Friday, March 07, 2014

The Needle and the Gun

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            The recent announcement by the Egyptian government that the Armed Forces have discovered a device to detect and possibly cure hepatitis “C” and AIDS has been met with disbelief, ridicule and occasional contempt.  It was not met with a great deal of anger, but perhaps this was because Egyptians were all too aware of the context within which the device has been offered.  Or perhaps after three years of revolutionary upheaval many Egyptians are too exhausted. The foreign media has echoed some of the ridicule but with rare exceptions has been either willfully or blindly ignorant of the public health background of the last two decades. Whether these events were an indication of malice, hypocrisy, incompetence or simple lack of attention by the relevant authorities remains uncertain.

            Announced at a mid-February 2014 press conference by Ibrahim Abdel Atti, a general by courtesy, the device—named C-Fast—resembles a radio antenna connected to a trigger mechanism.  It is thus supposed to be instantaneous (whence its name) and non-invasive. Abdel Atti claims that he spent two decades developing the device, most recently with support from the Armed Forces.  Similar technology, he claimed, was at use in “complete cure” which ostensibly did what its name implied.  Several Egyptian scientists, including the president’s science adviser, have publicly announced that the device itself is most likely a fake and that neither the device nor the theory on which it was supposedly developed has any validity. 

            If the underlying health issues were less serious the events of the past week might have the quality of an arcane comedy or a peculiar vaudeville act. But there is every reason for Egyptians to be worried about hepatitis C.  It is a severe liver disease whose full effects may take decades to manifest.  These include cancer of the liver and cirrhosis either of which is fatal if untreated.   The most common medications are uncertain and require a course of treatment lasting months.  Even after government assistance, they may cost hundreds or thousands of dollars which puts them beyond the reach of many of Egypt’s poor who may subsist on $2 a day.

            As a story in the New York Times on February 26, 2014 coyly noted Egypt has “the highest prevalence of hepatitis C.”   The superlative here refers to the entire globe: the rate of infection among Egyptians is the world’s highest.  According to a report issued by the US Centers for Disease Control but largely authored by Egyptian specialists about 10 % of the Egyptian population, or 6 million people in 2008, had chronic hepatitis c virus (HCV) infection.   Egypt, with less than a quarter the population of the United States has twice as many people infected with the virus.  Another telling comparison is that Egypt with less than 1% of the world’s population has roughly 4% of the world’s cases of hepatitis C. 

            In general hepatitis C rates are higher in the countryside than the cities, among men than women, and among those who are older.  The same report indicates that between 2008 and 2011 the Egyptian government treated about 190,000 Egyptians with one or two medications that cure between 60 and 80% of cases.  However, about 40,000 Egyptians die every year due to liver cancer or cirrhosis (not all of which is attributable to HCV) and it is the second highest cause of death in the country after heart attacks.

There is every reason for Egyptians, especially the poor and the illiterate, to be concerned about hepatitis C and to hope that someone can develop a quick and inexpensive treatment.  That many Egyptians welcomed the claims about C-Fast is not surprising. There is no particular reason that ordinary Egyptians should have very clear ideas about the best science for the detection and cure of AIDS or hepatitis C.  Whatever the vices of General Abdel Atti’s device, it has the virtue of being harmless in itself.  This is more than can be said of a drug such as laetrile that was popular in the United States at least through the 1970s and is still occasionally touted as a cure for cancer.  Laetrile, made from apricot pits, has no impact on cancer but it does contain sufficient cyanide that patients taking it have a real risk of being poisoned. 

            The problem with a harmless treatment is that it induces a false sense of security among patients who will nevertheless succumb to a deadly disease.  It is not clear whether the peak incidence of the disease occurred in the past several years but it will be a severe public health problem for decades to come.

            That the epidemic itself was in large part the effect of an earlier Ministry of Health program designed to eliminate endemic schistosomiasis (also known as bilharzia) was well known and recently reported in The Economist.  Schistosomiasis also causes severe liver disease.  That campaign itself was necessitated by earlier decisions by many Egyptian governments (including those at the turn of the 20th century when the country was effectively under British control) to extend perennial irrigation.  Egyptians suffered from schistosomiasis thousands of years ago but perennial irrigation allowed a parasite that moves from snails to humans and back again to routinely complete its life cycle and infect large numbers of people.

From 1960 until around 1980 the government injections of tartar emetic were used to control schistosomiasis.  The decision by the government to employ re-usable glass syringes that were often not effectively sterilized between uses spread the HCV epidemic even as it began to reduce the incidence of schistosomiasis.  By the mid-1980s an oral drug had begun to replace the earlier treatment.  Unfortunately by then HCV was endemic and an unrelated hepatitis B virus had also begun to spread. 

There are other sources for the spread of HCV.  The growing incidence of adult diabetes has also led to a growing incidence of kidney failure (more formally, end stage renal disease).  As a consequence more Egyptians are undergoing dialysis which, when the machines are not adequately sterilized, has become another vector for the spread of HCV. 

Egypt has more than 1,000 dialysis units that provide care for patients with kidney disease.  Dialysis costs about $3200 a year for three treatments a week (in the US the cost is about 50 times as great and would also be beyond the reach of most who suffer from the disease if Medicare did not pick up the bill).  This is well beyond the income of most Egyptians with ESRD.  Needless to say 1,000 units is far from sufficient for a country with millions who have ESRD.  Recent estimates indicate that about 10% of Egyptians suffer from diabetes (about half of which is undiagnosed) and perhaps twice that many suffer from hypertension which is the other major precursor to ESRD.
 
Dialysis clinics are spread throughout the country but are most easily available in the large cities.  Thus there is relatively large dialysis center not far from Tahrir Square tucked into a small side street opposite an art gallery and not far from automobile repair shops.  In Giza, on the boundary between the upscale neighborhood of Muhandiseen and impoverished area of Imbaba there are several clinics specializing in kidney and liver disease.  At the height of the demonstrations in Tahrir Square, empty as the streets of Cairo and Giza may have been, the clinics were filled with patients, some from Upper Egypt and some from upper class Cairene families waiting to see their physicians and watching the news reports on television.  Neither kidney nor liver patients could let revolution prevent their search for treatment.  My only reason for being aware of this is that I spent most of a day there on several occasions waiting for my own appointment.

