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Ouster of President Morsi and its Implications

R S Kalha is a former Indian Ambassador to Iraq.
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  • July 09, 2013

    The ouster of the first democratically elected President of Egypt by the armed forces was an event that was long seen as coming. Not unexpectedly, the US and the European powers have not uttered the dreaded word coup d’état; although it had all the hallmarks of one. Even the hapless UN Secretary General Ban Ki- Moon made inane remarks that do little credit to his office that should be upholding the right of a democratically elected leader to complete his term. The Egyptian army moved its tanks on to the streets of Cairo, shut down the pro-Islamic Brotherhood TV stations, including the Misr 25 channel and arrested all the important leaders of the brotherhood, besides detaining the former President. In a delicious irony the Muslim Brotherhood leadership, including its spiritual leader Mohammed Badie, are all detained at the same notorious prison, Tora on the outskirts of Cairo, that lists the former President Mubarak as one of its distinguished detainees! The Constitution has been suspended, an interim President has been sworn in and elections have been promised ‘soon.’ As could be expected, clashes have broken out in most cities of Egypt between the supporters of the Islamic Brotherhood and the armed forces with a heavy loss of life and property. Although most in the world would recognize it as a coup, yet for the western powers it is still not a coup!

    That a political leader can be ousted relatively easily by the armed forces is not a matter of contention; the act of doing so is rather straight forward. The real question that follows is what is the Egyptian military going to do next? While promising to hold elections ‘soon’ may have been publicly announced to assuage political opinion particularly in the western countries that sometimes gives play to democratic urges; it is highly unlikely that this promise can be kept any time ‘soon.’ Such good intentioned statements also help to salvage and keep intact US aid to the armed force that touches nearly US $1.3 billion annually. It is precisely for this reason that President Obama refuses to characterize the military take over as a ‘coup’ for under US government rules, a coup to overthrow a democratically elected government would mean the automatic cessation of this aid. This cessation of aid the US does not desire to enforce under any circumstances, for it wishes to maintain its very close and intimate links with the Egyptian military leadership.

    The Islamic Brotherhood is not going to take the ouster of its nominee and the democratically elected President with any sense of resignation. The Egyptian armed forces should be prepared for a long drawn out struggle that will inevitably also generate considerable violence. A military coup at the best of times is a risky business. Founded in 1928, the Islamic Brotherhood has since its very inception participated in struggle, often violent, that has characterized its existence for last the several decades. It is vastly experienced in handling stress situations and they are no pushovers. It has a dedicated cadre and its cells, often shadowy, exist in most Egyptian cities and the country-side. It is not clear whether the new dispensation, as and when it decides to hold fresh elections, would allow the Islamic Brotherhood to participate. And if they manage to win again; what will the armed forces then do?

    The assumption that is often made that the Egyptian armed forces are of one mind may also prove to be facile. The propensity of the Islamists to penetrate the armed forces should not be read lightly; nor should the fact be ignored that there may be active sympathizers of the Islamists within the officer cadres of the armed forces. The one factor that united the opposition was the desire to oust President Morsi and this factor in their future deliberations will be missing. Evidence of this is already there with the nomination of Mohammed al-Baradei as the next Prime Minister and its equally sudden withdrawal. Sunni evangelism is still a potent factor; witness former President Morsi’s act of cutting all diplomatic relations with the Assad regime in Syria and calling for its overthrow and replacement with hardline Sunni factions. If the armed forces tried to introduce liberal, secular laws including women’s rights in Egypt; they may encounter unforeseen opposition for the radicalization of large sections of Egyptian society, fostered principally by hardline Sunni-Wahhabi preachers, is probably complete. Under Morsi’s rule there was no space provided for Copts and other religious minorities, let alone for fellow Muslim Shiites.

    The Egyptian economy is in a mess and despite the huge US economic aid it is under severe financial stress. One in four young Egyptians are unemployed. Foreign exchange reserves are down from US $36 billion in December last year to US $14.4 billion at present indicating a decline of nearly 60% with only three months import coverage left. The Egyptian pound has fallen in value by about 12% against the US Dollar and the Egyptian GDP has declined by nearly 3%. But what has exacerbated the situation is the fact that the price of basic food items available has sky rocketed in recent times. Food inflation is not a new phenomenon in a country that is the world's biggest importer of wheat and where up to half of the produce rots before it reaches the market as Egypt lacks basic road infrastructure1.

    The restoration of the Egyptian economy to health will be the key factor to success. Therefore unless the new Egyptian government can restore order quickly, avoid a civil war like situation and make it safe for tourists to return the new dispensation will be equally in trouble. The role that the US plays would be crucial, for only with its help will the IMF loan of US $ 4.8 billion come through with ease and quickly; as so also the financial largess that the rich Gulf States such as Qatar might bestow on the new leadership. On the other hand, if the new leadership is unable to contain the anger of the Islamists that would probably spill on to the streets than the future of Egypt is indeed very bleak. It would then be easy prey for Sunni Wahhabi-Jihadi Islam!

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.

    • 1. The Guardian/Patrick Kingsley,16 May 2013.