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Egypt: To coup or not to coup

Imagine this scenario. It’s August 2011 and Anna Hazare is sitting on his second fast at Ramlila Maidan, New Delhi to demand the enactment of Jan Lokpal (anti-corruption law drafted by Team Anna). From all the TV channels, newspapers and magazines one could get the sense that millions are on the street supporting this movement and harbouring anti-UPA feelings. In such a scenario, if the Army Chief first warns and then deposes the democratically elected UPA government, would it be anyway justified? The answer is definitely no, even though there are thousands of jingoist existing around us, who would support any Army takeover of a perceptible corrupt government.
Now take the case of the just happened Egyptian coup and we will have to agree that we are at the crossroads of hypocrisy. There is a just and moral question involved over the support of so many people to this coup. Yes, that’s because in general we never think of popular protests changing the fundamental principles of democracy to this extent. If that was the case, then be it Occupy Wall Street, or the massive anti-war protests during Iraq invasion when millions of people came on the streets of London or New York, we should be at ease with the idea of a military takeover.

But we never were and we never will be in such cases. So what’s special with Egypt this time then? Is it just because, it was supposedly a clash between the secularists versus the Islamists there?
To be candid, if given a choice, I would definitely align myself with people who would like to keep
religion away from the affairs of the state. I felt strongly against the increasing politicisation of religion by Muslim Brotherhood and President Morsi. But with the recent coup, there are enough reasons to be concerned also.

The obvious question at this moment is, what after Morsi? Many predict the emergence of more hardline Salafists to fill the vacuum. His now ousted National Security Advisor Essam Haddad has blatantly warned about the fallout of this coup by saying, ‘And the message will resonate throughout the Muslim world loud and clear: democracy is not for Muslims.’  The observations made by Syrian President Basher al-Assad on this issue is far more interesting and needs to be debated vigorously among the academics and policy-makers. He says, ‘Whoever brings religion to use in politics or in favour of one group at the expense of another will fall anywhere in the world.’ Mired in controversy over allegation of war crimes as he is, but still, Assad’s comments that the events in Egypt mark the end of what is called the ‘political Islam’ is bound to resonate with many people.

If we analyse some recent events in the Muslim world, definite patterns are emerging on the increasing tussle between the rival groups of secularists and Islamists. Be it the Shahbag movement in Bangladesh, or Taksim Square in Turkey, or the present Tahrir Square redux, it has drawn the battle line between people who believe in the idea of ‘political Islam’ and others who do not. In a way, this is quite an optimistic trend in the Muslim world that many want to keep religion away from state affairs, but the Egyptian experiment with democracy offered us with a chance, which we missed unfortunately.

There was an interesting test going on attempting a reconciliation between political Islam and modern democratic form of government, which were first of its kind in the contemporary world. Even after its many flaws, Morsi government made some efforts to incorporate the shades of democracy as senior analyst Ed Hussain points out. According to him, this coup will further alienate the supporters of Muslim Brotherhood and risk intense radicalisation, which is a valid point.  But ultimately, the future of Egypt will depend upon the fact that how history would perceive this phase. Simply a military coup, or revolution, or both? This is quite a mind-boggling question at the moment. We cannot escape the fact that it is not a simple military coup we usually experience in third world countries, where without any popular movement regime changes at the will of some army officials.

This is also fundamentally different from other protests we had witnessed earlier in India or Bangladesh or recently in Brazil where the demand was never of regime change. Considering these points, we may call it revolution only if the present transitional government supervised by the Egyptian Army paves the way for a freely elected civilian government soon. Else history would curse it and this coup would never be debated even as ‘of the people, by the people and for the people.’ IPA

The author is a Masters student of Development and Rights at Goldsmiths, University of London
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