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Mursi’s ouster: Implications for Egypt and the region

Published in Egypt

By Afro-Middle East Centre

It is now widely acknowledged that the 3 July ouster of Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Mursi, constituted a military coup. Events following the coup have sought to reset Egypt’s policies back to what they were during the Mubarak era, underscoring the suggestion that a counter revolution was successfully instituted. The Egyptian constitution was suspended, the Shura Council – the upper house of parliament –was disbanded, and various Islamist leaders – from the Muslim Brotherhood and other parties – were arrested. Moreover, media deemed to be sympathetic to Mursi were shut down, and the decades-long state of emergency was reinstituted. Further, the army selected a judge previously appointed to the constitutional court by Mubarak, Adli Mansour, as interim president, and an interim cabinet dominated by Mubarak-era holdovers. The aftermath of the coup also saw a shift in foreign policy: a more belligerent attitude towards the USA, greater friendliness with Israel, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait, and a hardline attitude towards Palestinians – with the Rafah border being almost permanently shut, and ninety per cent of the Egypt to Gaza tunnels being destroyed. In short, the coup has had and is set to have significant domestic, regional and global consequences.

Domestic implications

The consequences of the coup for Egypt’s short and medium term future will be drastic. Most importantly, political polarisation will exponentially increase, especially between secularists (particularly liberals who supported the coup) and Islamists (particularly those belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood). This is as the Brotherhood and its allies in the National Coalition for Legitimacy (NCL) still have significant support within Egyptian society. A recent survey by the Egyptian Centre for Media Studies, together with the public opinion group Integrating Egypt, reported that over sixty-nine per cent of surveyed individuals were opposed to the coup, up from sixty-three per cent in early July. This partly illustrates the level of Islamist support, and their organisational capacity, and is partly a reflection of a feeling of opposition to the coup across other sectors of Egyptian society. To date, no real effort has been made by the military at implementing a power sharing agreement to incorporate these disaffected elements into the transition. Even the Saudi-backed Al-Nour Party (the only Islamist party to have supported the coup) exited the reconciliation talks in protest over the 8 July massacre, and has refused positions in the interim cabinet. Moreover the arrest of hundreds of Islamist leaders and the massacring of more than 1 000 NCL supporters has further inhibited chances for reconciliation. Polarisation – and especially anti-Brotherhood feeling – has increased to such an extent that after the 8 July massacre, many blamed the Brotherhood for the killings. And, before the 27 July massacre, hundreds of thousands demonstrated in support of General Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi’s call for a ‘mandate’ to confront ‘possible violence and terrorism’, a threat aimed at the Brotherhood. This has emboldened the military, and its repressive focus now includes liberals and leftists who had initially supported the coup. Some are being accused of, and arrested for, having links to the Brotherhood – even though they do not, others of being Islamists – even though they are not, and some of spurious charges such as that against Mohamed Elbaradei, former vice president in the interim authority, of ‘betrayal of the trust of the Egyptian people’.

Steel workers’ strikes have been broken up, and journalists and activists arrested, under the guise of being ‘infiltrated’ by Brotherhood elements. Even Barack Obama has not escaped attack; after criticising the military regime’s crackdown on protests, Tahani Gebali, a former judge who is close to the regime and who actively worked with Tamarod, accused the US president of having ties to the Brotherhood, charging that his half-brother ‘directed investments’ on behalf of the group. The repression is assisted by the one-sided coverage on state and private channels demonising Brotherhood supporters, conflating the group with violent groups in the Sinai, and even calling for Brotherhood members to be killed. The institution of the state of emergency, which allows for media monitoring and censoring, means that it is unlikely that new media voices will be heard soon.

Mursi’s ouster has also set a bad precedent for future leaders, suggesting that any standing president may be removed willy-nilly. This is especially pertinent as the main appeal of Tamarod – the movement which called for the 30 June protests – was the sluggish performance of the Egyptian economy. This is a structural issue which will take many years to rectify; thus, any new leader will likely suffer the same problems and could suffer the same fate. Moreover, the military’s having reasserted direct influence in the political process does not augur well for the future and will mean that any newly-elected civilian leader will be wary of a military coup. Consent from the military leadership will always need to be sought, and it is unlikely that the army’s non-transparent and inefficient economic practices will be addressed. Sisi’s 24 July call for a ‘mandate’ is a clear indication of who runs the state. The call was made almost simultaneously with, and in deliberate disregard of, a ‘reconciliation’ meeting organised by President Mansour.

