The Egyptian Demos Speaks (and Louder Than Ours)

Is it or is it not a military coup in Egypt?  This semantic game is, predictably, being played out among the talking heads, and hardly surprising, the answer depends a great deal upon the political convictions of the speaker.  Yes, the military has entered the political arena and ousted the sitting government, which is certainly coup-like.  On the other hand, although the military is looking after its own interest, it is nevertheless responding to an unprecedented demonstration of discontent with an increasingly unresponsive and autocratic government.  So, call it a military coup, but one with incredibly broad popular support.

Of course, governments, even those that could not stomach Morsi and his Muslem Brotherhood, are bemoaning the fact that the Egyptian army has removed a legitimate, freely elected, if obnoxious, administration.  Naturally, this has less to do with any deep commitment to constitutional process than with the simple fact that governments like other governments far better than people in the streets.  Recall the consternation in Washington when the Wall came down: we understood the behavior of that nasty DDR government and could deal with it, but people pouring in to the streets demanding freedom?  Where will that end?  And military dictatorships are the best, because they tend to be more stable and consistent in their policies.

The “deep concern” over dumping the legitimately elected government of Morsi rings a bit hollow, especially where the US is concerned.  We refuse to recognize Hamas in Gaza, and they were legitimately elected.  When the Algerian military suspended elections in 1992 because the Islamic Front was winning in the early rounds, we had no problem supporting the new dictatorship.  In 1973 we actually aided in the overthrow of the freely elected President, Salvador Allende.  How about the legitimately elected Prime Minister of Iran, Mohammad Mosaddegh?  We engineered a coup against him in 1953 and installed the not so freely elected Shah.  Certainly the US would like to see military rule in Egypt, so long as they provide stability and do not mess with Israel.

Distrust of the common people protesting in the streets inevitably evokes the label of “mob rule,” which suggests violence and illegality and behavior distasteful to civilized democratic folk.  But one might suggest that democracy is simply polite and orderly mob rule.  Aristotle in fact distinguished between “democracy,” rule of the demos or people, and “ochlocracy,” rule of the ochlos or mob, yet the distinction was not based on the venue – the streets or the assembly hall – or the political mechanism – throwing rocks or voting – but on the aim of the group.  If the citizens in the sovereign assembly carried on in the best long term interests of the society, they constituted a democracy; if they sought only short term benefit for themselves, they were instead an ochlocracy.  According to Aristotle, then, what we have in Washington is mob rule.

Allowing Morsi to finish out his term and then be turned out of office by the voters strikes me as risky business.  Like his colleague in Turkey, Prime Minster Recep Erdoğan, Morsi betrayed his deep lack of understanding of democratic rule by assuming that once elected by a majority one can do anything one wants and ignore and punish opposition forces.  His increasingly autocratic behavior and blatant favoring of one minority group does not immediately suggest a peaceful and democratic change of power when his term ended.  More likely would be elections rigged by a Muslem Brotherhood now in secure control of the mechanisms of government.

In a state such as Egypt with virtually no practice in democratic rule deposing a plainly incompetent and nefarious ruler by mass demonstrations and the help of the military might be considered a democratic act of a  more rough and ready nature.  After all, how free are our elections?  We have two entrenched parties, who enjoy almost complete control over who runs for office, and given that elections are essentially an exercise in mass marketing rather than political debate, these contests are easily manipulated by the economic powers in the society.  Absent term limits, an elected official can pretty much hold his office for life because of the incumbent’s access to the big money and the results of two centuries of gerrymandering of districts.  And let us not forget the ignorance and passivity of the American electorate.  What has happened in Egypt appears in many ways far more democratic than what goes on here according to the rules.

I praise the Egyptian people for not putting up with the governmental crap that we routinely do.

Incidentally, Hitler was legitimately elected.

24 comments on “The Egyptian Demos Speaks (and Louder Than Ours)

  1. iblondfairy says:

    This typs of regimes should not be tolerated any more !
    Not anyone else in our world be out into doubt when it comes to basic rights…

    And about the last sentence – it is amazing what people might believe when are sanked into desperation.

  2. It is true that governments are upset about the Egyptian revolution (I’ve written about this myself), but you do present some good points. I just hope that whatever happens now in Egypt will be better than Morsi, who made Mubarak look good!

  3. jumeirajames says:

    Oh,it was a coup all right. And it’s going to stay that way, with a popular puppet up front. I think it’s the best solution for Egypt, America and Israel. Job done.

