The popularly legitimate coup took place in Egypt – and it is over. The country now needs to make sure that the conditions that led to it are not repeated – because, indeed, Egypt is far from being out of the woods.
For months, on these very pages, I’ve been voicing concern about the possibility that grassroots chaos could force the military to intervene, particularly in July or August. Let me be clear: I did not predict this at all. The scenario I feared was with the increasingly difficult economic catastrophe that Egypt was becoming, combined with power cuts, summer heat, and Ramadan (the most expensive month of the year), Egypt was essentially a tinder-box.
A single spark could set it off – political discontent with former president Mursi would be of minimal importance in that regard (despite being entirely justifiable), with widespread civil unrest happening due to more mundane issues. In such a situation, Mursi would be incapable of maintaining order, and the military would undoubtedly see his economic policies (or lack thereof) as directly contributing to the creation of such circumstances. As such, the military would either remove him, or keep him as a president with limited powers, till presidential elections could be held, and a new, competent cabinet could be appointed.
Desire for Mursi’s departure
As it turned out, Mursi managed to be the one thing that vastly different swathes of society could agree on: in that, he had to go. Those that made up the crowds of millions that called for his departure had previously been opposite sides of the argument many times in the last three years. There were those who in 2011 would have been supporters of Hosni Mubarak remaining, as opposed to wanting the January 25th revolution; and there those who were in Tahrir Square from the first day of the 2011 uprising. There were those who would have supported Shafiq in the presidential elections last year; and yes, there were those who would have supported Mursi. There would have been those who had voted for the constitution last year – and there would have been those who had voted against.
Mursi’s presidency is officially over – but many of the problems that led to his departure are still there, and some new ones will replace others.Dr. H.A. Hellyer
But what brought them all together was a thorough desire for Mursi to depart – and key to that desire was the absolute failure of Mursi to deliver on any reforms. The overwhelming majority of Egyptians over the past year have seen their lives get worse, not better – and they identified that as the fault of their newly elected president. Part of that is unfair – because anyone would have had a difficult time trying to sort out the slow train wreck that is Egypt’s economy – but Mursi took no steps that indicated the slightest bit of competency in redirecting that train to a better destination. Had he done so, the crowds would have been markedly smaller – in fact, they might have been too small to stimulate the military at all.
Mursi’s presidency is officially over – but many of the problems that led to his departure are still there, and some new ones will replace others. The interim president, Adly Mansour, looks to be appointing Mohammed ElBaradei as Prime Minister – the rest of his cabinet has yet to be announced. If Mr Mansour wants to present this cabinet as one that is first and foremost competent, and secondly brings Egyptians together, he is going to be very careful with his ensuing appointments. Many expect Mr El-Baradei to be competent, and able – but few expect him to be a unifying figure. Already, Mursi supporters are sneering at the appointment – and while they are a minority of the Egyptian population, even 15% of Egyptians is still a very large number. Moreover, in the past few days, some of them have not shown themselves to be particularly restrained when it comes to violence. The level of tension in Egypt at the moment is very high – and President Mansour will need to tackle that immediately.
A ‘reset button?’
But beyond those political issues, which are undoubtedly very real, and perhaps more important than they have ever been before during this transition – the economic and financial issues facing Egypt remain. That scenario of riots and social disorder, as a result of economically driven grievances, is not impossible in the slightest. On the contrary, Egypt still finds itself vulnerable in that regard – this new situation is a stay of execution in that regard, and nothing more. The new government will need to urgently find ways to address the problems of the economy – and encourage international investment to return. Some of that may have to wait, unfortunately, until there are presidential elections, with a president that has a democratic mandate – but those can’t realistically take place for at least a couple of months, if not longer.
Many are describing this new period as a ‘second chance’; a way to hit the ‘reset’ button for the Egyptian revolution. Others argue it is an abortion of Egypt’s democratic experiment, and that the consequences of it have yet to be seen. Regardless of which are right (or even if they are all right), none of it will mean much if Egypt does not take key and vital steps to address those same problems which brought people to Tahrir Square in 2011, and which may yet still bring them again.
Dr. H.A. Hellyer, non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution and the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, is a Cairo-based specialist on Arab affairs who previously held senior posts at Gallup and Warwick University. Follow him on Twitter at @hahellyer.