Young Arab Spring Blog

Egypt's Democracy: A Year After the Coup

Ahmed Fahmy*

A year has passed since Egypt went through another turning point in its political history. Last summer, the army ousted Egypt's first democratically elected president under demands from scores of protesters for an end for the Muslim Brotherhood's rule. The Brotherhood's government had not even lasted a year. The ousting of the Brotherhood was followed by a month-long sit-in by the Brotherhood in Cairo's Rabaa El Adaweyya and Al Nahda squares; these protests ended on the 14th of August in a bloody raid by the security forces that left well over 630 people dead and thousands others injured.

Egypt's democracy was among the casualties. It was a democracy that saw its first glimpse of hope in the 25th of January uprising in 2011 that ousted Mubarak, Egypt's dictator of 30 years. The uprisings failed to establish democracy, which slowly it lost its position on the list of top priorities. Activists became primarily concerned with those who were behind bars, killed in demonstrations, tried in front of military tribunals and much more. The older generations grew to see the uprising as a threat to stability; they longed for a life without the political turmoil or economic hardships that were brought by the revolution. "Stability at any cost" became their new motto.

The Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi was elected following a vicious and surprising elections against Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak's last Prime Minister and a former general in the Egyptian army.

Democracy did not flourish during the Brotherhood's rule either. The Brotherhood sought to control all Powers, making enemies with all other groups in Egypt: the constitutional court which dissolved the Brotherhood-dominated parliament; the army that wasn't satisfied with civilian rule, let alone the Brotherhood's interference in its affairs; the media, which was constantly criticizing the Brotherhood and its uncharismatic leader; activists who were sidelined and excluded from political decisions; and many more who were excluded from the Brotherhood's bubble. The biggest failure of all was Morsi's attempt to fortify his authority against judicial annulment with a constitutional declaration. This declaration was soon followed by a huge clash between the polarized factions, and the Brotherhood responded by rapidly passing a new Islamic constitution.

This new constitution prompted the Tamarod campaign, which called on Morsi for early elections. The campaign was welcomed by Mubarak's supporters, as well as liberals who were unsatisfied with Morsi's increasingly authoritarian rule. Millions took part in the demonstrations on 30th of June; the military gave Morsi a 48-hours ultimatum to comply with the demands of the people. This ended in a coup d'état lead by Abdul Fattah El Sisi. However, the question then became whether the end of the Brotherhood's role was the result of a coup d'état or an approriate response to popular demand.

Those who thought that such an intervention was not a coup overlooked the nature of Egypt's army. The army is extremely popular in Egypt, as it is regarded as the safeguard of the nation and its identity. The army also invests heavily in the civilian economy without being held accountable to any civilians. For example, though the military's budget is not discussed in parliament, analysts estimate that it constitutes between 15 and 40 percent of Egypt's economy. The Army and its leader, El Sisi, were capable of securing their control over Egyptian politics in less than a month. The new regime also antagonized Brotherhood supporters with the Rabaa Massacre, an act that rendered peace impossible. Activists from all groups were detained and tried under new anti-demonstration laws. Though these laws were supposedly written to combat Brotherhood activities, it was instead exploited indiscriminately against any form of opposition. The Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR) estimates that there have been over 41,000 detainees since the 3rd of July coup. Over 34 have already been sentenced to death, including the Brotherhood supreme guide Mohammed Badie, and hundreds of others are currently being tried under the death penalty in trials that have reached record breaking sizes.

An inclusive democracy isn't visible in Egypt's future, especially not when the fear that the Brotherhood would abuse the democratic system to avenge its prosecution gives El Sisi a good justification to crackdown on dissidents. In addition, the country's economy is facing real challenges, which have forced the government to implement unpopular measures, such as lifting subsidies on energy. Even by El Sisi's hardcore supporters have met these changes with resentment. Upcoming parliamentary elections are expected to favor members of the Mubarak's National Democratic Party (NDP), whose members were barred from participating in elections under Brotherhood rule. Since the army's return to power, an appeals court has annulled the ban, paving the road for senior members of the NDP to make a comeback on Egypt's political scene. Egypt is facing real challenges to its democracy, freedom of speech, and rule of law. With an opposition that has been intimidated and excluded by the government and media that is heavily scrutinized, any possible remedies to the political maiadles in Egypt, such as inclusiveness, the freedom to disagree with policies, and accountability for Egypt's leaders, are no longer viable.

 * Graduate from Bahçeşehir University, Political Science and International Relations Department