Notes From the Margins…

A coup is a coup is a coup

  • July 05, 2013
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I have no problem with popular movements bringing down authoritarian governments seeking to ram IMF austerity programs down the throats of their populations, regardless of whether these governments are democratically elected or not.     Nor do I have much sympathy with the Muslim Brotherhood’s reactionary politics and the idea that ‘ Islam is the solution’.

So on one hand I celebrate what millions have Egyptians have done, in bringing a premature end to Muhammed Morsi’s failed IMF/Islam experiment, and I wish that we had a popular movement over here that was capable of mobilisations of such a scale – or indeed on any scale at all.

Nevertheless the fact that it took the army to finish the job is a huge negative, with all kinds of potentially disastrous repercussions.   Call it a ‘soft coup’ or a popular coup or what you will, but a popular movement that needs the armed forces to do its work for it is likely to find itself led into places that it never intended to go.

After all, we are talking about an army that has ruled Egypt either overtly or covertly for most of its post-independence period, that has worked hand-in-glove with the United States ever since Sadat, which has developed its own form of military capitalism in the process, and which has done everything it could to cling onto (real) power since Mubarak was brought down.

Yes I know that the Egyptian army is not a monolithic bloc, and that there are differences of opinion between the higher command, and lower ranking officers and soldiers.       But I fear that this coup will entrench the power of the military over Egyptian society.         The army says that it is responding to the demands of the Egyptian people, and that it has no intention of holding onto power.

Well maybe, but I suspect that it is using the anti-Morsi movement to give itself a more permanent mandate that it doesn’t deserve,     and paving the way for a new era of military rule that may end up serving the interests of the IMF and the United States more effectively than Morsi could.

And whatever you think of the Muslim Brotherhood, they represent and have always represented a substantial section of Egyptian society, and they should not be dealt with by witch hunts, mass round-ups, beatings and trumped-up trials for ‘treason’ and ‘insulting the judiciary.’

Morsi might be a jerk, and he might be authoritarian, but he and his party were democratically-elected and participated in the democratic process.     That doesn’t mean that his government shouldn’t have been challenged in the streets – popular movements needn’t be constrained by the formal trappings of democratic politics.

But political ineptitude, authoritarianism and reactionary social politics are no justification for witchhunts and persecution.   If Morsi and his colleages have committed crimes – and not trumped-crimes invented by the military – then let them go on trial for them.

But they should not be hunted down en masse.       By allowing such things to happen the movement that brought him down will confirm to the Muslim Brotherhood – and to movements like it in other countries – that participation in democratic politics is pointless.

That is the route to civil war, Algeria-style,   and new states of emergency that will further entrench the military’s position.     Of course this may never happen.     It remains to be seen whether Morsi’s supporters have the will – or the power – to take the route of the FIS in Algeria.     And it may also be true that the popular movement that brought Morsi down will not allow the military to take his place.

But the history of Egypt – and many other countries – demonstrates that once you invite the army into your neighborhood to do your political heavy lifting,   it rarely wants to leave, no matter how politely you ask it to.



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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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