Perils in Egypt

It’s a military coup, and it’s a tragedy for the Egyptian revolution. The Morsi government was certainly incompetent and increasingly authoritarian, but the army had no legal or constitutional authority to remove from office and arrest a legitimately elected president.

The Egypt revolution began in January 2011 with great promise and in 18 days overturned the Mubarak dictatorship through unarmed struggle that inspired the world. As a scholar and practitioner of nonviolent action I was eager to learn how the mostly young urban activists had sparked massive nonviolent protests across the country. I visited Egypt twice in the months after the revolution, helped to organize a conference at the University of Cairo on “lessons from the unarmed revolution,” interviewed dozens of young revolutionaries along with journalists and political observers, and wrote several chapters of a book trying to analyze and apply the lessons of Egypt to the study and practice of nonviolent civil resistance. Now I’m not sure what to write.

The military has taken power again, and we are staring into the abyss of a dangerous and uncertain future. The security forces brutally suppressed initial protests from Muslim Brotherhood members. So far the Brotherhood has remained officially committed to nonviolent methods. On Friday the Brotherhood organized massive occupation-style rallies and civil resistance actions.

The Brotherhood has said it will accept early presidential elections but it wants Morsi released and has rejected the military’s hurried and poorly planned outline for a new constitutional process, as have many other Egypt political parties, secular as well as religious.

If the Brotherhood is excluded from power after having won three straight elections, violence is likely to erupt. Already some angry voices have called for armed jihad. The scenario looks disturbingly like Algeria, where in 1992 the Islamist FLN coalition won an electoral victory but was prevented from taking office, prompting a bloody civil war that continued through the decade and took as many as 200,000 lives. Political strife has torn apart Syria.  Let’s hope Egypt does not suffer the same fate.

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