So…Egypt just experienced a coup d’état. Well, the Egyptian ambassador to the U.S. says it is not really a coup and that the military does not plan to take or maintain political power. But they nonetheless deposed a leader who had been democratically elected (although Egyptians have been protesting his presidency and many spoke in favor of the military removing him. There are currently celebrations in the streets of Cairo.) So things are a bit complicated there at the moment, but we’ll try to break it down.
Egypt was one of the countries affected by the Arab Spring, a series of protests and pro-democracy demonstrations that swept across parts of North Africa and the Middle East.
President Hosni Mubarak had ruled Egypt since 1981. Under his leadership, the country was kept under a constant state of emergency, which was used to quash dissent and consolidate Mubarak’s power. His was the only legal political party. The state of emergency meant that police powers were enhanced, censorship was legalized, and the government could imprison people indefinitely without warrant or trial.
The West saw Mubarak as a fairly stabilizing force in an unstable region, however, so despite his authoritarianism he was widely supported and viewed as an ally by Western powers, especially the U.S.
In the 2000s, there began to be talk of Mubarak’s son succeeding him. People were not very into the idea.
In January 2011, shortly after Arab Spring protests began in Tunisia, Egyptians also took to the streets, most significantly in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. By mid-February, Mubarak had resigned. A brief period of military leadership followed, and then elections were held in June 2012. Mohamed Morsi, a member of the Islamist party the Muslim Brotherhood, was elected to the Presidency.
Egypt Under Morsi
So that all seemed well and good. An elected leader after thirty years under repressive single-party rule certainly seems like a step in the right direction.
However, then Morsi started getting up to some shenanigans, such as giving himself the right to make laws without judicial review. While that law was later annulled, it set the stage for opposition to Morsi.
The constitution he implemented was unpopular, and critics said it gave too much power to Islamists.
In addition, the country’s economic crisis has worsened under Morsi, instead of improving, fueling further discontent. And sectarian violence has also been a recurring problem.
New Protests and Morsi’s Removal
These latest protests began just four days ago, but they grew very quickly. Two days ago, the military gave Morsi an ultimatum: he had 48 hours to resolve the crisis (I haven’t yet found good articles explaining what would have constituted resolving the crisis, so if anyone else has, please post them in the comments) or to step down. The 48 hours passed, and the military ousted Morsi.
The unpopular constitution has been suspended, and the chief justice of Egypt’s constitutional court, Adly Mansour, has been named as the country’s interim leader until new elections are held.
TV stations owned by the Muslim Brotherhood have gone off air, and there are reports that high-ranking members of the organization have been arrested. It’s not clear to me at the moment what the charges are. There are arrest warrants out for 300 members of the Brotherhood. So far, Morsi’s whereabouts remain unknown, although there are reports that he is under house arrest.
Also very disturbing is the fact that Al Jazeera’s offices were raided and its broadcast taken off the air. So far, it appears that five Al Jazeera staff members have been detained. Again, I’m not sure what the charges against them are, but they were reportedly prevented from broadcasting news about a pro-Morsi rally.
While many are celebrating Morsi’s removal, there have been violent clashes between his supporters and those who support the coup. The military has deployed to respond to violence in Cairo and Suez (the site of a major canal important to global trade.)
Obviously, President Obama came out with a statement urging the military to quickly cede power to a democratic, civilian government. One important thing to note is that he stopped short of calling the military’s removal of Morsi a coup, a designation that would have required, by law, that the U.S. cease military aid to Egypt. However, the U.S. does has a long history of applying its own rules about aid to foreign leaders on the basis of respect for human rights and democracy pretty selectively.
And remember, for thirty years the U.S. supported Mubarak. So what happens there will be an important thing to watch as events unfold.