Egypt: It’s complicated

Carina Kamel

Published: Updated:

Much of the Western media has described what took place in Egypt on the night of July 3rd, 2013 as a ‘coup’ but the millions of Egyptians who have spent the past few days demonstrating in the streets across the country couldn’t disagree more and have been voicing their anger over the west’s portrayal of what they believe is a genuine popular uprising against a failed leader.

Tellingly, the United States, United Nations, European Union and the United Kingdom have not condemned the actions of Egypt’s army and have all stopped short of calling it a ‘coup’, preferring to express concern over ‘military intervention’ and urging a swift transfer to a democratic process.

Definitions of a coup

There will be much debate in the coming days and weeks over the semantics and definitions of a coup but it is important to remember that the mobilization that happened on Egypt’s streets was sparked by the ‘Tamarod – Rebel’ grass roots movement which started just a few months ago and struck a chord with millions of Egyptians who have spent the past year lurching from disappointment to frustration to anger to outright rage.

Western media has failed to convey the nuance, complexity and passion of what Egyptians are experiencing. Events in Egypt do not fit into the narrow outdated narrative of the western media.

Carina Kamel

There is no doubt that pushing aside an elected president sets a dangerous precedent for the future – what happens next time a president comes to power who disappoints his people and fails to lead?

There is no doubt that the expectations were so high for Mursi as the first post-revolution president in the Arab world’s most populous nation and that no matter how great a leader he was, he would fall short.

There is also no doubt that the arrest and detention of leaders from the Muslim Brotherhood is worrying and should be based on legal evidence.

Some are also uneasy with the army playing the role of ‘power broker’ or mediator between political forces. Many also remind of the military’s poor track record when they oversaw the country in the months following Mubarak’s ouster.

And there is great concern that the actions of the military could result in the radicalization of an entire generation of Islamist youth who some fear could become militant or extremist.

But these concerns should be seen within the context of the anger and distrust that drove Egyptians in their millions out onto the streets to protest what they saw as a leader who came to power by the skin of his teeth and broke virtually every single promise he made including being a president for all Egyptians and fulfilling the original demands of the revolution for freedom, justice and dignity.

Many Egyptians are baffled the west and its media are describing what happened in Egypt as a coup when more people went out to demonstrate against Mursi than did during the 18-day uprising that toppled Mubarak.

Egyptians who were demanding Mursi step down see the military’s intervention as a response to their mass mobilization and believe the military would not have acted so swiftly and decisively had it not been for the unprecedented numbers of people protesting.

Many are also convinced the military stepped in to prevent the risk of a civil war after dangerous rhetoric from Islamist leaders.

Egyptian blogger Mahmoud Salem who tweets @Sandmonkey argued that the military had no incentive to stage a coup because its vast economic interests were protected by the Islamist constitution and pointed out that coups rarely come with ultimatums or indeed allow soon to be deposed leaders to make rambling speeches on state television.

It is not possible to see what has happened in Egypt in absolute terms, this is not black or white. As with most things in Egypt, it’s complicated.

Philip Crowley, former U.S. State Department Spokesperson and fellow at the George Washington’s Institute for Public Policy described events in Egypt as ‘Democracy 2.0’ and acknowledged the complexity of the situation tweeting that “U.S. aid could be suspended in Egypt staged a ‘military coup’ but that ‘given [military] acted with such popular support, it is a complicated question.”

Where Western media has failed

Western media has failed to convey the nuance, complexity and passion of what Egyptians are experiencing. Events in Egypt do not fit into the narrow outdated narrative of the western media. It was only when hours were left on the ticking clock of the army’s ultimatum that major western broadcasters flew in their star anchors to report from the iconic Tahrir square, and still they struggled to express the depth and dimensions of unfolding events.

As Khaled Shaalan, a political science doctoral student at London’s School of African and Oriental Studies, put it in a recent blog one of the reasons for the western media’s failure lies in its inability or unwillingness to acknowledge the power of the Egyptian people in shaping their own destiny.

“The failure of Western media and pundits to both recognize and project the nuances of the current conflict in Egypt through their negligence of people’s agency in shaping the political outcomes is both pathetic and shameful. It is pathetic because it indicates the degree to which Western intellectual circles—especially those profiteering from Western policymaking bodies—remain willfully entrapped in an outdated and out-of-touch Orientalist worldview of the region,” Shaalan wrote.

Shaalan went on to say “the media sent a message to Western audiences that whereas the historical protests might look noble and impressive, the only real political players in Egypt (and probably in the Arab world as whole) are military generals and Islamists.”

Hani Shukrallah a veteran Egyptian journalist and long time editor of Egypt’s state run Ahram Online newspaper – until he was pushed out by Islamists earlier this year – wrote in a commentary that Egyptians were ‘once again defying lazy stereotypes about the region.”

“As predominant dogma would have it, the political, social, cultural and economic behaviour of Arabs and Muslims could only be understood by reference to Islam, wherein, supposedly, “freedom” has little or no place, ” Shukrallah wrote.

Shukrallah said the west remained convinced “Arabs and Muslims could be governed only by “semi-secular” police states or Islamist regimes, preferably with some form of “representative, electoral” political system, and even more preferably, based on an accommodation between generals and mullahs.”

Some have warned of ‘turning back the clock’ on the democratic process but for millions of Egyptians that is exactly what they want to do and hope they are now on a path to achieving: Turning the clock back to March 19, 2011, the day an Islamist-backed and military-facilitated referendum set Egypt off on a dangerous course by determining a transition timetable that didn’t serve the national interest and only benefited one group.

The strife Egyptians have been living through for the past year and indeed since the 2011 revolution is certainly not over; in fact, more uncertainty will likely follow, but for millions the current situation is the least worst outcome of a disastrous transition.

Carina Kamel is currently Al Arabiya TV's Senior Correspondent and Presenter based in London. Carina is responsible for all aspects of Al Arabiya's European and U.S. business news coverage and her role includes presenting daily live reports in Arabic on financial markets well as Arab business news from a global perspective. Carina also regularly produces TV reports, conducts interviews with Ministers and CEOs and reports from the field. Previously, Carina worked as Europe Correspondent for CNBC Arabia and CNBC Africa for more than 5 years, also based in London, and regularly reported on the Middle East for CNBC Europe and CNBC U.S. She can be followed on Twitter @Carina_bn

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.