Print this page

Repeating the revolution: The failure of the Egyptian coup

Published in Egypt

By Rafiq Habib

The 3 July military coup in Egypt had a number of key objectives. By it, the military attempted to entrench its position in the state, regardless of who holds power. It further sought to restore the networks of the previous regime to the political scene. By becoming a key governance partner with the elected power, the military seeks to place the deep state under central command and to ensure a centralisation of the intelligence services. The goal was to establish a secular alliance that was loyal to the former regime. This would enable the networks of the former regime to mobilise under a political veneer provided by secular forces. In order to achieve some of these objectives, the armed forces worked together with friendly western countries, especially the USA.

The central objective of the military coup was to legalise a political system that was based on a secular nation-state model. This represents the cornerstone of national security for the armed forces. Even though it was not the popular choice, this would maintain the nature of the state as it existed before the January 2011 revolution. Such as model could only manifest if the militarisation and secularisation of the state was embedded in the constitution. The military coup prepared its demands in advance, and appointed a committee to amend the constitution – for which a fatwa (decree) was sought. The constitution would represent only the ruling elite, which would then be imposed on the people. A key objective for such a constitution was that it should maintain the character of the former regime.

The January 2011 revolution was a new beginning that aimed to cut links with the past that the revolution had positioned itself against. The artificial revolution of June, however, was an attempt to reinstall the state and regime of July 1952, and to abort the January revolution and erase any memory of it. The July 1952 state had modelled itself as a secular nation state, as indicated by its policies and structures. The July 1952 state would be reinstalled, in effect, through an artificially created ‘counter’ revolution called the ‘June revolution’, and it would be merely a reproduction of the July 1952 revolution, which was carried out by the army.

The coup therefore aimed to militarise and secularise the constitution, as this would provide the armed forces with a political role,entrench its control over apparatuses of the state, and restore the former regime as an effective political force. It would also consolidate the role of a secular political alliance linked to the forces of the previous regime and the military leadership of the state. These factors would allow the Egyptian state to be a political arm supported by western powers, especially the US administration.

In order for the coup to achieve its ultimate objectives, police repression was used from the outset. This was to be expected, as coups are acts of repression. It is also a departure from the will of the general population, and is outside the democratic political process.

When will the coup succeed?

In the decisive battle between the revolution and the counter revolution, the military coup will not succeed unless it achieves its objectives and becomes influential in the long term. It will succeed if it results in lasting effects that shape the political process and the features of the political system. The coup will fail when it fails to achieve its objectives, and it would then end without affecting the path of the revolution, which will, once again, be restored to its natural course. In the case of a popular revolution, based on the free choices of people, the revolution will be repeated when people are again able to express their free choices.

The coup will fail if the democratically-elected president were returned to power, or if the country reinstates the constitution which was adopted by popular will. It will fail if the constitution remains democratic, and if the path of the revolution returns to a free and fair democratic process. The coup will fail when the repressive policies of the police end, and when attempts to rig the elections and referendums fail.

The restoration of the free democratic process and the democratic political system will thus mean that the coup has failed. This is regardless of the steps taken to achieve this restoration.

Any popular revolution will recur and become the sole decision maker through a democratic process based on rules. These rules will be respected by all, and no one will be allowed to breach them.

The gradual failure of the coup

Since the force of arms is behind a military coup, its policy of repressive policing is regarded as one of the most important tools to achieve its objectives. Because the coup was militarily executed and imposed as a fait accompli through the might of the military, peaceful confrontation would take time, and transpire through several stages.

The first stage of the confrontation with the military coup is the mobilisation of the street and an intensifying insistence to end repressive police policies. The objective is to overcome the fear barrier so that the general masses can retain their ability to freely express their choices.

Holding out through resistance in the street and squares will ensure the gradual failure of the repressive policies, killings and massacres. It is important that the community shows a greater resilience and ability to resist, which will ultimately enable it to maintain freedom; one of the most important gains of the January revolution.

When massacres fail to deter those on the street, and the street stands in opposition to the coup and resists being put down, the most dangerous tool used to crush a revolution will be foiled.

The second stage of confrontation with the military coup is the stage of resistance and continuity. This stage emphasises that the forces opposed to the military coup will never deal with it as a fait accompli, but will continue to reject it and consider it illegitimate. The military coup will therefore not find stability, and it will not be an accepted fait accompli. The military coup primarily aims to place all forces within its framework. Every time the forces rejecting the coup continue outside its framework and reject all its results, the coup will fail in its transition to be a fait accompli.

