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Revolution or coup?

Marxists and McGill students discuss recent developments in Egypt

As the Egyptian upheaval largely fades from the front pages of the press, its reverberations are continually felt in Egypt, where clashes continue and security has not yet found a home. The upheaval, however, has brought up a subject of lively debate: was the military ouster of former Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi a coup, or was it part of a long-standing revolution?

Many would argue the latter. Originally, the Egyptian grassroots movement Tamarod, formed in April of this year, created a petition calling for Morsi to resign from his position and for new elections to be held. This petition reportedly amassed 22 million signatures before June 30; by contrast, Morsi was originally voted into power with 13 million votes.

On June 30, Tamarod called for protests across Egypt to demand Morsi’s resignation. Some estimates of this protest allege that 14 million Egyptians took part. As protests continued, Morsi refused to cede power, despite demands from protesters and, later, the Egyptian army. On July 3, when he had not stepped down from power, the Egyptian military announced the end of Morsi’s presidency, suspended the constitution, and declared that a new election would be held.

Many have labelled these events as a coup d’etat. In an article for the Independent, Robert Fisk claimed, “The army t[ook] over, depose[d] and imprison[ed] the democratically elected president, suspend[ed] the constitution, arrest[ed] the usual suspects, close[d] down television stations and mass[ed] their armour in the streets of the capital.” Fisk furthered his point by adding, “Morsi was indeed elected in a real, Western-approved election.”

This view has been channeled by much of the Western press, though notably not directly by the American government nor the European Union. Fisk claims this is because if they – specifically the American government – labelled the events in Egypt as a coup, it “would force the US to impose sanctions on the most important Arab nation at peace with Israel.”

As clashes continue in Egypt, and pro-Morsi protesters are continually targeted, the answer to the question – was Morsi’s ouster a revolution or a coup? – remains murky.

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On July 10, bringing the debate closer to home, the International Marxist Tendency (IMT), a Marxist group with a local chapter in Montreal, held an event at Café Gitana to discuss the recent upheaval in Egypt. The discussion presented a view far different than Fisk’s. The event description asked such questions as, “Is this a coup d’état as is said in the capitalist media? Or is this the second stage of the Egyptian revolution which began two years ago? Did the army truly act on behalf of the revolution, or perhaps it is trying to protect its own privileges by throwing the Muslim Brotherhood under the bus?”

The event centered around a speech, given in English by IMT member Fehr Marouf and subsequently translated into French, began with a brief history of recent developments in Egypt from the time of former President Hosni Mubarak’s ousting onwards. Throughout his account of recent Egyptian history, Marouf highlighted his assertion that the Muslim Brotherhood did not actually have that much popular support.

Marouf explained that the 2012 elections consisted of two rounds. The first, from May 23 to 24, saw the vote split almost evenly between Mohammad Morsi for the Freedom and Justice party, an Islamist party with strong links to the Muslim Brotherhood, Ahmed Shafiq, an Independent whom Marouf described as “the candidate of the old regime,” and Hamdin Sabbahi, of the leftist al-Karamah party.

Morsi and Shafiq advanced to the run-off election in June, despite allegations of massive voter fraud on the part of the old regime party. Marouf claimed that “Sabbahi was robbed of his spot in the second round of elections” due to this alleged fraud.

Marouf went on to address the final election – which saw Morsi elected with 51.7 per cent of the vote, according to official tallies – with suspicion. “If we want to actually think about Morsi’s support in the country or legitimacy, we have to look at the first round,” said Marouf. “The second round, of course everyone is going to try to vote against the old regime.”

From this point onwards, the speech focused on explaining why the recent upheaval, which saw millions of protesters across the country take to the streets, was not a coup. Marouf essentially argued that power was given to the Muslim Brotherhood by the Egyptian people on the condition that they would do what the people demanded. A year later when, according to Marouf, it was clear the Brotherhood hadn’t, the people rose up to call for new leadership. Marouf indicated that the army only took charge of the direction of the mass protests when it was clear they would dispose of Morsi.

However, Marouf did make it clear that the army, which he claimed is still heavily populated by old generals from the Mubarak era, should be regarded with suspicion. He indicated that the way forward for the Egyptian people must lie in their own hands through a genuine democratic uprising that takes into account the will of the people.

Connecting the crises of the Egyptian people to a supposed global capitalist crisis, Marouf insisted that “under the capitalist system there is no solution for the Egyptian people. We cannot eat democracy, and a democracy that does not allow you to provide food for your people is not democracy.”

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Marouf’s perception of recent events in Egypt offers a different perspective when compared to Fisk’s more widely popularized characterization of these events as a coup. Some local Montreal and McGill students shared an interpretation more similar to Marouf’s than to Fisk’s.

In an interview with The Daily, U2 McGill Political Science student Rana Badawi offered an explanation for these differing perceptions. “The first [reason for the divide between the perceptions may be] because the situation in Egypt is odd and unusual to Western standards. We are talking about countries [that] have known and lived democracy for quite some time now; therefore, the idea of overthrowing a democratically elected president is unacceptable. But they should know better, they should know that democracy does not end at the ballot boxes, it is much more than that.”

“When the president himself crosses the boundaries of democracy, there is no longer space for his so-called legitimacy,” Badawi added.

Mostafa Momtaz, a McGill student and VP Internal of McGill’s Egyptian Students Association, has been participating in the recent protests in Egypt since they began. In an interview with The Daily, he also stressed that these protests, and Morsi’s downfall, should not be referred to as a coup, due to the widespread support he alleges that the actions maintain in Egypt.

“A number of young activists started the Tamarod campaign. These people went to almost every city, village, and town in Egypt to collect signatures from people to withdraw their trust in Mohamed Morsi as their president. Most of the people I know, including my whole family have signed. According to the group they collected 22 million signatures, almost a quarter of the population,” Momtaz said, adding, “Only 13 million people voted for Morsi in the final round [of elections].”

Another element emphasized in the interview with Badawi, and throughout the IMT event, was the Muslim Brotherhood’s alleged misappropriation of Islam.

“Throughout my answers I referred to Morsi’s organization as the Brotherhood, not the Muslim Brotherhood, because in my honest opinion they have absolutely nothing to do with Islam,” said Badawi.

In a question and answer period at the IMT event following Marouf’s speech, activist Ted Sprague reaffirmed this opinion, highlighting the role of class within the politics of the Muslim Brotherhood. Sprague noted that, in his view, there exists an “Islam of the workers, the poor, and an Islam of the rich” which “don’t meet eye to eye.” Sprague alleged that the Muslim Brotherhood espouses the latter type of Islam.

The IMT event concluded with Marouf highlighting the ongoing nature of the upheaval in Egypt, and the need for proletariat around the world to look out for Egyptians.

“Our revolution here is tied with the revolution of the Egyptian masses,” he said. “We have a duty to prevent imperialism from oppressing the Egyptian people. We’re going to keep watching the Egyptian revolution, and this is not over yet.”

Marouf’s message rings true for many, as the events that have been continuously unfolded in Egypt did not stop with Morsi’s ouster. In recent days, violent clashes between supporters and opponents of Morsi have continued, with over 100 dead since Morsi was deposed.

So far, a new president has not yet been elected, the Muslim Brotherhood and the army have not engaged in dialogue, the upper house of Egyptian Parliament remains dissolved, and doubts linger about what role the army will play in the future. Yet according to Badawi, “after the past two and a half years, we are entering another transitional period having absolutely nothing to lose. We’ve already lost everything.”