A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, July 8, 2013

When is a Coup Not a Coup? Egypt on the Eve of Ramadan

The July 3 toppling of Muhammad Morsi in Egypt has predictably led to rolling clashes between supports of the deposed President and those who celebrate his departure. We've just had a four-day weekend in the US due to the Fourth of July falling on Thursday; I decided not to try to post through most of the holiday in order to allow my own thoughts to form more clearly.

What's clear is how much remains unclear. The confusion over the weekend over whether Mohamed ElBaradei was to become Prime Minister,or Vice President, or either is still murky; there have been many rumors about who is getting which jobs, with many distinguished names in play, but little certainty.

The US is seemingly unsure what to do. American law requires a cutoff of aid if there has been a military coup against a freely elected government. But US officials are carefully avoiding using the c-word, which would limit their freedom of action; the US has major strategic interests in Egypt, and with most of that aid going to the military, a cutoff of aid could lead to a radicalization of the Army which is holding most of the cards right now.

And I should mention that after this four-day weekend I found my email inbox full of over hundred (I stopped counting) messages from (ostensible) Egyptians all informing me, many in identical words and all in only three or four variant texts, that this was a revolution, not a coup. None of these were from anyone I knew, although a few purported to come from "the Egyptian people." If these folks think the US Administration will heed my advice, I'm flattered, but if they think spam-bombing Washington is the way lobbying works, they've got a lot to learn. Anyway, I got the message after the first dozen or so, I suspect that other Mideast hands got similar mail.

Was it a coup? Well, let me ask another question: was February 2011 a coup? We didn't generally call it that though it was the Army that sent Mubarak packing. But no one considered Mubarak freely elected (except perhaps Mubarak).

The tendency to see this as a simple case of polarization between the secular and the Islamists is complicated by the fact that the Nour Party, which is Salafi, has backed the coup (but may have blocked ElBaradei). But the arrests of Muslim Brotherhood leaders, and media closings, suggests an intention on the part of the new leadership to suppress the organization, which may not sit well with Nour.

And Ramadan starts at sundown. That may exacerbate tensions, especially among Islamists.

More thoughts are coming.

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