Unlike the 1999 coup by Pakistanâ€™s General Pervez Musharraf, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisiâ€™s was almost surreal. As he announced in his shrill voice the unconstitutional deposition of the elected President Mohammad Morsi, on his right were seated heads of other wings of armed forces, including the liberal poster-man, Mohamed ElBaradei.
On General al-Sisiâ€™s left were, inter alia, Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar, Pope Tawadros of the Coptic Church, a member of the al-Nour party as well as a representative of the youth. There were no women. One by one all these figures spoke to back the coup and thereby subverted Egyptâ€™s fragile democracy.
To General al-Sisi, this coordinated and well-thought-out coup was a â€˜patrioticâ€™, not a â€˜politicalâ€™ act. Think of George Orwell and the masterful twist of language!
By failing to do so, these Western democracies found themselves as unlikely bedfellows with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, two states that also welcomed the coup. Does not the statement of British Foreign Secretary, William Haguethat â€˜only democratic processes and government by consent will bring the stability and prosperity that the people of Egypt seekâ€™ mislead people to think that the Morsiâ€™s government was not based on consent?
If the mere number of people taking to the streets is a sufficient condition for a government to be overthrown, then, did the governments of Tony Blair and George W. Bush met this condition as millions had marched against their unethical war in 2003?
My point is not to justify whatever Morsi did or to discredit the anti-Morsi protests. Clearly, such protests are integral to a thriving democracy. The question, however, is: how such protests in the name of democracy end up befriending its current adversary, the unelected military?
How is it that the â€˜liberal-secularâ€™ opposition, that so detests the Islamism of the FJP, includes the al-Nour party of Salifis who are no less religious than their Brotherhood counterparts? Does not ElBaradeiâ€™s liberalism wedded to unbridled military might prove Uday Mehtaâ€™s contention that liberalism has historically served empire?
In the case of Egypt, it is not yet clear to what extent the internal and external actors converged to enact her de-democratisation. However, this much is clear that if a less powerful democratic state does not serve the interests and identity of the powerful – within and without – democracy is easily sacrificed to ensure the hegemony of the powerful. What ultimately matters is not being a democrat but being a friend. In some ways, Egypt of 2013 resembles Haiti of 2004 and Ireland of 2008.
In 2004 France and the US organised a coup against the elected President of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Aristide was put on a 20-hour flight to the Central African Republic. Even the Haitian officials didnâ€™t know about his destination. As I write, we donâ€™t know where Morsi is. Aristide maintains that he was abducted.
Letâ€™s recall that in 2000 elections Aristide was elected as president second time. Two key factors for his ousting were his refusal to submit to Washington and, his demand that France, the former colonial power, pay a sum of US$21bn it had extorted from Haiti.
In 1805, Haiti was the first country in Latin America to become free as a result of slave revolt. All powerful countries at that time, including the US, sided with France and declined to recognise Haitiâ€™s freedom. In desperation for recognition and under threat of being recolonised by France, the Republic of Haiti agreed to pay 150 million Francs to France for her economic loss.
Haiti continued to pay â€˜debtâ€™ to France for decades. Aristide demanded that the money France extorted from Haiti should be returned to build hospitals, schools and roads. The French Premier sent Regis Debray to Haiti to delegitimise Aristideâ€™s claim.
During his visit Debray found that â€˜no members of the democratic opposition to Aristide took the reimbursement claim seriouslyâ€™. Clearly, he sought to mislead people that Aristideâ€™s government was undemocratic. Western states and Egyptâ€™s politicians opposed to Morsi depicted the latter in a similar fashion. Furthermore, rather than help Aristide in his welfare campaign, the US-funded opposition, armed groups and the so-called civil society institutions undermined Aristideâ€™s government.
Unable to deal with him politically, Senator Jesse Helms, a Republican from North Carolina, called Aristide a â€˜psychopathâ€™. The day Morsi was ousted BBC interviewed a woman named Suraiyya, who dubbed formations like FJP and Morsi as â€œIslamofascistâ€. The BBC journalist didnâ€™t bother to ask her how she applied such a label. The synergy between the interviewee and interviewer was just perfect and subverted any legitimacy Morsi may have possessed.
In June 2008 Ireland held a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty on European Union reform. Over 53 percent rejected the Lisbon Treaty. This rejection, however, went against the wishes of Europeâ€™s elites. Instead of accepting what the Irish people sovereignly decided, The Guardian delegitimized the Irelandâ€™s popular will as follows: â€˜Less than 1 percent of the EUâ€™s 490m citizens appear to have scuppered the deal mapped out in Lisbon that was meant to shape Europe in the 21st centuryâ€™. A similar logic was/is at work in the case of Egypt. Valery Giscard, a key author of the Lisbon Treaty, told a radio journalist:
Giscard: â€˜The Irish must be allowed to express themselves againâ€™.
Radio Journalist: â€˜Donâ€™t you find it deeply shocking to make people who have already expressed themselves take the vote over?â€™
Giscard: â€˜We spend our time re-voting. If we didnâ€™t, the President of the Republic would be elected for all eternityâ€™.
It is clear what exactly Giscard meant by his comment: namely, the Irish people must keep on voting until they give the desired result he and his like-minded politicians wanted to hear and promote. The problem with Morsi and FJP was precisely this; they didnâ€™t say exactly what the powerful wanted to hear, and their ideological adversaries were happy for popular revolt to subvert democratic processes until their ideal outcome may arise.
Future of democracy and Egypt
Now that Egypt stands de-democratised and the Army has issued a road map, what is to be done? Letâ€™s hope that General al-Sisiâ€™s model is neither Pakistanâ€™s General Musharraf nor General Zia-ul-Haq. Furthermore, to responsibly answer this question is to transcend narrow, exclusive interests of any group and build a plural, dialogic political community acknowledging, not negating, differences. This entails redefining democracy democratically so that it flowers into value in its own right, not simply as a bare tool that serves oneâ€™s partisan interests. It must alter, even abolish, rather than reproduce the dominant dualism between â€˜friendsâ€™ and â€˜foesâ€™.
If the goal is to nurture as well as redefine democracy in its nascent stage, none of the political formations, including the FJP, should resort to violence. That will deprive Egyptians of an immense possibility of imagining politics anew.
To build a truly democratic Egypt is to follow the path and ideals of Abdul Ghaffar Khan, a great 20th century icon of non-violence and democracy. In short, to recreate democracy Egypt ought to courageously resist any act of de-democratisation, from within as well as without.
Irfan Ahmad is a political anthropologist and a lecturer at Monash University, Australia and author ofIslamism and Democracy in India: The Transformation of Jamaat-e-Islami (Princeton University Press, 2009) which was short-listed for the 2011 International Convention of Asian Scholars Book Prize for the best study in the field of Social Sciences. Currently, he is finishing a book manuscript on theory and practice of critique in modernity and Islamic tradition.
The views expressed in this article are the authorâ€™s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeeraâ€™s editorial policy.
Dr. Irfan Ahmed, Senior Lecturer, School of Political and Social Inquiry, Caulfield Campus, Monash University; PO. Box 197, Caulfield East, VIC 3145, Melbourne, Australia; Building H, Room 556, 900 Dandenong Road, Caulfield East.