Through steadfastness, the peaceful struggle will outweigh the military coup by not allowing the coup to find general acceptance. This will cause the coup leaders to become defensive about their actions, which will allow the public to resist the coup and frame the coup as armed transgression against the democratic political process.

The third phase in confronting the coup will be realised through the temporal, spatial and popular expansion of the resistance movement against the military coup. The broader the peaceful protest movement is, temporally and geographically, and the more far reaching it is across large segments of society, the clearer and more effective the movement countering the coup will become. Military coups mainly depend on shock and awe tactics so that the society is deterred, enabling it to effect control. As such, with growing popular rejection that is capable of continuous expansion, the coup will be popularly rejected.

The temporal expansion is particularly important as it restores the energy of the popular crowd. This did not sufficiently mobilise initially when the revolution was terminated after the fall of Mubarak. The coup’s leaders therefore managed to control the sentiments of society through intense propaganda. The coup leaders thus, through the use of propaganda, weakened the popular will of the people in order to pave the way for the military coup.

The temporal and spatial expansion of the movement against the coup will restore the power and effective action of the people. This is especially important since the fabricated revolution relied on the rapid mobilisation of sectors of society. The crowd was taken advantage of by the military coup, which aimed to portray it as the mobilisation of the majority. It then aimed to hijack popular support in favour of the military leadership. They therefore appropriated decision-making to suit themselves, and not to suit the aims of most of the sectors that came out in the demonstrations of 21 June.

The anti-coup movement therefore does not need to achieve a quick victory, but to delay its victory in favour of the restoration of legitimacy and of the revolution. It also needs to achieve consecutive and accumulated victories to build a conscious and popular will that is able to restore the revolution, protect it against the counter-revolution, and more importantly, maintain this when achieved.

Detection of the scheme

Without genuine public awareness, the movement against the military coup will be temporary and ineffectual. It is important that the general public realise what happened, how the military coup was planned, how the size of the crowds was forged, how sectors of society were employed to support something that they in fact fundamentally rejected, and how segments of society were unaware of the extent to which it allowed the coup leaders to negate the will of sectors across society.

It is important for the people who came out in demonstrations on 21 June that groups with conflicting objectives were consolidated for the coup leaders to gain the upper hand and abort the revolution of January. The core active groups included those who came out to oppose President Mohamed Mursi, and those who wanted to solve their daily problems. There were also those however, who went out to entrench the military secular state and abort any reference to an Islamic state.

It is important for the masses to know that the artificial revolution was led by men of the former regime, was supported regionally by countries opposing the Arab Spring, and was also supported internationally by western countries that wanted to abort the Arab Spring. This is especially true of the US administration, which wants to entrench its hegemony over the region, and foil the Arab Spring so that it does not form a liberation movement for the Arab and Islamic region. When the people know that the military coup aimed to restore the former regime, with all its tyranny and corruption, they will realise the danger that Egypt and the revolution faces.

The most important element of the popular revolution is the extent to which the public becomes aware of what is happening. This will determine the course of the revolution, and will specify the fundamental options of the revolution.


The military coup depends on systematic media disinformation so that the society is divided without being aware of how. In this way, a sector of society will turn to support the coup, while another sector will reject it. The choices available to the vast majority will become fragmented, and the resolve of the free will of the people will be weakened.

The conflict mainly hinges on full emancipation of the popular will, and a fabricated revolution that aims at reinstating tyranny. The conflict thus revolves between true democracy that allows the people to have free choice at the ballot boxes and establish a state that expresses their will and carries their identity and choices, and between formal democracy that would be governed through a ruling class that would shape the political system.

The conflict mainly swings between a secular and Islamic identity. A secular identity does not define the identity of the Egyptian society, just as Egyptian society is not based on the identity of ethnic nationalism. The imposition of a secular identity can therefore only be upheld through protection from the military. The primary choice becomes between a secular military state, and a civilian Islamic state, thus between a military state that imposes its identity on a society, and a democratic state that carries the identity which is expressive of the community, representing the mainstream choice.

Public awareness must therefore recognise that the militarisation of the state will only lead to the imposition of an identity that society does not want. If the dominant identity of the society was a secular Egyptian national identity, there would be no need to impose the militarisation of the state upon it. If the majority opted for the militarisation of the state, it would be due to negligence of the society in making that choice. This would allow the military state to take over the political regime, and prevent society from achieving their choices through freedom.

The leaders of the armed forces followed by the leaders of the coup, planned to promote ​​militarisation on the basis that it is the ideal way to achieve stability and security. This emphasises that they had already marketed militarisation and the idea of ​​a strong state, in order to divert the public from making democratic choices, so that they essentially were complicit in handing over their freedom.

