One year in the presidency has not turned Morsi into Mubarak. His mistakes do not justify comparison with the tyrant. The cries of “Morsi, go!” — echoing the famous “Mubarak, go!” of the Arab Spring — have been disproportionate. Morsi has been the first fully democratic president that Egypt has had, and the first civilian in the post. This, for Egypt, was a triumph; as was the united front that brought Mubarak down. Islamists and secular groups, conservatives and progressives, men and women, faced the same enemy. They also shared a peaceful idea of what a popular rising meant.
Now all this is on the verge of going down the drain. The intransigence of the opposition, which has never recognized the Islamists’ democratic legitimacy or been able to wait for democratic alternation in power, has become a time bomb in the hands of the armed forces. The army, playing its habitual role as the real power in the land, has not missed its chance to step in. Its self-esteem was wounded by the fall of Mubarak who, after all, was one of its own. Not even the docility of the Muslim Brothers, who at all times carefully respected its privileges, appeased the military.
There was no need to bring the tanks out in the street. The five helicopters that overflew Tahrir and central Cairo flying Egyptian flags (a humiliation for democracy) were cheered by the demonstrators. It was another instance of the myth in which the army always plays the role of national savior. But Egypt will not progress until it puts the army in its place. It appears that nobody in the country has understood this fact: not Morsi, who has not made the least fuss; and not the opposition, which has welcomed the coup. Democracy is impossible when the army is a protagonist. Particularly deplorable has been the behavior of Mohamed ElBaradei, the apparent beneficiary of this chaos, who is calling both for more democracy and more military might, and who, from the first moment on, has discreetly and astutely boycotted the electoral results.
Democracy is impossible when the army is a protagonist
Though the army has played an important role in the disaster, it does not bear all the blame. The other main institution of the old regime, the judiciary, has also remained untouched by democratic change. In this case Morsi did attempt to carry out a necessary reform, and has paid dearly for it: Egypt has been left with no parliament, no electoral law, and without a president who was elected by popular vote.
Morsi has himself made two big mistakes: passivity to the old regime, which is essentially the objection the demonstrators have against him; and his spasms of authoritarian behavior, born of impotence and of the country’s inclination toward emphatic gestures. The demonstrators themselves are no strangers to this same leaning. They have called on the army to do what the army could not do without a coup d’état: throw Morsi out. In this counter-revolution, the opposition and the demonstrators also bear a share of responsibility.
In the present situation, what can be expected? The opposition is talking about a second revolution. Is this to be a government of “national salvation,” overseen by the army? In the long run it will serve for nothing: any real exercise of democracy will put the Islamists back in power. More than this, what the moderate Islamists, the Muslim Brothers, lose, will be gained by the extreme Islamists, the Salafists. Either democracy will be held captive indefinitely (and this, most likely, after massive bloodshed), or the Islamists will have to be allowed to govern. It can only be honest, clean elections that put presidents and governments in power, or remove them. To forget this is always costly.
Luz Gómez García is a professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at the Autónoma University of Madrid.