            Treatment of HCV has been expensive and until recently quite uncertain.  In December 2013 the English-language Ahram reported news of a trial in the US. These results were clearly well known to officials of the Health Ministry.  The US Food and Drug Administration has recently approved an orally delivered medication that is extremely effective when used to treat the particular variation of HCV common in Egypt.  Dr. Wahid Doss, head of the Egyptian National Liver Institute, was quoted in news reports (including the Ahram report) about the results of a study in the United States that showed Sofusbuvir in conjunction with Peginterferon and Ribavirin achieved a 97% permanent clearance rate of the virus after 12 weeks of treatment.  
           
            All of this information and more was available to the Egyptian government and Egyptian medical organizations and it was in the public record when the first reports of C-Fast were made.  In the space of a week and a half the emptiness of the claims of Abdel Atti and the C-Fast device had been revealed.  On the positive side it is apparent that the repressive as the new government may be and despite the danger of scientific quackery Egypt’s scientific community remains active.  It is easy to dismiss the value of expertise but for many Egyptians today in many areas of society there is a far greater problem in not having access to expert advice and care than in having too much of it.

The size of the public health tragedy that confronts the country and the very limited resources for dealing with it are truly daunting.  Much as been written of the macroeconomic challenges Egypt faces, the cost of fuel and food subsidies, the continuing problems with electricity supply and butane.  And of course there is repressive response of the state to public political opposition.
The 2011 electoral program of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party correctly noted the extent of the hepatitis and diabetes epidemic facing the country but proposed no immediate proposals to address it and no significant increase in funding already existing institutions or policy initiatives.  The current government is clearly aware of the extent of the crisis and of how it affects the lives of ordinary Egyptians.  Despite information available from the government’s own scientific advisers and the Egyptian professional medical community, the government promoted a quack response.  Had the C-Fast device not been critiqued, ridiculed and (one can only hope) withdrawn, its use would have been worse than doing nothing.  It is sobering to realize that every month almost as many Egyptians unnecessarily die due to the consequences of government incapacity and inaction as were killed in the public squares in the summer of 2013.  These deaths are unintended and clearly cannot be considered the policy of the state.  No violation of rights is involved.  They are nevertheless a significant human tragedy for which negligence may be a reason but not really an excuse.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A Tale of Two Coups

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            I keep a black and white photograph on the wall.  It’s a grainy old black and white photo, poorly mounted and inexpertly framed.  Very few people who mount the stairs from the door to my living room recognize the faces in the picture.  Usually they ignore it completely but sometimes their attention is drawn by the large hammer and sickle in the center foreground.  It has been years since any visitors recognized that the unsmiling, somber figure just above and behind the Communist emblem is the former President of Chile, Salvador Allende.   He is, appropriately perhaps, surrounded by members of the Popular Unity government and yet appears to be abstracted and isolated.  Only the Minister of Labor, Luis Figueroa, is looking directly at Allende who lay dead in Chile’s presidential palace, La Moneda, a week after the photograph was taken.  General Augusto Pinochet had seized power in a military coup and the Chilean Air Force had bombed Chile's own government center.


            For obvious reasons the coup against President Mohammad Morsi has been compared to the coup against Allende.  Emotionally the picture is compelling:  democratically elected presidents forced out of office by generals who profoundly hated their politics and who then pursued increasingly violent campaigns against the remaining civilian opposition.  In the world of American academic politics the comparison is especially powerful because it suggests that the anti-communism that drove policies a generation ago and now seems shameful and regrettable is surfacing again as “Islamophobia” or an irrational hatred of Islam.   Saving democracy, a lost cause in 1973, is now possible and a moral imperative as the events of the past are replayed in a different part of the world with a different cast of characters.

            It would be useless to enter an academic hissing match about whether the characters really are playing the appropriate roles:  Egyptian General Abdelfattah Sisi as Pinochet and Morsi as Allende.   The argument as it stands is rooted in the moral sentiments of observers, but a closer look at the comparison can be useful.  It reveals the substantial differences between the use of the electoral process for economic change and political democratization.  It also reveals how military interventions may have very different ways of deploying violence, even overwhelmingly high levels of violence.  And it reveals the degree to which, regardless of the extent or experience of constitutional rule, armies are likely intervene when levels of political polarization reach the point at which civil conflict threatens.

            At the most superficial level the comparison obviously succeeds and equally obviously fails.  Two presidents, democratically elected, were both ousted by a military establishment.  One, Allende, was engaged within a political system that had been a functioning constitutional democracy for at least 40 years.  He sought to fashion a transition to socialism and more particularly to enhance the role of the state in the economy and to make the distribution of goods and services more equitable.  Morsi’s election in an open contest occurred a year after the collapse of a 60-year old authoritarian regime under the influence of an immense revolutionary upheaval.  He appears to have been laying the foundation for an Islamic state the contours and content of which remain somewhat vague.  Allende was secular, socialist and considered himself a democrat; Morsi was an Islamist, committed to private property, and also considered himself a democrat. 

            From the viewpoint of American social scientists and policy makers the differences may not matter.  Both men were engaged in “transformative politics” against entrenched interests.  Both had been chosen by the appropriate mechanisms to hold the country’s highest executive office.  Both were overthrown by the military bureaucracies acting on their own and in their own interest.  Neither army had fought a foreign enemy in decades and neither general had any experience in combat.  Calling Al-Sisi Pinochet, like calling Pinochet Hitler, is sufficiently satisfying not to require further reflection. 

What happens though if we look at the comparison as something less like a slogan and more like an analysis?  We can begin to see more clearly the outlines of Morsi’s catastrophic political failure and we may begin to understand some of its roots.  We may also begin to see, unpleasant as it may be, more clearly into the ways in which the Egyptian military intends to use force. 

Like Mohammad Morsi, Salvador Allende running as the candidate of the Popoular Unity Coalition won the presidency with a slender lead. Although Morsi received just under 25 % of the vote in the first round, he was elected by about 52 % in a run-off.  Unlike Morsi, however, Allende only won a plurality, 36.2 % of the 3 million votes cast; conservative Jorge Alessandri won 34.9 % of the votes and Christian Democrat Radomiro Tomic has 27.8 %.  Unlike Egypt, Chile then had no run-off.  With no majority candidate, the names of the top two candidates went to the legislature which itself was dominated by Allende’s opponents.   The legislature had historically chosen the candidate with the most votes, and to placate his opposition Allende signed a formal “Statute of Constitutional Guarantees.”