Egypt’s stability has been damaged irreparably. Already having to contend with multiple strike actions, the new regime will face a growing backlash from Islamists. Some may retreat from national political life, instead focusing on the local; whilst others may decide to take up arms against the state. As Mursi’s national security aid, Essam al-Haddad, had said before his detention, the message that Muslims and democracy are not compatible has been spread, providing the impetus for disaffected Islamists to join organisations such as al-Qa’ida. Already, military checkpoints have come under attack in the restive Sinai peninsula, and twenty-four off-duty security personnel were killed in an attack on their convoy at Rafah near the Gazan border on 19 August. The bizarrely-named ‘Operation Desert Storm’ responding to these attacks is reminiscent of Mubarak’s counterterrorism policies in the peninsula, and has seen many militants killed or arrested. This operation is likely to fail, however, as similar initiatives did during the Sadat and Mubarak eras, resulting in a continuation in the cycle of violence between Cairo and the peninsula. It is unlikely, however, that the situation will deteriorate into civil war, specifically because the Brotherhood has, for decades, doctrinally moved away from violence. Nevertheless, sporadic and sustained instances of violence may occur. This further adds to the need for an inclusive power sharing deal.

Regional Consequences

Other states in the region, such as Turkey and Tunisia, may experience a backlash as a result of the events in Egypt, specifically as both have Islamist parties in government, and as both have experienced or are currently experiencing protests as a result of perceived Islamisation. Tunisia’s opposition movement has started a similar campaign to that of Egypt’s Tamarod, and claims to have received 1.8 million signatures calling for the dissolution of the coalition government and the multiparty National Constituent Assembly. This sentiment was boosted by the assassination, late July, of left-wing opposition politician Mohamed Brahmi, which led to large protests and over sixty politicians withdrawing from the 217-seat Constituent Assembly which was in the final stages of drafting the country’s constitution, thus suspending the constitution-drafting process. Also in July, Turkey experienced protests with a ‘secular vs Islamist’ tinge around the development of Istanbul’s Gezi Park. Both the Tunisian and Turkish governments were quick to condemn the Egyptian coup. Turkey also denounced the lack of international condemnation and action, and recalled its ambassador from Egypt.

Another Islamist party in the region, Hamas, has been the most affected by the coup. With Rafah being closed, and Hamas officials no longer being easily able to leave Gaza, the party’s influence and abilities have been weakened. Furthermore, Hamas officials that had set up base in Cairo are also finding themselves under severe pressure. Hamas tried to mitigate the situation by issuing a statement asserting that it would work with any Egyptian government, but condemning the 8 July Republican Guard massacre and the violent attacks in Nahda and Rabaa al-Adawiyya Squares, and empathising with the victims of these massacres.

Certain Arab Gulf states have gained the most from the coup. No surprise, then, that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were the first two states to congratulate the ‘Egyptian people’, and to pledge, together with Kuwait, twelve billion dollars in aid to the army-appointed interim government. Both the Saudis and Emiratis also expressed their support for the regime’s violent crackdown on protesters, referring to it as combating ‘terrorism, extremism, and sedition’ and warning ‘foreign countries’ about meddling in Egypt’s ‘internal affairs’. The Saudi regime, still upset about American desertion of Hosni Mubarak, went as far as committing to make up for any western aid which may be suspended as a result of the regime’s use of violence to quell protests. It and the UAE also pledged to make up for any shortfall were Qatar to pull out its thirteen billion dollar investments in Egypt, and were the USA to suspend its 1.3 billion dollar military aid to the Egyptian army.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s rise had threatened these states by illustrating that democracy and Islam were compatible, thus undermining the tenuous legitimacy underpinning these authoritarian states. Further, since many dissidents in these countries draw on Brotherhood ideology to express their opposition to the ruling regimes, allowing Egypt to succeed under the Brotherhood would send a signal to Gulf dissidents that they should pursue a democratic path. Immediately after the coup, in a trial widely criticised by human rights groups as repressive and fundamentally flawed, sixty-nine Emirati lawyers, judges and academics were convicted for belonging to a secretive organisation – a reference to the Brotherhood – and for attempting to overthrow the government. The defendants were reportedly tortured, and their basic legal rights had been denied. Earlier, in June, another thirty individuals had been arrested for allegedly setting up a branch of the Brotherhood in the UAE. It is thus little surprise that the first visit of Egypt’s central bank governor was to the UAE, and that an Emirati ministerial delegation was one of the first delegations to visit the country after the coup.

