As much as I wanted to cheer the ousting of President Morsi I could not. Not because I support Muslim Brotherhood – on the contrary, I despise their Islamist agenda – but because I could instinctively feel that the overthrow of the first freely elected government of Egypt would be the beginning of the end of Egypt’s social cohesion and democratic progress. The reason for this is that after the turmoil of the January 2011 revolution, there was thin, but real societal consensus on democracy as the new political system after Mubarak’s decade-long authoritarian rule. Even reactionary forces like the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists joined in the democratic election process (mostly for tactical reasons) rather than using force as a means of acquiring political power.
Such societal consensus is of existential importance since no country can function when there is widespread dispute about which “political game” (e.g. democracy, monarchy, dictatorship) should be played. Imagine two groups coming together to play a game, let’s say soccer or rugby. They must settle on one game before the act, otherwise one side will adhere to the rules of soccer, the other one to those of rugby and there will be clashes and chaos and most importantly it will be impossible to determine a winner. Similarly, a society needs a common ground and set of rules that is widely respected by political factions for a civilized process of power struggle.
After the overthrow of Morsi, democracy itself as “political game” in Egypt has been delegitimized. The Muslim Brotherhood supporters feel it lost all credibility as that their votes have been nullified and their political leaders persecuted and killed. The liberals feel that the Muslim Brotherhood is – in its very nature – undemocratic and violent as shown by Morsi’s November decrees or the cruel persecution of Coptic Christians. If we are completely honest, all sides in Egypt have abandoned democracy in one way or another by trying to 1) solidify power beyond judiciary control, 2) forcibly overthrow an elected government and 3) using excessive violence against political opponents.
Now, the Muslim Brotherhood is being pushed out of the regular political landscape by the violent crackdown of the military. However, the MB has the support of 1/5 – 1/4 of the Egyptian population and excluding such a large faction (or making them feel excluded) must unavoidably lead to civil conflict. Some people will claim there was never a “real” agreement on which “political game” to play in Egypt and I cannot argue with this. Perhaps it was only a matter of time until the deep divisions between the Egyptian people are exposed: The liberals strive for democracy while the ultra-religious insist on theocracy and some long for authoritarian rule as exercised by Mubarak – who has coincidentally been released from prison this week.
Either way, the societal consensus (however thin it was after the January 2011 revolution) has broken down – which is the worst of all scenarios, if you ask me. For this reason alone, I wished the liberal-secular protesters had preserved calmness and prudence of resisting and controlling the Muslim Brotherhood – from the “opposition benches”. I realize this would have been a challenging task but it would have shown true stamina and commitment to democracy by respecting the election result, yet still holding the government to account whenever it is overstepping the line. The mass protests in November 2012 proved that it is possible – people power led to the annulment of Morsi’s decree.
Now, I’m afraid Egyptian society is too divided to agree to return to democracy – Muslim Brotherhood followers may ask “Who guarantees, if the MB wins again, that the election result will be respected this time?” and liberals may respond “Who guarantees, that they won’t overstep their democratic powers?”. In the past the answer to that might have been “the military”, but they have obviously long abandoned their role as “referees” and taken an active stance in the “political game” by ousting Morsi and persecuting, incarcerating and murdering Muslim Brotherhood followers. When no societal agreement in Egypt can be reached, the only alternative is anarchy/ civil war and at some points Cairo’s streets have very much looked like a war zone. However, if we can be sure of one thing, then it is that the military will by all means try to put a lid on the violence – if alone for their vested interests in the economy (they control between 15 – 40%). The default game now is a military-imposed system like dictatorship or pseudo-democracy. Sadly, this is the future that awaits Egyptian people. The Revolution will move them in a circle to the starting point.