In the end, Christian Democratic congressmen voted for Allende rather than abstain or return Alessandri who had been president from 1958-1964 to the office.  Allende obtained the presidency with a considerably weaker electoral mandate than Mohammad Morsi.  He knew it, his opponents knew it, and the Chilean population knew it.  Allende’s Socialist party did gain the Interior (as in Egypt the ministry that controls the police unlike the US where the Interior Department controls the national parks) and Defense ministries but despite nominal civilian control over the Armed Forces it proved impossible to prevent a coup.  Jose Toha, Allende’s first Minister of the Interior, was suspended by Congress for tolerating the emergence of left-wing militias He was then named Minister of Defense by Allende but was ultimately forced from that portfolio as well.  Clodomiro Almeyda, a left-wing Socialist, replaced him until he was himself succeeded by General Carlos Prats. 

Unlike Egypt in 2012, Chile had a well-established constitution.  It had been written in 1925 and the timing of elections made it almost impossible for a single party to control the executive and legislative branches.  No exception occurred in 1970 for the UP coalition had 20 senators (of 50) in the upper house and 60 (out of 150) in the lower house. Unlike Morsi whose own coalition had 235 of 508 seats in the lower house and 105 of 180 elected seats in the upper house, Allende never had a friendly legislature.  Before the Egyptian Supreme Constitutional Court dissolved the lower house, Morsi had a working plurality in the Egyptian parliament.  After the dissolution of the lower house and the passage of the new constitution in December 2012 Morsi was a president with a majority in the rump upper house that constituted the legislature (and to which he had, by right, appointed 90 of the total of 270 members).

The hostility of the courts and the legislature was directly rooted in Allende’s socialist agenda challenging the inviolability of private property.   His insistence on completing the nationalization of the large mining properties (already begun as “Chileanization” under Eduardo Frei, his Christian Democratic predecessor) as well as other sectors of the economy brought him into conflict with the judiciary and the legislature.  His equally great insistence on distributing many of the fruits of the nationalization through programs such as provision of milk to all children was seen by many as a threat: whether by degrading the efficiency of the economy or deploying the strategy of the “rentier state” (a phrase that had barely been invented at the time) to enhance his party’s control over the powers of government.

The relationship of the Armed Forces to the executive and more generally to the constitutional order is less easily comparable than other aspects of the two presidents’ tenure.  Allende’s civilian ministers of defense and the interior never really controlled the armed forces or the police respectively.  Nevertheless, when Allende was elected the Chilean Armed Forces had not intervened against a civilian government in more than 40 years and it was common to argue that Chile had an unbroken chain of constitutional governments going back to the late nineteenth century.  No coup was possible in Chile until violence within the military itself had brought new leadership to the Army.  This process began when a group of dissident officers and former officers, with the aid of the US Central Intelligence Agency, murdered Army Chief of Staff General René Schneider in October 1970 shortly before Allende’s inauguration.

 Until 1973, the Army had been guided by the so-called “Schneider doctrine” expressing the general’s belief in the need for a complete separation of political and military power.  Schneider’s successor, General Carlos Prats, accepted the doctrine and even put down an attempted coup on June 29, 1973, the so-called Tanquetazo.  Prats was forced out of the Army weeks before the coup and in 1974 was murdered in exile by the Chilean secret services.  In his place, Allende appointed the little known and colorless Augusto Pinochet as chief of staff.  It is not surprising that before 1970 scholars ranked the Chilean Armed forces as one of the least likely to make a coup and that until the very end few Chileans or foreigners had reason to believe that any move by the army would result in a dictatorship that would last nearly two decades.

The Egyptian Armed Forces have a very different relationship to the government and since 1952 have been intimately connected to the sinews of the state if they did not in fact constitute them.  Until the election of Mohammad Morsi all Egyptian presidents had come from one or another branch of the Armed Forces; generals and former generals served as provincial governors, government ministers, and at the head of state-owned economic enterprises.  The armed forces have been an autonomous administration within the larger state and the 2012 constitution formalized that relationship by requiring that the Minister of Defense be a general rather than a civilian and by removing the Army’s budget from significant legislative oversight.  For the first time in Egyptian history the army hierarchy itself came to power in a coup against former President Hosny Mubarak in February 2011 and assumed the country’s executive and legislative authority until at least mid-2012 when it relinquished both authorities to elected civilians.   In August 2012 Morsi retired the two key military leaders who had ousted Mubarak, Mohammad Tantawi and Sami Anan, and chose Abdelfattah Al-Sisi as the new Chief of Staff and Minister of Defense. 

It is no secret that since 1954 Egyptian governments and the Armed Forces have tried many times to destroy the Muslim Brothers.  Morsi thus faced an officers’ corps with no particular commitment to constitutional government and with a deep distaste for his politics.  Despite much wishful thinking by observers outside the army, it has also shown no inclination to split in the face of popular unrest.  It is difficult to know whether Morsi truly thought he had neutralized the Armed Forces but if he did it was, given their previous 60 years, a colossal mis-reading of the situation.  

What of the political context of the periods during which Allende and Morsi held office?  This is where the similarities may be greatest but where crucial differences also become most apparent.  Lacking control of the legislature and attempting to change the structure of property rights in favor of tenants, workers, and the impoverished, Allende and the UP resorted to rule by decree and refused to implement countervailing court orders based on the existing laws.  Allende thus found himself increasingly in conflict with the judiciary and the Supreme Court.  Although the Chilean Supreme Court is far less powerful than its Egyptian counterpart, the justices engaged in a public dispute with Allende including an exchange of letters accusing him of undermining the rule of law.  Congress had been in the hands of his opposition since 1970 and the 1973 elections did not materially change the political balance of forces.  Mass demonstrations against Allende to influence a legislature already hostile to him were unnecessary. On August 22, 1973 a majority of the lower house voted to ask the military to intervene and overthrow the Allende government.

The UP’s attempt to re-shape the Chilean economy had important repercussions especially in a country that had long suffered from high levels of inflation and rigidly separate labor markets and whose balance of payments depended on the export of a single commodity.  The decline of copper prices diminished the government’s income during Allende’s presidency and the ensuing lack of foreign currency made imports, including food, scarce and expensive.  Workers in the formal sector, especially mining and processing, had won some significant wage increases.  Price-fixing and rationing, especially the role of the Price and Supply Boards, worsened the situation rather than ameliorating it.   This in turn helped to re-create inflationary pressure that reached at least 140% a year in 1972 whereas measured Egyptian inflation appears to be on the order of 12 %. Much is made of the depreciation of the Egyptian (from about 5 to the US dollar in 2010 to somewhat over 7 today,), a drop of about 30%.  In the equivalent period of Allende’s presidency the escudo dropped from 20 to the dollar to 3000.  Unhappy as Egyptians have been with the worsening economic situation over the past year it is hard to imagine how the country would have reacted to the vaporization of the currency that Chile experienced which would have rendered the central bank’s foreign reserves worthless long before they were spent.

