Sunday, 25 August 2013

On the evidence, the Egyptian people did not support the coup against Morsi

Many important people in Egypt and in the West have delivered their verdict on the short-lived government of Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood and it has been damning. However, the promise of the 25 January 2011 Revolution was that ordinary Egyptians would be able in future to give their own verdict on their own governments and that their choice would be respected.

On 3 July 2013, the Egyptian army, backed by many of the country’s secular liberal elite, deposed the government of Morsi and the Brotherhood, which had come to power in 2012 after free and fair elections. 

The army and its allies claimed legitimacy for their coup by asserting that they were carrying out the will of the Egyptian people. However, the evidence leads to the opposite conclusion.

Politicians in the US and UK have generally ignored the evidence and accepted the military’s claim.  John Kerry said that the military removed Morsi at the request of “millions and millions” and that the army had been “restoring democracy.”  William Hague declared that the overthrow was “very popular.” Tony Blair condoned the military’s action on the grounds that there were “17 million people on the street.”

The Egyptian writer Alaa al-Aswany – a leading member of the liberal elite – wrote, in justification for the coup, that more than 30 million Egyptians took to the street. 

BBC Monitoring has been unable to find any original sources for the figures of 17 million or 30 million cited as fact by Blair and al-Aswany respectively.

Reuters reported that a military source told them that as many as 14 million were on the streets. But how can that figure be relied on? Estimating the number of people in crowds is a very imprecise science as routinely shown by the huge disparity in the figures given by the police and demonstration organisers in the UK.

Wyre Davis, BBC Middle East correspondent, reported that he did not think the crowds against Morsi were any bigger than those in 2011 against Mubarak. 

Davis also points out that only about half a million people can fit in Tahrir Square, which was the focal point of the protest. He observes, “…the only justification for (the coup) logically is that this was a popularly backed military coup. So, it’s in the interest of the people who supported the overthrow of the president to say they had these millions of people supporting them.”  

In addition to the alleged size of the crowds, supporters of the coup also cite an anti-Morsi petition which they say had 22 million signatures. However, as there has been no independent verification, this figure cannot be safely relied on either.

The evidence for the case that most Egyptians did not support the coup rests on actual votes cast. In the course of 2012 there were five nationwide votes and each time Morsi and the Brotherhood won.

November 2011 to January 2012 in elections to the People’s Assembly (Lower House of Parliament), the Brotherhood’s party, the Freedom and Justice Party, won most votes with 37.5%. 

Some of the criticism of the Brotherhood has been that they were “too Islamic”. Second place in this election went to the Islamist Bloc, dominated by the al-Nour party, with 27.8%. The al-Nour party is an ultra-conservative party advocating a more fundamentalist version of Islamist rule than the Brotherhood. It initially supported the coup against Morsi but has since distanced itself from the military. In this election the two Islamist parties received a total of 65.3% of the votes. 

January to February 2012 there were elections to the Shura Council (Upper House of Parliament). The Freedom and Justice Party won again, this time with 45%. Al-Nour’s Islamist Bloc was again second with 28.6%. The combined Islamist vote was 73.6%. 

On 23 and 24 May 2012 in the first round of the presidential election Morsi came first with 24.78%. Second was Ahmed Shafik who had been Mubarak’s last prime minister. 

These two men went into a second round run-off on 16 and 17 June and Morsi was elected by 51.73% to 48.27%. Morsi received 13,230,131 votes.

On 15 and 22 December 2012 Egyptians voted in a referendum on a new constitution put forward by the Brotherhood. It was approved by a decisive majority, 63.9% to 36.1%. 

However, as the Economist reported, a breakdown of the voting on the constitution showed that there was a “flight from the Islamists among better-off, urban and educated Egyptians.” 

There is no doubt that Morsi and the Brotherhood upset powerful elites in Egypt. The evidence suggests, however, that the majority of the mass of Egyptians, not rich and often not well educated, would probably have preferred to continue with the president and the party they had chosen to elect only a year before.  They are liable to feel that this “democracy” they were promised is a sham.

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