Let’s get this part out of the way right at the beginning: I support the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt by the military and the anti–Muslim Brotherhood coalition, including the masses of people who took to the streets to demand his resignation, and who cheered the coup-makers.
That said, there needs to be a long list of caveats, the first of which is that Egypt’s armed forces need to allow civilians to run the show henceforth, by writing a new constitution, electing a new parliament and president, giving free rein to the media and civil society, and giving the Muslim Brotherhood an opportunity to reclaim its space in Egypt’s political life.
The military, which in 2011 thought it had a deal with the Muslim Brotherhood, now thinks it can strike a deal with the non-Islamist opposition forces that opposed Morsi. Maybe it can, but the opposition’s task now is to corral the generals and create lasting political institutions that can eventually transforms Egypt’s version of the Pentagon into a force subservient to civilian rule. That could take years, and if the generals try to hold on to political power now it might mean that yet a third Tahrir Square–style mobilization will be needed.
Those horrified by the military’s takeover, who worry about Egypt’s “deep state” of military, security and intelligence services, must also recognize that the security establishment didn’t go away in 2011, when the government of Hosni Mubarak was ousted. It’s been there all along, during the transitional phase when the Supreme Military Council ran the show, and then during the presidency of Mohammed Morsi, the stand-in for the secretive Muslim Brotherhood leadership. Indeed, it’s odd that many of the same people who called the fall of Mubarak a “revolution” today call the fall of Morsi a “coup d’état.” In fact, both events followed almost exactly the same pattern: a mass mobilization creating an virtually ungovernable state of affairs in Egypt, followed by a military action to oust the leader.
One difference, of course, is that Morsi was elected. Lawyers can argue about the importance of that fact. If elections are all that matter, then the supporters of Morsi have a point when they say that the “legitimacy” of Morsi’s rule has been trampled on. But his government routinely violated that legitimacy by a series of high-handed actions that sparked the very protests that led to his downfall. And while it would might have been preferable had Morsi’s rule fallen under its own weight, in parliamentary and then presidential elections to come, that’s water under the Nile River’s bridges.
Now, once again, Egypt has a chance to get it right. That’s the view of Mohammed ElBaradei, the former chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, who emerged in post-Mubarak Egypt as one of the leaders of the new politics. ElBaradei took to quoting a baseball philosopher:
“We just lost two and a half years. As Yogi Berra said, ‘It is déjà vu all over again,’ but hopefully this time we will get it right.”