Nationalizations included firms driven out of business by worsening economic problems and this made investors increasingly skittish. Consequently the population suffered from increasing shortages of consumer goods and rising prices that affected the poor as well as the wealthy.  Strikes and lock-outs also affected production and a strike by truck-owners, many of whom were impoverished, with both political and economic goals dislocated commerce.   Allende’s opponents viewed the repression of the truckers’ strike (deemed economic sabotage by the UP government) as a violation of his pledge to respect the constitution.  One crucial difference between the strikes during the Allende period and widespread strikes in Egypt over the last two and a half years is that neither the Army nor the Muslim Brotherhood used its regulatory authority to win the support of striking workers against owners or to extend the role of state ownership or control.   The strikes by associations known as gremios were for economic ends but they also had an anti-trade union edge.  Unsurprisingly the Chilean trade union movement (CUT) strongly supported Allende, opposed the gremios, and in turn received significant support from the UP government.

In Egypt the nature of the revolutionary upsurge itself affected several key industries, notably tourism an important employment sector and a source of foreign currency.  Egypt is often called a rentier state but unlike Chile in the 1970s it has several streams of foreign income.  Remittances and Suez Canal receipts are other important sources of foreign currency although Canal passages declined somewhat in the wake of the global financial crisis of 2008.  Egypt ceased being an oil exporter in 2007.  Foreign exchange is crucial for a country that imports about half the wheat it consumes.   There were longstanding shortages of butane gas (crucial for cooking and heating among lower income groups), gasoline (crucial for transport), diesel and electricity.  From late 2011 on there were frequently long lines at gas stations, rolling blackouts, and insufficient diesel for a variety of urban and agricultural production.  The Egyptian trade union movement has long been under the control of the state but has been challenged by wildcat strikes and independent union movements.  Its independent leadership resisted any alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood and its formal organization is in disarray.  To the degree that voting in the industrial cities of the Delta over the past three years is any indication it would be difficult to say that there is any coherent majority organizationally or politically with the industrial workforce.

Allende, certainly a secular politician if not necessarily a liberal, faced significant opposition from devout Catholics and the church hierarchy.  In March 1973, the UP government announced plans to reform the educational system (K-12), the so-called National Unified School curriculum (ENU). Perhaps the biggest problem for Allende was that the ENU called for educating students in the values of “socialist humanism” which the Church found offensive and which provoked sufficiently significant opposition to force Allende to temporize (but not withdraw) the proposal.   Morsi was obviously not committed to a secular program in education or anywhere else nor was he committed to overhauling the Egyptian educational system.  He and the Muslim Brotherhood evoked opposition from the mainstream religious establishment represented by the Mufti of the Republic or the Shaykh of Al-Azhar. 

Internationally, however, the two leaders faced different situations with the United States.  US policy makers increasingly wanted to see Allende ousted both because they feared the emergence of a socialist government on the Latin American continent and because the Hickenlooper Amendment formally committed the US to oppose governments that nationalized foreign property with insufficient compensation.  It would be wrong to say that the US supported Morsi as such but the US appears to have been committed to Morsi’s presidency as a step toward democratization and initially sought, albeit halfheartedly, for his return as the legitimate holder of the office.

To sum up, by the weeks before the respective coups Morsi and Allende faced widespread public opposition that may have accounted for a majority of the population.  This opposition had also taken the form of street fighting and the increasing possibility of violent confrontations. They also both faced significant opposition from significant state institutions, notably the judiciary and the military.  They both faced a rapidly deteriorating economic situation. 

            Allende’s opposition had two primary roots.  One lay in opposition to his project for socialist transformation.  The US, Chilean private enterprise, landowners, the Catholic Church, sections of the Armed Forces, and multinational firms all opposed the policies that aimed at a Chilean transition to socialism for reasons of material interest, ideology, or principle.  In addition there was significant opposition to the Allende government because of the economic and social disruption the projected socialist transformation caused.  Allende and the UP may have expected to win over Chile’s working class and the poor as the socialist transformation went forward, but the real process of implementing the outlines of socialism alienated many Chileans.

            Before addressing the nature of the opposition to Morsi it is worth noticing that his project, unlike Allende’s, was vague at best and contradictory at worst.  The US government and many specialists have analyzed the events of the last two years as a process of democratization.  Was this, however, the way that Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood and the Freedom and Justice Party looked at events?  Morsi and MB/FJP appear to have been of two minds about the process in which they were engaged.   It has never been clear if they saw themselves as a party committed to democratic transition or to the revolutionary re-structuring of the state and politics.  The clearest way to understand the difference is to look at how the Morsi government sought to deal with the so-called feloul or remnants of the old regime.  Morsi tried by decree to deny political rights to members, especially from the leadership, of the dissolved National Democratic party.   When this failed by order of the Supreme Court it was written into the new constitution.  It is easy enough to understand why a revolutionary party wants to proscribe leaders of the old order, but it is less easy to see why a democratizing party wishes to do so especially when the existing law limits the political rights of anyone convicted of criminal acts.  Acute as the political polarization in Chile was it never occurred to the UP, despite its formal commitment to revolutionary social and economic change, to strip the members of opposition parties of the right to run for office.

            Morsi also clearly faced at least two distinct strands of opposition.  There were those who opposed him on principle or and those who feared him but before the late fall of 2012 neither expressed the kind of implacable hatred that characterized Allende’s opposition.  To the contrary, a significant number of his opponents conceded his electoral legitimacy.  Certainly the Christian communities were uncomfortable with Morsi and Muslim Brotherhood from the beginning as were trade union leaders who refused as early as 2011 the idea of an MB-oriented union movement.  He was also opposed by sections of the Armed Forces and probably most of the police.  Religious minorities and trade unions, however, play a much smaller role in Egypt than in Chile and the police and armed forces had, by early 2012 lost popular support.  However, as the economy began to deteriorate through 2012 and into 2013 and as street violence became more pronounced opposition to Morsi clearly grew.  Official Islam in the guise of the Azhar, which like the Catholic hierarchy in Chile commands broad respect, became increasingly hostile as did broader sections of the population, the press, and local communities and groups of soccer fans (whose networks and institutions have played a significant role in mobilizing Egyptians over the past year).             

