Since the bloody coup that ousted the first democratically elected president in Egypt, Dr. Mohammed Morsi last July, a growing movement against the coup has evolved and progressed, challenging the military authority over the country.
This Anti-Coup movement began by demanding the re-instatement of the 2012 constitution and restoration of the Shurah council, the upper house of the parliament, alongside the restoration of Morsi’s presidency. The Rabaa sign (referring to the sit-in where thousands of Anti-Coup movement protesters were killed by security forces last August) has meanwhile become a sign and slogan for that movement, and it remains a movement that contains many who not so long ago were against many of his policies. Why did they make this political choice under the worst of circumstances?
Morsi was the first civilian who was elected president of Egypt. While this may sound ordinary in many countries, it has a deep significance in Egypt. For decades, Egypt was ruled by military officers and for centuries it was ruled by monarchs. This was the first time, thanks to the January 25th Revolution, where the Egyptians managed to elect their own ruler among others who competed in an open contest, something Egypt has never witnessed before. Morsi became a symbol for the power of people to choose who rules them.
These were fair elections with just a slight margin over the ‘deep state’ candidate, who also belonged to a military institution. This was the fifth electoral contest in a row (two constitutional referendums, two parliamentary elections and a presidential one), and this one occurred in an open political environment dominated by civilian powers with different outlooks and attitudes. This major gain from the revolution opened up the prospects of a viable political life before all Egyptians, who before then were represented solely by the president’s party and a cartoonish opposition.
After the coup, all these fair elections, not only the presidential one but also all the previous political outcomes, were cancelled out and thrown in the bin. Despite a road map that entails new elections under military rule alongside the restoration of Mubarak’s Police State and his politicised judiciary, Morsi’s return soon became the symbol of the civilian politics that led to his election and flourished throughout his sole year of governance.
In Egypt, traditionally, not only is the president’s position occupied by an army officer but all the influential positions have been dominated by army personnel. Many positions for governor, city mayor, or manager of state-owned firms were occupied by former army officers so that it has become widely thought that army officers only retire to prepare themselves to hold a position somewhere in the governmental body running Egypt.
Although Egyptian politics were run mainly by the National Democratic Party of Mubarak, the real powers in the land were the military, who have the decisive say on who will sit on the throne of Egypt. Although this equation was disrupted by the revolution, the military did not give up and tried to regain its privileges. This was very clear in the support that the military candidate in the presidential race, General Ahmed Shafiq, enjoyed. However, Morsi’s electoral victory returned their efforts to square one, and for the first time the commander-in-chief of the army became a civilian.
Despite this, although the constitution voted on in 2012 maintained an autonomous position for the army, the army was deeply alarmed at the prospect of losing such tremendous privileges as they had enjoyed in the recent past. In a leaked record from General Sisi, he mentioned that no president whatever his background may be (Islamists, liberal, leftist), would understand the position and importance of the army in Egypt. This is why the Anti-Coup movement supporters insisted on the return of president Morsi. They know that this would be a profound symbol of defeat confronting an institution that has run the country for decades, with iron and lately with blood.
Some will disagree with the policies or decisions adopted by Morsi; however, there were two moments in particular when he was clearly seen as a symbol for the revolution against its opponents.
The first was in the second round of the presidential race when he stood against the candidate of the military institution supported by remnants of the old regime. The second moment took place in this current crisis, when he refused to bow to military coercion and instead reiterated his claim to being the legitimate president of Egypt within the terms of Egypt’s constitution.
To this day, the Anti-Coup movement does not recognise what happened in Egypt in July as only a military coup, but as full blown counter-revolution. They emphasise that all the practices and pillars of Mubarak’s regime have been restored at the expense of every gain achieved by the revolution. Setting aside any debate ( and there are many) about how effective the president was in his single turbulent year in office, Morsi is regarded by many as a symbol for the January Revolution against those who used tanks to enforce the will of the counter-revolutionary forces in Egypt.
For the reasons mentioned above, Morsi’s symbolism has gone beyond personal or political loyalty to a broader meaning for a country that refuses to relinquish the gains it seized in its revolution three years ago.