Egypt and the African Union

Two days after the coup, on 5 July, the African Union suspended Egypt, pending the restoration of the democratic process. This was in terms of the Lomé Accord, Article Thirty of the AU’s Constitutive Act, and Chapter IV of the AU charter, in terms of which any unconstitutional change in power would necessitate AU suspension. Egypt thus joined Madagascar, the Central African Republic, and Guinea-Bissau as countries currently suspended from the AU. Egypt’s suspension is significant for two key reasons. First, together with Algeria, Nigeria, South Africa, and Libya, the country is one of the ‘big five’ on the continent which contribute over seventy per cent of the AU’s budget. Second, and more important, Egypt is currently locked in a dispute with seven other Nile riparian states over the use of Nile water. The AU is the only institution with the capacity and legitimacy to mediate, but Egypt’s suspension means Egypt will no longer be able to put its case before the organisation. This could result in Egypt’s water usage rights being curtailed, negatively affecting its already struggling economy, if the Entebbe Agreement is fully enforced. This agreement is supported by seven of the nine Nile Basin countries. Egypt is completely dependent on the Nile, which fulfils ninety-five per cent of its fresh water needs.

Egypt going forward

The violent dispersal of the two sit-ins in Cairo, the disproportionate use of force against protesters, and the subsequent hunting down of anti-coup leaders have rendered the chances of finding an Egyptian-led solution an improbability. The Brotherhood and its allies in the NCL will be unable to justify a negotiated solution to the thousands of their supporters who have been maimed and who lost family members. Furthermore, statements from the military are extremely belligerent and indicate an administration unwilling to countenance a political solution. Significantly, a deal proposed by the USA and EU a week before the Rabaa massacre failed because of the military’s intransigence. The deal would have seen the release of two political prisoners – with Mohamed Mursi possibly going into exile – and a reduction in protest sizes as initial confidence building measures, and would have led to fresh elections and the drafting of a new constitution. The Brotherhood had accepted the proposals; the army had refused. Further, the disparate opposition groups’ failure to lobby for the Brotherhood’s incorporation into the political process, specifically during the constitutional amendment process, does not inspire much confidence. Most of these groups have become lapdogs of the military.

Pressure from the international community may be the only method of halting the bloodshed and ensuring that the instability does not drag Egypt into a long period of violence. The country is not endowed with natural resources and her economy is currently faltering, thus making her susceptible to economic and military isolation. Thus far, however, there have not been any real moves at isolation – apart from the AU’s action. While many states have issued strongly worded statements condemning the use of disproportionate force on protesters, apart from Turkey, Venezuela, Ecuador and Denmark, few have adopted more practical measures such as halting aid or suspending diplomatic ties; the US administration still refuses to call Mursi’s ouster a coup. The EU’s recent decision to suspend its 140 million dollars in military aid does not amount to much as the bloc resolved to continue dispensing its 8.9 billion dollar humanitarian aid package, and as bilateral trade relations which totalled over 23 billion dollars last year will continue unabated. Further, the actions of the Saudi and Emirati regimes – defending the Egyptian military, funding the regime, committing to making up aid deficits, and successfully lobbying for Mubarak’s release – have further emboldened the regime, which is presenting itself as not being in need of any foreign assistance. Based on past experiences of coups, international pressure on a military regime after a coup usually accelerates the transition to democracy by between two and three years.

Last modified on Thursday, 19 February 2015 10:13