            In Egypt, unlike Chile where disagreement with Allende was expressed by an elected legislature, popular discontent with the Morsi presidency manifested itself in a petition campaign and massive demonstrations.   Egyptian constitutions since 1923 have guaranteed the people the right to assemble peacefully.  Western liberals in the wake of the coup seem to have decided that the Egyptian people were wrong to demonstrate or at least to demonstrate in such large numbers while making demands that not only contravened a constitutional whose ink had barely dried but which invited the Armed Forces to intervene again in the political process.   This is not a question germane to this discussion but clearly the generals in both countries acted on their own judgment.  It expects too much, I think, to believe that masses of people will use their rights not only to express their beliefs but with the kind of unrealistically sophisticated prudential or moral judgment required by theoreticians of rationality or moral philosophy.

            Comparing Egypt and Chile in the wake of their respective coups brings us to what political scientists like to call a “puzzle.”  To grasp the nature of this puzzle it is necessary first to do something few people want to do:  accept the not all violence is the same.  It can be deployed in different ways for different ends.  Thousands of people were killed both in Egypt and in Chile after the coups but the nature of the violence and, at least in the short term, its political implications are different.  This is not to say that one is acceptable or excusable.  It is simply to recognize that there is a profound difference in how the major institutions associated with organized violence, the army and police, have deployed it and the political implications of its use.    This is important if any form of constitutional democracy is to be restored to Egypt.

            I have insisted on what distinguishes Chile from Egypt in order to make a fundamental point.  In Chile the Armed Forces took power during a period of severe economic and political upheaval from a weakened president who had never had a clear electoral mandate or much institutional support.  Internal and external agents re-shaped the Chilean Armed Forces by violence and argument to make them the instrument for a coup, thereby vitiating Chile’s significant history of constitutional democracy. 

The Egyptian Armed Forces have taken power twice in the past three years as the country has experienced the initial phases of economic and political breakdown.  They did so most recently from a president with an electoral mandate and a friendly legislature, but they also did so as an Army that was no stranger to intervening in the affairs of government.  There was no need to re-shape the Army itself in order for it to remove a fragile constitutional government but the second time around the Armed Forces have so far chosen, unlike 2011 and unlike in Chile, not to rule directly.  General Abdelfattah al-Sisi may be the big man in the government but he is not the president and the decisions of the government are at least formally made by the government rather than by a junta acting as the government (as was also the case during the period in which the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces ruled Egypt in 2011-12).    

            If we look at the way in which the two armies deployed violence there is one important difference:  in Chile violence was used to overturn established institutions of constitutional democracy and to uproot the entire set of political parties from the center Christian Democrats to the extreme left MIR.  Acts of violence included mass arrests, summary executions (“disappearances”), the proscription of parties, the dissolution of parliament (where Allende’s opponents had a majority), and the prohibition of demonstrations.   Pinochet, in short, not only repressed Allende and his allies but his enemies as well.

In Egypt Morsi was already under the control (“protection”) of the Armed Forces when the coup occurred.  The coup itself, in the midst of massive anti-Morsi demonstrations, was (unlike Pinochet’s attack on La Moneda) peaceful.  The military and the police have used overwhelming and arguably criminal violence to disperse the large sit-ins supporting Morsi (early July and again in August) and killed more than a thousand people.  Most, but not all, of the top leadership of the Muslim Brothers organization is under arrest but the organization itself has not yet been dissolved although the government is taking steps in that direction.   The armed forces dissolved the legislature.  They have not so far attacked many of Morsi’s political allies or his enemies. The Salafi parties have, for example, continued to function as does the Freedom and Justice party which has chosen new leadership and continues to call for and lead demonstrations.  Without minimizing the terrible violence used to disperse the demonstrations in Cairo or apologizing for it, it is nevertheless true that a significant fraction of the Islamist section of the political spectrum continues to function.  This was simply not true of the equivalent parties and leaders in Chile in 1973.

            What is puzzling is why the violence of the armed forces in these two situations is, at least initially, so different.  Why did the Pinochet regime deploy violence against wide sections of Chilean society including the centrist political elite when it was clear that a majority of Chileans and that elite, through their votes and political affiliations, rejected the Allende presidency?  There is every reason to think that a majority of the legislature and the Supreme Court would have agreed on a decision by the Armed Forces to hold new elections and that a candidate from the Christian Democrats or the Conservatives would have won (as they had the two free elections before 1970).   Why have the Egyptian Armed Forces not deployed such violence against wide sections of Egyptian society and the political elite given that Morsi (unlike Allende) had won a majority in the presidential election and that his party had a majority in the legislature?  Why have, in contradistinction to Chile, parties more radical than the MB (the Salafi Nour party in particular) been allowed to remain in existence and why have some members of the Freedom and Justice party (the political arm of the MB) been allowed to remain free, and why have (for the moment at least) human rights groups been allowed to function?  Not long ago Ziad Bahaa al-Din, the Deputy Prime Minister for the economy, proposed a truce between the government and the FJP.  None of Pinochet’s ministers proposed such a truce with the UP and had any of them done so they would have been immediately retired if not imprisoned or perhaps executed.  Additionally why is the new government so intent on re-writing the constitution rather than simply ruling by decree as the Pinochet government did for seven years? 

            One answer might be that the Egyptian Armed Forces are kinder and gentler than the Chilean Armed Forces.  The repeated use of violence against massed protesters makes this unlikely although it does not answer the question of why there was no immediate move to attack the sit-ins. The Egyptian high command may be more interested in creating a civilian government than was Pinochet because they may prefer a role in which their power derives as much from balancing between contending parties as from the use of violence.

            Another possibility is that the Egyptian generals are more cunning than their Latin American counterparts in the 1970s.  Where generals in Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile wiped out elected governments and ruled directly, the Egyptian generals understand the need for an intermediary.   Whether they are inherently so or simply learned during the experience of direct rule by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces they have a more complex strategy which relieves them of the need to deploy the high levels of constant force deploy in Chile.

It may also be that the Egyptian Armed Forces simply lack the capacity for the level of repression Chile experienced. The Egyptian Armed Forces are proportionately smaller than their Chilean equivalent.  Pinochet commanded about 65,000 men for a population of not quite ten million; Sisi’s Egypt has nine times the population but only seven times as large an army.  Unlike Pinochet, Sisi’s armed forces are necessarily deployed in a border area (Sinai) as well as in the population centers.  Thus, General Sisi may not have the necessary force at his disposal to engage in the level of repression that characterized the Pinochet regime.  Or perhaps, as is frequently asserted, the Egyptian armed forces are simply incompetent as is the state apparatus more generally.   It is an army that has not fought a war since 1973 (although the Chilean Armed Forces had not fought a war since in the 69 years preceding the coup) and has extensive domestic interests.   Fighting more frequent wars does not seem, however, to be in the interests of the Egyptian people nor is it clear that more frequent wars would be a key to more democracy.  Generally speaking the reverse is true: war has been the pathway through which dictatorship was consolidated in the French, Russian, and Iranian revolutions.

