By MAKAU MUTUA
Posted Saturday, July 13 2013 at 20:00
I can’t – and won’t – accept the military coup against President Mohamed Morsy of Egypt. I reject, and condemn, all military coup d’états against every freely – and democratically – elected leader. That point is unarguable, and can’t be gainsaid.
Guns shouldn’t – mustn’t – silence ballots. Either we believe in free elections and democracy, or we don’t. There aren’t in-between or bastardised positions. That’s because a coup against democracy is a “Door of No Return”. It’s like a half pregnancy – it can’t happen. It’s impossible.
Let’s hope the Egyptian military hasn’t opened a door to coups against democratic governments in Africa. I have five incontrovertible reasons every democrat must reject the putsch against Mr Morsy. There are no “ifs,” “ands,” or “buts”.
I can’t be more grandiloquent, or pompous enough, in my denunciation of the military’s subterfuge of democracy. It gets worse. The generals have the gall – outrageous insolence and effrontery – to lie about the coup. Get this – they say it’s because a mob of the losers to Mr Morsy and the Muslim Brotherhood last year took over Tahrir Square and demanded a rescission.
But the truth lies elsewhere. The Egyptian military – the pillar of disgraced dictator Hosni Mubarak’s power – couldn’t co-exist with a Brotherhood regime. The military’s preferred candidate – former Mubarak crony Ahmed Shafik – lost in two rounds to Mr Morsy. The “liberals” were wiped out. Now the military, Mubarak loyalists, and the “liberals” have conspired for a Morsy takedown.
I agree that politics is a game, but a very serious one. It’s literally sometimes about life – and death. This is the first reason I reject the coup. Political democracy is meant to “civilise” politics, which is war by other means. That’s why we must respect the ballot, or live by the gun.
When the vote is free and fair – and the outcome is unambiguous, as it was in Egypt – the loser must climb down. That’s a bedrock principle of democracy – the loser must concede defeat, and await the next cycle.
But this is the lesson of the Egypt coup – call in the army to overthrow your opponent if you lose fair and square. That, as they say, sucks.
Second, the entire world must oppose the coup because it says that only “liberals” and thinly veiled autocrats and kleptocrats are acceptable. Democratic choices aren’t only palatable when our ideological soul mates win. Remember the opposition to a Hamas victory in Palestine?
You can’t allow a party to compete, and then oppose, or overthrow it, if it triumphs. Either you ban your ideological opponents from the competition, or live with the outcome if they drab you. You can’t change the rules after the fact – ex post facto. Nor should religion be the basis for overthrowing popular will. If that were the case, the Republican Party in the United States – the “party of the Christian God” – would never rule.
Third, a coup d’état opens a dark tunnel in a country’s soul. Nothing good ever comes out of a coup – unless it sweeps away a dictatorship. I’m not talking about a popular revolution such as the one that sent Mr Mubarak packing.
Mr Morsy wasn’t a dictator. Some of his policies were clearly unpopular, but he was popularly elected on a Brotherhood platform. It’s hypocritical to democratically elect a party, and not expect it to carry out some of its policies. A military putsch against a winning party because of its policies sets the stage for counter-coups in the future. It unleashes a cycle of arrests, murders and violent coups – just look at Uganda, DRC, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Madagascar.
Fourth, the African Union is right to condemn the coup and suspend Egypt from the club. That’s because Egypt could make other militaries in Africa think it’s “cool” to take down elected governments. That’s why it’s wrong for the Obama Administration to wink at the generals.
America provides Egypt with $1.3 billion annually, most of it military support. That’s not chump change. While it can’t – and shouldn’t – dictate what happens in Egypt, the United States can condemn the coup and reconsider its taxpayer largesse to the Egyptian military.
Mr Obama shouldn’t just acquiesce to a blatant illegality, much less support it. What’s going to happen the next time a trigger-happy colonel thinks he can overturn democracy elsewhere in Africa?
Fifth, fragile democracies in transition – like Egypt’s – need to be nurtured, not unceremoniously upended.
The move from a dictatorship to a democracy is circuitous and not a straight line. It has peaks and valleys, ups and downs. The euphoria – and exhilarating climax – of the revolution doesn’t bring democracy overnight. Democracies take work. That’s what the “liberals” in Egypt must get.
Mr Morsy and the Brotherhood out-organised and out-worked them. Rather than cry to the army for a coup, the “liberals” should have stolen a page from the Brotherhood, and prepared better for the ballot next time. Now many will see the interim regime as simply a puppet of the army and the old Mubarak kleptocracy. It has set democracy back.
Mark Twain, the American author and icon, wrote that “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it”. I totally agree with the statement.
There’s a lesson here for Egyptians. While there’s a difference between “country” and “government,” I strongly believe that sometimes it could irreparably hurt the “country” if one doesn’t support the “government”. That’s not Kenya’s case, but I believe it’s Egypt’s case in this instance. Reverse the coup.
Makau Mutua is Dean and SUNY Distinguished Professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School and Chair of the KHRC. Twitter @makaumutua.