The movement against the coup actually requires strong awareness by the people, so that they can know the options they face and make the necessary decisions, and know the result of their choices. As public awareness grows, the anti-coup movement will become stronger and sounder.

Options of the majority

It is important for the people to know that the revolution will liberate them. It will allow them to achieve their political will through determining the state’s identity and the political system, which in turn will define the general system and public interest. Those frameworks cannot be the independent choice of a certain political faction, but must be the choice of the majority. The public should accordingly know that standing in the face of the coup is not a mandate that a political faction can choose for them.

The problem of the Egyptian revolution is that it was achieved before the might of the popular will was strengthened, and each political faction spoke on behalf of the masses that supported it. This caused polarisation in the Egyptian street, and people became oblivious to the consequences. The main goal of the movement against the military coup must therefore be to liberate the majority of society and develop its consciousness so that they have the right to choose. They can choose those who speak on their behalf, and choose the orientation of the state and the general political system.

The ability to choose

Some of those who demonstrated on 21 June participated in the fabricated counter-revolution and achieved outcomes that they themselves did not want. Some of those who demonstrated undermined the democratic process, and made it more challenging to restore democracy. They did not mean to do this though; they were deceived. The political scene was ambiguous and complex, and some were unable to understand it, especially with the intensive and continuous process of disinformation by the media.

The movement against the coup will succeed if it supports the opportunity of every individual to choose what he/she wants, including those who refuse an Islamic identity and those who do not support Islamic movements.

There is a group however, that wants military rule and does not want democracy or a fair ballot. This group must be exposed so that they can be contained and prevented from dragging others, who reject military rule, down. Those who call for military rule have the right to do so; however they do not have the right to mislead others. They also have no right to impose this desire on society through a military coup.

Against misinformation

One of the most important elements of the movement against the military coup is the opposition to media disinformation. Media disinformation played an important role in paving the way for, and protecting the military coup. It became the most important means for the coup leaders to achieve their objectives without the majority realising what they wanted to achieve.

Resisting the media’s psychological warfare is not easy because the means of psychological warfare are diverse, and hold enormous possibilities. This was waged by the media, but also through moral directives, the intelligence and security agencies, and all the organs of the deep state.

The military coup provided the first opportunity to expose the media disinformation that occurred, especially after the legitimate political forces were on the street and the forces of the former regime were in power. This altered the situation slightly, and allowed for the disclosure of what happened. In the face of unprecedented rumours, however, the process against disinformation needs time.

Discovering the truth is very difficult with the suppression process executed by the military governor. It is therefore necessary that it is seen and heard by people on the street.

The problem is not the Muslim Brotherhood

The real battle is between a large majority that adheres to an Islamic identity, and a minority that adheres to a secular identity. In addition to the minority that chooses secularism are the leaders of the former regime’s state institutions, especially the army and the judiciary, as well as regional and international powers.

The alternative battle to the battle of Islam and secularism is a battle against the forces of Islam. If the conflict is against Islamic forces and not with Islamic identity, the battle would be confined to be against the Muslim Brotherhood. It would not be a battle against all Islamic forces. In order to conceal the real agenda and the real battle, it was necessary for the military to bring onto its side Al-Azhar and the Nour Party.

If society is divided equally between those who are with the Brotherhood and those who are against them, they would still be one society. The coup leaders want to mobilise all those who do not support the Muslims Brotherhood to support the military coup so that they can justify the militarisation and the secularisation of the state. This is despite the fact that the majority reject secularism.

The plan of the military coup is to conceal the primary battle so that they can rule. The coup leaders cannot declare that they are against the identity of an Islamic state, and they cannot declare that they are against people having the option to choose an Islamic identity. The coup’s leaders are therefore directing the battle against the Muslim Brotherhood. A demonised image of the Brotherhood is accordingly being put out to make people fear them, so that those who fall prey to fear resort to supporting the military. They therefore end up negating their own will for the benefit of military rule, and the imposition of a secular military state.

The movement against the coup will strengthen when the people realise that the Muslim Brotherhood is a faction that has either been willingly chosen by the people, or not chosen by the people.

The majority Islamic movement was repeated several times, which confirms that they are a well-established majority. This means that if the option is left to the people, the vast majority will choose an Islamic identity. The military coup mainly aims to eliminate an Islamic identity through attacking the largest group that carries this identity. If it is scaled up, it could wage war against other Islamic organisations, and then impose repressive police hegemony on the rest of society.