Sisi, unlike Pinochet, also faces significant American opposition to the new government.   The US government today views some Islamist movements as potential partners in the project of democratization where the US government of 40 years ago viewed communists and socialists alike as revolutionary enemies.   This shift in US strategy under President Obama, echoed in part by Republican Senators McCain and Graham during a visit to Egypt in early August, may have an impact comparable over time to the US preference for military leaders as modernizers in the 1950s. 

There is at least one other, more surprising possibility:  the more unsettled revolutionary nature of the situation in Egypt.  Wiping out the threat of socialism or even social reform in Chile required more than simply decapitating the one party whose candidate had become president.  It required a much broader assault on the organized social forces that supported him.  In Egypt there was no similar coalition of parties and organizations whose program was both clear and yet transcended the presence of a single party at the center of government.  Consequently in Egypt the Armed only wishes to uproot one party but not necessarily to destroy institutions of governance with which it has itself has long been intimately associated.

Unlike Morsi and his presidential election, neither Allende nor his coalition was inexperienced in Chilean electoral politics.  He had first run for the presidency in 1952 and won 5.5 % of the vote; in 1958, running against Alessandri, he was in second place with 28 % of the vote; in 1964, against Eduardo Frei he had amassed nearly 39 %.  He had been a minister in a Popular Front government in 1938 and an elected senator since the 1940s.  He was not only a founder of the Chilean Socialist party, on whose ticket he ran, but one of the authors of the politics of an electoral (Chilean) path to socialism.  The revolution in Chile was, unlike Cuba or Nicaragua, electoral politics.  In Egypt, by contrast, Morsi’s electoral victory was the fortuitous result of a revolutionary upheaval in which millions of people took to the streets. 

It was neither the expected result of a long-term electoral strategy within a constitutional and democratic order nor was it the result of an armed struggle against the old regime.   This verges on the problem of revolution which also outside the scope of this discussion.  Suffice it to say that if by revolution we mean the entry of masses of people into action in unexpected ways that break down the old ways of organizing politics then Egypt has been in revolution for the last three years.  If by revolution we mean the creation of a new order, preferably in some Utopian mold, then Egypt has certainly not.

The problem is less that the MB were unprepared to govern as that they seem to have had no very clear idea of what they wanted to govern for:  was it the revolutionary re-structuring of the political order and the seizure of power or was it the consolidation of democracy?  Did they want to dismantle and re-make the existing institutions of governance or did they simply want to share in the spoils?   To what degree were they interested in punishing and excluding the old regime and to what degree were they interested in including its supporters?

Chile’s politics were far more organized than Egypt’s but they were not accompanied by the kind of massive spontaneous upwelling of support that has characterized Egypt in the past two years.  Several Allende policies were extensions Frei government.  Allende’s policies neither extended nor weakened his electoral base significantly, but they did expand the power and influence of the institutions and organizations in his electoral coalition, especially the Communists, the Socialists, the MIR, and the Chilean trade union movement.  They also attracted some support in other organizations and mobilized a few new social groups, especially in the countryside.   Paradoxically in the absence of Allende himself there was every possibility that not only the left parties but the centrist parties would attempt to pursue the policies of the UP after this ouster.  The use of violence against even those, such as the legislature and its Christian Democrat majority, was testimony to the military’s desire for a clean slate.  There is no reason to believe the Egyptian Armed Forces want a clean slate or desire to pursue their own Utopian fantasy as dictated by Chicago-trained economists. 

It is only an apparent paradox that the Egyptian military has used more violence but in a far more focused fashion than their Chilean counterparts.  Uncertain of their own goals, the Muslim Brothers rode the wave of a massive uprising.   They were therefore propelled by it to as great a degree as they were able to shape it.  Dispersing the demonstrations at successive locations in Cairo (the Republican Guards Club, Raba’a al-Adawiya, and Nahdah Squares) and arresting most (but not all) of the MB leadership has thus dislocated the adversaries of the Armed Forces’ preferred order.  There is no need, for the moment, to extend the overt repression to other organizations or institutions.  In fact, there is every reason to avoid anything that might evoke renewed spontaneous demonstrations.

There are two other important differences between Chile and Egypt: the relative independence of the Egyptian judiciary.   While this independence may depend in part of corruption and nepotism, it is also real in the sense that the judiciary has guarded as best it could its own institutional and social field from the other institutions of the state.   In comparison to the Chilean judiciary the Egyptian courts have a history of using their authority against the legislative and executive branches.   The rush to re-write a constitution can be best explained if the judiciary is itself a partner, through the Supreme Court, in the re-making of the state.  The courts do not need to be exemplars of justice or paragons of Weberian rationality to pursue their own institutional ends and thereby limit, even if only to a degree, the authority of the army and the executive.

The other profound difference is the emergence of at least one area of opposition to the coup based not only on geography but religion.  Upper Egypt has emerged as an area in which the control by the central government has become highly contested and on occasion disappeared.   This loss of control is connected to the mobilization of both anti-Christian and anti-regime sentiments.  This too is unlike Chile where the MIR, the Communists and the Socialists were never able to create zones in which the power of the government ceased to exist for days or weeks at a time.  Even had they created “liberated zones” in the terminology of the day those would not have been based on any claim of religious (or ethnic) community.   The success of this form of mobilization especially in communities such as Dalga where several churches and a monastery were looted and destroyed, Christians killed, and where Christians were reportedly required to pay ransom as well as the sectarian-tinged murder of members of the Social Democratic party in Asyut are a dark underside to the claims of supporters of President Morsi that they only desire the return of constitutional governance.  Rightly or wrongly, it is precisely this kind of unrestrained social violence that many of Morsi’s opponents feared would occur if his presidency continued. 

The remaining question is what happens next.  As in Chile in 1973 there will be those who wish to oppose the armed forces and what Karl Marx would have called the party of order with violence.   Attacks on police stations and the attempt to assassinate the Interior Minister are examples.  In Chile, as in most places, these actions—even if they accomplish their immediate goals—are almost never successful as forms of political organization.  Throughout a long history in which they have been variously called exemplary acts, focos, terrorism, or armed struggle they have almost invariably demobilized mass movements, given the state an excuse for further violence, and ended in disaster and tragedy.  Egypt may, of course, be an exception but it is not very likely.  

