Yesterday the Egyptian military intervened and removed the Morsi regime from power. The military was clearly responding to public pressure from the millions of demonstrators who gathered at Tahrir Square on Sunday to peacefully demand the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood from power. The military also worked in coordination with the members of the Tamarod rebel movement, which clearly has some secular democratic supporters.
The military’s current steps are positive. They include swearing in the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court as a temporary president, suspending the Islamist-dominated Constitution, and making plans for new parliamentary and Presidential elections. The military also restored Prosecutor General Abdel Meguid Mahmoud, who had been fired by Morsi, to office.
The problem is that repeatedly relying upon the military as the chief arbiter to resolve political disputes in Egypt sets a bad precedent. The Egyptian military ruled for almost 60 years from 1952 to 2011. The Nasser regime caused enormous suffering to the Egyptian people, systematically confiscating the wealth of businesspeople, suppressing political dissent, and expelling the Jewish community from Egypt.
In addition, the military also ruled Egypt following the fall of the Mubarak regime in 2011. During that time it murdered hundreds of peaceful protestors; subjected 12,000 civilians, including political dissidents such as Maikel Nabil, to military tribunals, and generally violated human rights in atrocious ways. The military’s record during its rule in 2011 and 2012 shows that it is not capable of managing the political transition to democracy in a fair and respectful manner.
For this reason, the highest priority of Egyptian secular democrats should be to develop a plan to remove the military from power. The loner that the military stays in power, the more entrenched and brutal it is bound to become. Khaled Diab wrote,”The people and the army are not a “single hand”. After six decades of military or ex-military dictators, we can safely say that the army got us into this mess in the first place.” He effectively captures the reasons why the military is not a friend of the democratic process.
The long-term problem is that Egyptian politics is caught between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood. For this reason the secular democratic forces relied on the military to remove the radical Islamists from power. But Egyptian political activists who feel forced to choose between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military are acting like an abused woman who thinks her only option is deciding whether to be beaten by her husband or her father. Ultimately both these systems are abusive, oppressive, and incompatible with democratic and civilized development.
Thus, Egyptian secular democrats need to develop a third path which will allow them to function independently from both these systems. Such a path will take time to create, and it will depend on the development of a vibrant civil society which can vigorously defend human rights, women’s rights, and democratic freedoms. In addition, it will require the creation of a political culture in which secular democratic parties can function freely without fear of military and Islamist repression and can learn to cooperate with one another for the sake of broader political interests beyond their own turf and power. It will involve more effectively tackling problems such as religious discrimination against Coptic Christians and the all-pervasive patterns of sexual and domestic violence against women. The solutions are complex, but ultimately the decision to create a third path of political development will allow the secular democrats to free themselves of their current dangerous situation.