It becomes important that most of the people know that those who do not support the Muslim Brotherhood could choose another organisation, but there will never be an alternative future for those who support military rule. It is important that most people know that military rule aims to attack an Islamic identity and will undermine their right and the right of the public to make a choice. When military rule is established, the country will regress several decades, and become a tyrannical secular military state in which no one will enjoy freedom of choice.

Restoring the free will of the people

The revolution cannot be restored without restoring free will and informed consent of the people.The January revolution ousted the head of the former regime, and protected the revolution and the options of the people. The anti-coup movement therefore needs to complete the free will of the people by toppling the military coup, and succeed in building a free popular consensus that will protect the path of the revolution and achieve its goals.

The free and conscious will of the populace can only be achieved through resilience and resistance. The popular revolution is a peaceful movement for change and an expression of the will of the general people to acquire their full freedom. They therefore need to confront all who seek to abort their revolution. The military coup will succeed when most of the people become negligent. When it becomes impossible to mislead the majority of people, or to dispossess their will however, the revolution will succeed.

Dismantling of the deep state

The real challenge facing the revolution is the deep state; that is the bureaucratic network controlling the state organs. This worked against the revolution from the first day, and was complicit in the fabricated revolution to return the country to the previous order. It is the network that ran most of the crises since the fall of Mubarak, and prior to the election of Mursi as well as after his election. It is the same network that has become the de facto ruler after the military coup.

The problem with the former regime’s network is that it includes a large number of state workers who represent a large proportion of Egyptian bureaucracy. These pervasive networks in the structure of the state represent social family blocs in society. They have often supported the former regime in the face of the revolution. This was true both in the presidential elections, where they supported the candidate of the former regime, and in the 21 June demonstrations, where they represented the most important bloc in those demonstrations. Without the participation of the former regime’s networks, and the blocs supporting it, it is possible that there would not have been mass demonstrations in the first place.

The remaining part includes those against any change, who hold the reins of decision within the state apparatus. This has been the most important obstacle to the revolution since its inception, and is the most important obstacle to the movement against the coup. Changing the position of the network of the Egyptian bureaucracy is therefore one of the most important factors allowing the revolution and the movement against the coup to succeed. The Egyptian bureaucratic network cannot remain as a human and functional being together with its associated family blocs. Those blocs need to realise that their place is within their society, and not with the leaders of the former regime. They need to know that the state apparatus has taken ownership of the community, and that the communitymust be protected and not placed into political conflict. Acknowledging this will generate an important stage that will restore the state apparatus so that it actually serves society, and does not form part of a coup against the revolution.

Changing the position of workers in the central institutions, especially the judiciary, the army and the police, is the most prominent challenge put before the revolution.

These functional entities should not be against the revolution or the community. If they are, they will drive the state apparatus to the heart of the political battle, which can lead to the collapse of the state itself. This made the Egyptian army, for the first time in history, stand with one sector of society against another.

Change in the position of the state workers, and the social blocs they represent, is one of the most important factors in helping to restore the revolution. Each state worker is a citizen who has the right to free political choice. They have the right to choose the political forces that speak on their behalf, but they are not entitled to harness the state apparatus against any political faction, or for the benefit of any faction. This is especially true in the case of those who work in the central organs of the state, the army, the judiciary and the police.

The more politically neutral a state is, and the less it is likely to engage in dispute or political rivalry, and the easier its path is toward a democratic process. The revolution will have achieved important victories when the institutions of the army, the judiciary and the police distance themselves from the political process, from political competition and from political conflict, and rather engage in their professional tasks. The presence of institutions in the state against the revolution, obstructed the course of the revolution, and resulted in the military coup.


The movement against the military coup in support of the restoration of the revolution will be successful in awakening society, structuring a strong popular will, and protecting the revolution and the democratic process. It will also be successful in preventing the participation of the part of society that undermines the democratic process. The military coup will not succeed without the success of media disinformation, which has affected a significant sector of society and enabled the leaders of the military coup to take advantage and accordingly deprive freedom of the majority people. It has also enabled the sector to temporarily abort the revolution of freedom and dignity.

When the revolution steals from the people, with the participation of some, it is clear that the popular will is not strong enough, and that there is insufficient public awareness. Thus, the restoration of the people's free will is based on choice, and the restoration of public awareness is the most important path to restore the January revolution, and to abort the goals of the fabricated counter-revolution.

* Professor Rafiq Habib is a Coptic Christian and director of the Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services. He was also the deputy chairperson of Egypt’s Freedom and Justice Party and, until, December 2012, was an advisor to President Mohamed Mursi

Last modified on Thursday, 19 February 2015 10:12