The MB and its political allies will also face some difficult political choices and it is worth reflecting on the experience of Chile, different as it was.  In the wake of the coup, it took a long time for Pinochet’s opponents to develop a workable and coherent strategy.  In the end it was a decision that recognized that the Allende experience would never be revived nor would the 1925 constitution and that the only path forward was the construction of a new Chilean democracy rather than a revolutionary re-structuring of society. 

For Chile’s left-wing socialists, the MIR and the communists this was a bitter defeat and they have never recovered anything like the place in Chile’s political life that they held on September 10, 1973. The communists have essentially disappeared from Chile’s political life as has the left-wing of the Socialist party once embodied in leaders such as Clodomiro Almeyda and the Revolution Left Movement (MIR) is also only a shadow of its former self.  It would once have been self-evident that the Marxist left in Chile, like the Muslim Brotherhood today in Egypt, could not be eliminated from public life.  It was, many would have said, too deeply implanted in the society and too deeply rooted in the unions and working class communities.  This turned out not to be the case but what is also true is that there were other avenues for unions, working class communities, and political leaders to struggle for social justice and the immediate demands connected to it.  The MB may turn out not to be the only way to imagine a link between Islam and politics and their brand of Islamism may turn out, like Communism, to be a real but historically delimited political movement.

Michelle Bachelet, a socialist, was elected president of Chile in 2006 and served until 2010.  She was the daughter of Air Force Brigadier Alberto Bachelet (another military opponent of the coup) who died after being tortured by the Pinochet regime in 1974.  But she was not the first president elected after the fall of the Pinochet regime.  That was Patricio Aylwin, a Christian Democratic member of the legislature in 1973 who had voted on the resolution asking the Armed Forces to step in.  Aylwin came to regret his stance and his candidacy was backed by Ricardo Lagos, leader of the Socialists and of the Democratic Alliance, and himself later president.  Lagos emergence as the leader of the Chilean Socialist party was also testimony to how much the party had changed since the years when Allende, Almeyda, and Toha had been its leaders.  Lagos, an international civil servant with a degree in political science from Duke University, is known for his work on unemployment policies rather than his desire to expropriate the means of production.  He is most famous for the “Lagos finger” when he pointed at Pinochet in a television debate and called him a liar and torturer.  But he did not bring Pinochet to justice and he served in Aylwin’s cabinet.

For Egyptians of all political persuasions, this may be the most bitter political reality of any comparison of Pinochet’s Chile with events in their own country today.  In the wake of Mubarak’s downfall there was a long debate about how slowly the wheels of production were turning and how impatient Egyptians had become.  Unfortunately the wheels of justice will not turn any more quickly along the road to democracy.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Constituting Generals



            In the lengthy, acrimonious and not always enlightening debate about the decision of the Egyptian Armed Forces to oust former President Mohammad Morsi it has been widely been asserted that—whether what they did was politically wise—the Egyptian generals acted unconstitutionally and immorally.  They both broke their oaths and they abrogated the constitutional order.   The major point of contention is whether in so doing they made a coup or carried out the revolutionary will of the people.  The Armed Forces may, based on the relevant portions of the 2012 constitution they negotiated with the Muslim Brothers (as well as the representatives of other political groups) in 2012, have a different idea.  Without addressing the longterm impact of the military intervention and ouster of President Morsi it is worth thinking about the terms of the political agreement embodied in that constitution.

If constitutions are documents that set out the institutional division of power and authority within a state, they also reflect compromises made between those various institutions and people at the foundational moment.  They reflect, sometimes more obviously and sometimes less so, current concepts of efficacy and authority as well as the relative influence of various interests and institutions.  As such they spell out the institutions on which governance is based and the ways in which those institutions can, initially, expect to interact.  They reflect the anxieties as well as the hopes of those who write them.  Such anxieties are reflected in the language dividing power and in the ways in which various holders of authority are bound to uphold it. 

            Scholars assert that the origins of the modern Egyptian state lie in the construction of the army by Muhammad Ali in the early 19th century.  By the end of the 19th century, however, the Armed Forces had been defeated by the British and transformed into an instrument many of whose officers were British.  The power of the army was profoundly weakened, socially and culturally, with the diminution of Egyptian sovereignty in the period between 1882 and 1954.  During those years electoral partisanship, agricultural and commercial wealth, and the authority of the Throne were the major axes of Egyptian political life.  Those decades, chronicled especially well by Naguib Mahfouz in many of his novels, astute and wealthy scions of powerful and wealthy families attended universities in Cairo, London or Paris and returned home to positions of influence.  The British controlled the Army and intervened directly in national political life from time to time through it.  Those who were incapable of or uninterested in studying law, medicine, or literature went to the Military Academy which, until 1936, had largely been the preserve of the older Turco-Circassian elite.

            The Armed Forces returned to the center of the country’s political life in 1952 when graduates of the group of Egyptian middle and lower class cadets who had entered in 1936 overthrew the King and eliminated the remaining British troop presence.  The new rulers were heirs, albeit to an attenuated degree, to the traditions of revolutionary France in which national conscription represents the nation in arms and provides the officer corps with the material to recreate the conscience of a nation. They wrote the Armed Forces directly into the constitution and created an enduring tradition by words, economic reforms, and the staffing of much of the country’s government with army officers.

            To understand the role of the Armed Forces in the 2012 constitution and in constitutional life over the past half century, it is best to begin with the police.  The new Egyptian constitution, as befits a centralized state, invokes both institutions that deal with force, but in significantly different ways.  Employing Nivien Saleh’s translation we can see that Article 199 defines the police (“shurta”) as a disciplinarian civilian organization which preserves order and carries out law and decrees.   The police are, in principle if not always in practice, subordinate to the laws and statutes of the country.  They have no special independent role to play and they are, uniquely in the constitution, called upon to be faithful or allegiant to the constitution (in Arabic their “wala?” is to the constitution and the law).  In this the police differ from the Armed Forces, for this particular language is not to be found in the description of the army on which no such allegiance is enjoined.

            The army is constituted Article 194, the second of a series of articles dealing with national security.  The armed forces are the property (“mulk”) of the people and can only be constituted by the state.  Its task, however, unlike that of the police is not subordinated to law.  The Armed Forces are tasked to to protect the country and preserve its security as well as the security of its territory.  Neither the constitution nor the law figure into their role as defined by the constitution.  They undertake their tasks under the National Defense Council. Article 193, establishing the NDC (which, it will be recalled has existed since 1956), provides it with an expansive definition.  The NDC can not only discuss but authorize strategies for ensuring the security of the country, deals with crises in “all their forms” and adopts the necessary measures for their containment.  Its responsibility to identify and thwart threats to national security both internally and externally and on what the text identifies as both official and “popular” (“sha3bi”) levels.  The NDC is thus an autonomous executive agency as well as a coordinating mechanism for the Armed Forces. 

