Center for Strategic Communication

The Middle East Channel Editor’s Blog

How should
analysts understand the combination of the June 30 massive popular mobilization
and the July 3 military coup against then-President Mohamed Morsi? Should these events be understood as a continuation
of the January 25 revolution, a second revolution, a straightforward military
coup, or a restoration of the Mubarak-era order? Does the blame for the failure
of Egypt’s first popularly elected presidency lie with Morsi and the Muslim
Brotherhood, with a recalcitrant opposition, with a resistant state, or with
the deep problems which any transitional leadership would have confronted? Can
a pathway toward a democratic order still be found? 

Egypt’s Political
, the latest in the POMEPS Arab Uprisings Briefing Series, collects 15 recent Middle East Channel and Foreign Policy essays written by academics
grappling with these issues. The essays range widely across a diverse
of interpretations and analysis. They include historical
and cross-national
alongside close examinations of the Egyptian
, the
and the Muslim
Brotherhood. These essays offer no analytical consensus nor a clear path forward — and nor should they. [[BREAK]]

The level of analytical disagreement and the intensity of the public
contestation over the interpretation of these events has been quite striking. It
is not
simply a question of listening to Egyptians
: no more of a consensus on
these core questions exists in Egypt than in the academic or analytical
communities. Many Egyptian activists, academics, political analysts and
politicians have been at great pains to convince outsiders that their efforts
represented a revolution and not a coup. The abuses of democratic process by
the Morsi government and the massive numbers in the streets as an alternative
measure of the popular will, they argue, outweigh Morsi’s claimed electoral
legitimacy. Morsi’s own mistakes and refusal to compromise, the anti-democratic practices which occurred under his watch, and the escalating
risk of civil war forced
the SCAF’s hand
. The June 30 rebellion, in this view, should be seen in the
same light as the January 25 revolution, with a mobilized street rejecting the
imposition of a new authoritarianism by unaccountable elites. The military should be applauded for saving democracy from Islamist takeover.

Skeptics are more
impressed by the July 3 coup
and the restoration
of the Mubarakist state
. They see little cause to celebrate the military
overthrow of Egypt’s first elected president, no matter how miserable his
performance in office. The military removing an elected president, suspending
the constitution, and arresting leaders of the former government are the very
definition of a coup. Nor are many of the supposedly distinguishing features of
Egypt’s experience unique: coups are often preceded by popular mobilization and
happily received by opponents of the former regime. Coups do sometimes
lead to the restoration of democracy
, but the record of authoritarian
regimes in the Middle East delivering on their promises to cultivate civil
society, deliver effective technocratic governance, and prepare society for real democracy is not strong.

Events since the coup offer highly mixed signals for what
might be coming. Optimists are cheered by the appointment of a relatively competent government which includes key liberal icons such as Mohamed ELBaradei and promises of early elections and rapid
constitutional reforms
. In addition, many of those hostile to the Muslim
Brotherhood are enthusiastic about the crackdown on the group regardless of
whether it leads to democratic reforms.
Others are troubled by the wave
of pro-military nationalism in the media
, reports of coordination between
protest organizers and the military ahead of June 30, the ongoing mobilization
by pro-Morsi forces, the severity of the
July 8 attack on a pro-Morsi demonstration
and ongoing violent clashes, the support for the new
government by
anti-democratic and anti-revolutionary Gulf regimes
, and the seeming return
of many features and faces of the old Mubarak regime.

However events play out, Egypt’s uprising and coup have laid bare deep questions
about the meaning of democracy and the sources of legitimacy in its emerging
political order. Critics of the Morsi government pointed with justification to its
majoritarian view of democracy and attempts to grab power, while its
defenders highlighted the repeated interventions by the courts,
including the dissolution of parliament. What does this mean for the construction of a new
political consensus in the midst of deep polarization and the absence of any
democratically legitimate political institutions? While the ballot box may not be the only source of
democratic legitimacy, it is a crucial one. Democracy cannot simply mean "rule
by those with whom the analyst agrees." Nor is it possible to build a genuinely
democratic order around the exclusion of the Muslim Brotherhood, a significant political force in spite of
its political mistakes and the intense hostility it now generates among many
Egyptians. The popular mobilization around the rejection of the
Brotherhood’s abuse of state power suggest the continued potency of a mobilized
Egyptian public, at least when its grievances align with the preferences of the
military and elites. Competing
mobilizations in the streets are a poor substitute for elections as a mechanism
for determining levels of popular support, and run the risk of perpetual instability and failed governance.

The essays in Egypt’s
Political Reset
cover a wide range of these intensely debate issues. It
might usefully be read with the March 2013 POMEPS Brief Egypt
Policy Challenge
, which compiled the suggestions by more than  a dozen top analysts on how the United States
might most usefully support democratic change in Egypt. That phase of Egypt’s
tortuous transition has ended, for better or for worse, but what will replace
it remains
much in
. We hope that the essays
collected in Egypt’s Political Reset help to place these events into perspective and offer some insights into the challenges to come. 

Download Egypt’s Political Reset here. Featuring Michael Albertus, Zaid al-Ali, Khalil el-Anani, Alanna van Antwerp, Nathan Brown, Daniel Brumberg, Steven Cook, Fawaz Gerges, Michael Wahid Hanna, H.A. Hellyer, Marc Lynch, Shana Marshall, Tarek Masoud, Victor Menaldo, Dina Rashed, and Robert Springborg.