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The Muslim Brotherhood had sworn not to seek the Egyptian presidency. Having broken this promise, they said they would bring “bread, liberty and social justice”. But under their rule, insecurity and poverty increased. So the people took to the streets again, insisting that President Mohammed Morsi must go (see Shadow of the army over Egypt’s revolution). This is how some revolutions start. And when they are successful, they are celebrated for centuries without much attention to whether they were spontaneous, or to the legal grounds for their unleashing. History is not a lesson in law.
When Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship ended, it would have been unwise to imagine that the first elections would not be affected by the prolonged stranglehold he had exerted over political life and open debate. Voters in these circumstances often confirm the status of the most highly structured social or institutional forces (leading families, the army, the original ruling party) or of organised groups that have built up clandestine networks to escape repression (the Muslim Brotherhood). Democracy cannot be achieved in the course of a single election.
Broken promises, leaders elected by narrow margins only to be confronted by disenchanted or angry people, mass demonstrations organised by a miscellaneous collection of protesters: other countries besides Egypt have experienced situations like this in recent years — though without the army taking over, holding the head of state without trial and murdering militants. Otherwise, it would be known as a coup.
Western countries are not using that term. As self-proclaimed arbiters of diplomatic nuances, they seem to think that not every military putsch — in Mali, Honduras or Egypt — is equally objectionable. The United States initially supported the Muslim Brotherhood but then continued to give military support to Cairo when Morsi was “deposed” by the army. Washington’s dream ticket would have been a conservative alliance between the army and Brotherhood, but it was not to be. To the delight of those nostalgic for the old regime, pro-Nasser nationalists, Egyptian neoliberals, Salafists, the secular left and the Saudi monarchy. Some of them are bound to be disappointed.
Even though Egypt is bankrupt, the conflict between the military and the Islamists has very little to do with the economic and social choices facing the country, largely unchanged since Mubarak fell. But whether it ends in elections or a coup, what’s the use of a revolution that doesn’t change anything in those key areas? The new leaders put financial aid ($12bn) from the Gulf states, notably reactionary Saudi Arabia (1), before saving the country. If that option is confirmed, the Egyptians will take to the streets again, whatever the lawyers may have to say.
SERGE HALIMI is director of Le Monde Diplomatique. He has written several books, including one on the French press, Les nouveaux chiens de garde and another on the French left in the 20th century – Quand la gauche essayait – both are fine works. He can be reached at Serge.Halimi@monde-diplomatique.fr
This article appears in the excellent Le Monde Diplomatique, whose English language edition can be found at mondediplo.com. This full text appears by agreement with Le Monde Diplomatique. CounterPunch features two or three articles from LMD every month.