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  5. yerpirate says:

    Excellent post, with all covered. Whether it was technically a coup or not, the army was headed by a man selected by Morsi, so it shows how far he’d gone. As always the exit strategy is going to be the problem. Saudi Arabia supported the coup, so did Syria which is stunning, because the two countries would normally agree on nothing. I think one huge worry is if Egypt cannot stabilise it will attack Ethiopia in order to bring everyone together under the guise of patriotism.

  6. ennychris says:

    Well, I am an African and The AU (African Union) has vowed not to tolerate military coups anymore. Morsi should be reinstated quickly. If the Egyptians do not like him, let them vote him out of office.

  7. This is so interesting and I learned a lot, I’ve been trying to follow the situation in Egypt but I’m painfully ignorant of the context so this helped. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Mantas says:

    Americans can bring democracy with it’s military 😀

  9. segmation says:

    Incidentally, Hitler was legitimately elected is a good point! I think that America as well as the rest put a stop to what is happening in Egypt!

  10. A.K. says:

    This is definitely a knotty one. On one hand, I am totally against Morsi’s brand of political
    Islam (or any brand of it really.) On the other, the Egyptian military is clearly the party with all the power, not the people. The army threw out Mubarak; the army threw out Morsi. The people alone could not have done it.

    I hope Egypt and the rest of the middle east can create some kind of homespun governmental system that works for the people’s sake and is halfway accountable. But knowing recent history, I don’t hope very much.

  11. walyndrist says:

    For the record, Hitler also saved Germany’s economy and built what was then the most efficient highway system in the world, before he even began to show signs of aggression towards other nations. Also, while he was legitimately elected, he declared himself absolute dictator a year later, so stop with the mindless comparisons to Hitler. Now.

    • qqduckus says:

      “mindless comparisons”? Hitler and Morsi were both legitimately elected; they both became assholes, whom many people wanted to overthrow. That was the point.

      • walyndrist says:

        Well, yeah, but Morsi hasn’t seized absolute power yet, at least technically, and, whatever their intentions, it’s actually a bit difficult for millions of people to rule a country directly, and so, I’m guessing, it’s probably currently a bit chaotic there right now. Also, I seriously doubt the rioters actually represent the majority of Egypt’s population, since most cities would have difficulty supporting forty or so million people, making this…mob rule, maybe?

  12. It is one thing for citizens to force an early election. It is an entirely different matter for the military to stage a coup. I can’t see how this is in Egypt’s interests; there must have been better alternatives. This coup will only cause greater division, undermine the many Egyptian’s faith in democracy, and set a dangerous precedent. Democracy is about more than elections, and much has been written about the importance of a constitution in setting the ground rules that all political parties must subsequently adhere to. Somehow a national coalition government must be formed and a constitution written that protects basic human rights and political and religious freedoms. The UN should press for elections and a roadmap to achieve these goals at the earliest possible date. The worst possible outcome is violence. Haven’t we learned enough times over the last twenty years that violence leads nowhere. Everything must be done to keep the Muslim Brotherhood within the political process.

    • qqduckus says:

      It is sad that the military has begun rounding up members of the Brotherhood. Those in power, including our own government, cannot resist using the tactics that make them the same as the enemy.

      • I believe that the true enemies of democracy are not the sole preserve of one faction or another. The true division is not between one religion or another, or one political faction and another, but between those on all sides who would use the chaos and division for their own ends – to reach positions of power and authority. The majority in Egypt want democracy, but they are being thwarted by a minority, dispersed among all the opposing factions, who seek only their own ends. That minority is comprised of psychologically disordered individuals who thrive in violent, chaotic environments, and who are psychologically incapable of building consensus and promoting inclusion that Egypt so desperately needs. The normal majority of Egyptians are at risk of being bystanders to the destructive behaviour of this pathological minority.

  13. moqhashmi says:

    It is a Noteworthy perspective.

  14. Jules says:

    The US govt. has been trying to get other countries to adopt democracy (so they say). Ironically, I think Egypt is doing far better than the US. What the Egyptian people are doing may not be constitutional per se, but it is the will of the people. Here in the US, the government increasingly sidesteps the constitution and the will of the people continues to be thwarted by money and politics. Egypt wins.

  15. interoutlook says:

    If it brings a brighter future for the people of Egypt, then beeing a coup or not is irrelevant. Let us hope for development and stability.

  16. Reblogged this on So, I Read This Book Today . . . and commented:
    Egypt has always fascinated me. As does the politics of power.

  17. Thanks for sharing your blog keep on sharing

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