or coup, does not involve a mass uprising. Rather, in the typical coup, a small group of politicians or generals arrests the incumbent leaders, seizes the national radio and television services, and proclaims itself in power. Coup d’état is French for “stroke of the state” or “blow to the government.”
A typical military coup example is seen in the movie Valkyrie. Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (portrayed by Tom Cruise) and a few other German military leaders attempted an assassination on Adolf Hitler in July, 1944. The plan was to assassinate Hitler, initiate Operation Valkyrie (plan to restore order in the case of a breakdown), and overthrow the Nazi regime. Ultimately the plot failed and its leaders were executed. Looking at this example, there as a small group of military leaders, they attempted to take out incumbent leaders (in this case, assassination), overthrow the regime, and place their own leaders. The military overall still supported the Nazis, and this small group led by von Stauffenberg did not represent any mass demonstrations in Germany. The Valkyrie example can be accurately described as a coup.
Let’s take in several factors of the Egyptian situation to determine if this was really a typical coup.
Was there a mass uprising? Simply looking at the numbers of people demanding Morsi’s resignation, it is obvious that there was a mass uprising.
Was there a small group of politicians or generals? Absolutely not. The Egyptian military, in large part, represents the will of the Egyptian majority. In this case, the large masses demanded Morsi’s removal because they did not want the kind of state that Morsi wanted to create. The military recognized this, and decided the will of the people was more important than keeping the elected leader. There are still a large number of people that are pro-Morsi and Muslim Brotherhood, but the vast majority of the Egyptian people do not want an Islamic state.
Did this group of politicians or generals (in this case, the military overall) declare that it was taking power? Again, simply look at what the Egyptian military did after they officially announced Morsi’s removal, we can see that they did not. The chief justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court was placed as the interim president. Was this a power grab by a small group? No, it was not. Did this group place themselves in power? No, they did not. The Egyptian military acted in such a way that they believed to be in the best interests of the desire of its people.
Did the coup take control of the media? Yes and no. When Morsi was taken into custody and removed from office, the Egyptian military established a code of ethics for media covering the story. However, they had most pro-Morsi propaganda stations shut down. Technically speaking, the military took over a portion of the media. The motive behind this action is what should be examined. Was it to silence the opposition of the military’s views, or to shut down propaganda that the people had no desire to have?
Looking at the situation, the situation in Egypt really should not be officially described as a coup. Yes, there are a few aspects of a coup takeover in the series of events, but in large part, there has been no sign that Egyptian military wants control over the government; all they have done so far is take the action that the large majority of Egyptians have demanded.
Of course there would be far-reaching implications if the ousting of Morsi was officially described as a coup. According to U.S. foreign policy, if any nation that receives military aid is taken over by a military coup, all military aid must be ceased due to the instability that such an event creates. The people who come into power are unknown, and their motives are often unknown. Such a classification has not been given by Washington, nor should be, as this situation really does not qualify as a coup takeover.
The situation in Egypt is far from over. Just a few days after Morsi’s ousting, pro-Morsi protesters began to clash with the anti-Morsi crowd in the streets. As of July 5, about 30 have been killed, with hundreds injured. The crowds clashed with fist fights, gunfire, and Molotov cocktails. The resolution to the situation will determine if Egypt will remain a secular state, or if the Muslim Brotherhood will prevail and continue its attempts to create an Islamic state.
Follow Seth Connell on Twitter @theRealConnells.