By Khaled Abou El Fadl
5 JUL 2013
Before his overthrow, much of the scolding that President Mohammed Morsi received in the Egyptian media accused him of being nothing more than an American lackey.
As incredible as it might sound, in the year leading up to the overthrow of the Egyptian President, countless intellectuals and journalists insisted that President Morsi was brought to power by the United States, and that he received his orders from the White House. More incredibly still, intellectuals on the right and on the left speaking in opposition television channels portrayed the United States and the Muslim Brotherhood as partners in a devilish scheme in which the United States agreed to bring the Islamists to power in return for the Islamists doing the America's bidding.
This is but a morsel of the chaotic incoherence of the vitriolic attacks that preceded the military coup in Egypt. President Morsi was attacked for drawing close to Turkey, and he was also attacked for accommodating Iran. He was accused of conspiring with Israel to settle the Palestinians in Sinai, and of being friendly towards Israel. But he was also accused of planning to sell the Suez Canal to the Qataris. He was criticized for alienating the United Arab Emirates, but also accused of being nothing more than a Saudi agent. He was attacked for antagonizing Ethiopia, but also for appeasing Ethiopia.
In short, any person who read the opposition papers and listened to their media would quickly come to the conclusion that Morsi could not do anything right.
In my view, President Morsi was extremely inept and visionless. His domestic policies showed a remarkable lack of effectiveness and exposed his painful dearth of experience and competence. However, this does not mean that his political opponents are more capable, competent or democratic. Most of the opposition that brought down Morsi had a long history of accommodating and appeasing the old corrupt regime of Mubarak.
This is why the picture in Egypt is astoundingly contradictory and puzzling. The military once again has overthrown the first freely elected president after only one year in power. The military claims that it had to act because the protestors in Tahrir Square represented the sovereign will of the people, but this is the same military that has insisted on passing laws shielding it from any civilian oversight or accountability. It is also the same military that criminalizes any criticism against itself and tries its civilian critics in military courts.
One of the main grievances against Morsi's regime was that he infringed upon the independence of the judiciary. But this assumes that this judiciary is truly independent. After all, this is the same judiciary that for decades shielded and accommodated one of the most corrupt regimes of the Arab world. This is also the same judiciary that invalidated the first freely elected parliament after the revolution, and that just reinstated a State Attorney loathed for his long service and loyalty to the Mubarak regime.
Morsi was criticized for trying to intimidate or harass his critics. But immediately after the military coup, in the name of democracy, the leaders of the ruling party and leaders of parties that supported the ruling party all have been summarily arrested under flimsy charges such as endangering the public peace and security. Others have been charged with insulting the judiciary because, in democratic Egypt, it is a crime to criticize or even comment on a judicial decision; it is also a crime to criticize a judge regardless of how corrupt or whimsical the judge may be.
Moreover, the television channels opposed to Morsi accused him of being a fascist for bringing lawsuits questioning their funding and licensing. But after the coup, the military closed down all television channels that support Morsi, and also closed down Al Jazeera channels in Egypt, arresting their employees and confiscating their equipment.
The tragedy of Egypt is that the revolution is headed by a young generation of idealists who firmly believe in democracy and social justice. But this dreamy generation is surrounded by many reactionary and autocratic forces that stand ready to exploit any revolutionary achievements for purposes that have nothing to do with constitutionalism or democracy.
This revolutionary generation has struggled to get beyond the old politics in the Arab world that pits secularists against Islamists - a struggle in which both secularists and Islamists claim to represent the masses and the people's will. The revolutionaries who are celebrating the military rising to support the people's decision forget that every dictator claims to rule in the name of the people. It was not long ago that Nasser of Egypt perpetuated a vicious dictatorship in the name of the huge masses that would flood the streets in his support.
The great affliction of the old politics in the Arab world is the lack of principle, duplicity and opportunistic double-standards. This is why, throughout Morsi's presidency and now after the coup, if a demonstrator is killed, whether or not he or she is given the honorific title of "martyr" depends entirely on the politics of the victim.
Now after the coup, in keeping with the long honoured tradition of double-standards, the military council has announced that it respects the right of freedom of expression, association and demonstration as long as it does not endanger public security. The army continues to cheer for the demonstrators in Tahrir, even as it is arresting and repressing those demonstrating elsewhere in favour of Morsi.
Sadly, democracy will not take hold in Egypt unless Egyptians learn that the only way to challenge the ballot box is by the ballot box, and that the sanctity of the process must always trump the desirability of the results.
Khaled Abou El Fadl is the Omar and Azmeralda Alfi Distinguished Professor of Law at the UCLA School of Law and Chair of the Islamic Studies Interdepartmental Program at UCLA. He is one of the world's foremost authorities on Islamic law, and a prominent scholar in the field of human rights. He is the author of numerous books on Islam and Islamic law, including The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists and The Search for Beauty in Islam: A Conference of the Books.