            The NDC, it is true, is presided over by the President of the Republic and its membership includes the heads of the legislative branches as well as ministers, but the bulk of its members are from the police and Armed Forces.  The constitution is silent on whether only the President of the Republic can convoke it nor on whether his presence is necessary for it to meet.  It might then be described as a formally constituted military council with broad executive powers that it defines itself on which the President of the Republic, two legislative leaders, and two civilian ministers form a distinct minority.

            Earlier analyses of the constitutional role of the armed forces focused on the high degree of institutional independence the army had obtained in regard to legislation and the budget.  President Morsi was, as so frequently repeated, the first freely elected civilian head of state in Egyptian history.  The euphoria surrounding his dismissal of Generals Tantawi and Anan seemed to confirm his supremacy over the Armed Forces.  The constitutional language making him the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces led analysts to ignore the similar language that had been central to Egyptian constitutions since 1956 (in which the National Defense Council was first constituted) and to ignore the language defining the Army’s role in Egyptian political and constitutional life which were a distinctive contribution of the new constitution.  The new constitution, in other words, expanded the formal role of the Army even as events on the ground appeared to restrict it.

            Confronted with an increasingly polarized political space in June 2013, the Armed Forces could plausibly maintain, to themselves and to a wider circle of Egyptians as well, that the country was faced with a disaster or crisis in some form.  This would invoke Article 193.  It would be implausible to claim that the Armed Forces had either a constitutional duty to remove an elected president from office, but there is no reason to think that General Abdelfattah Sisi saw himself as departing either from his constitutionally prescribed role or the Army’s longstanding view of itself by his attempts to insist that the leading political figures negotiate a solution.  The Egyptian armed forces, like those of many countries including France throughout the 19th and into the 20th century, see themselves as the guarantors of national sovereignty and the integrity of the state rather than of the constitution.  Constitutions, in much of the world, come and go; nations and states continue.  The United States is not unique but it is uncommon in the degree to which the constitution, rather than an army, a monarch, or the institutions of the state taken as a whole, are perceived as central to national identity.  
             
            If the Armed Forces that General Sisi heads, could legitimately see itself as having a transcendent political role, what of Sisi’s responsibilities as Minister of Defense and the oath he swore?  There appears to be some confusion about the nature of the constitutionally defined oath that Egyptian officials take.  Sisi, like other ministers (as well as legislators and the President) took an oath of office.   The ministerial oath does not however require the taker to preserve the constitution.  Ministers swear only to preserve the republican system and thus presumably abstain from re-creating a monarchy.  They also pledge to defend the people’s interest.  In regard to the constitution, however, they only swear to respect it (“yahtarim”).   Legal scholars and students of language no doubt have much to tell us about what a word whose root lies in the keeping of something as sacred and apart (haram) may be but as far as I can tell the word has no special meaning in Egyptian constitutional law.  Pledging to respect the constitution means simply to abide by it, but not necessarily to defend or protect it.  As should now be clear the Egyptian constitution does use those words in other contexts but only the police—either the Armed Forces nor government ministers—are told to be loyal to it.  American officials similarly placed pledge to preserve, protect and defend the constitution, but not either the American state or the American people. So too to Indian officials swear.  And in neither in India nor the United States do the Armed Forces have any constitutionally defined role.

            So General Abdelfattah Sisi, whether acting prudently or outrageously, may have had no reason to believe that he was breaking his oath or acting outside of his constitutional obligation in the weeks around June 30.  To the contrary he may have felt that he was acting not only in the confines of Egyptian political practice over the past six decades but that, by giving ample warning of a possible coup, he was acting with significant forbearance and in accord with the arrangements that had been negotiated between the Armed Forces and the Muslim Brotherhood during the transitional period.  Because we have so little idea of the actual negotiations around the writing of the 2012 constitution, we cannot know if the Muslim Brotherhood understood just how important the articles under which the Armed Forces were constituted were.  Judging by reports of President Morsi’s continuing belief that he had a unilateral right to determine what the Armed Forces would do, it is possible that neither he nor his comrades understood very well what they were signing on to.  In the rush to ratify the constitution in the waning hours of November 2012 perhaps they neither read it very carefully nor understood its terms very well.   What is clear going forward is that truly subordinating the military to civilian control will be a long and arduous process and that it may not finally be achieved as long as civilian politicians believe they can contain it with appropriate constitutional language.  It may only have come when the Armed Forces are, at long last, no longer inscribed in an Egyptian constitution.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Where the Nile Flows Into the Rubicon

 
Never in recent history have officials, commentators and even political activists spent so much time parsing the meaning of a handful of words, notably “coup”, “revolution”, and “democratic legitimacy.”  The quality of magical thinking inherent in much of the discussion is striking but nowhere more so than when Western commentators whose clear and long-standing disdain and derision for the now-deposed regime of Muhammad Morsi and Muslim Brothers was abruptly transformed into equally dismissive assertions that unless an elected leadership could remain in office until the end of its term in office Egyptians had once again proved their lack of both ability and desire for democracy.

Millions of people in the streets demanding the Morsi resign was assimilated by many to mob rule and it was not uncommon to hear that if equally large numbers later came out against his successor then an unfortunate precedent was set in which the Armed Forces could again act.  Better, therefore, to wait.  In the world of thought experiments performed by political philosophers it is completely correct.  It was equally true proposed as a counter-argument when Zakariya Abdel Aziz, former head of the Judges’ Club, declared in late January 2011 that the masses of people in the street had effectively abrogated the constitution.   The idea, however, that millions of people are easily roused to demonstrations and that, once so roused, they should be ignored seems incompatible with the notion of democracy.  The question then is not so much should the Armed Forces have intervened but how should President Morsi have responded?

            Much recent foreign commentary presumes that, sufficiently chastised by the commentator, the Egyptian people will come to their senses and pursue policies that ensure the ultimate success of stable democratic development.   This approach has not worked well in the People’s Republics of Berkeley or Cambridge nor in the Duchy of the Beltway; it is unlikely, with one exception, to have the least impact on Egypt.  The one exception, of course, is if the outrage moves from the pages of the daily press to whatever documents President Obama signs to name the recent events in Egypt a coup and thereby deny military aid to the Egyptian Armed Forces and perhaps to delay or deny its request for economic aid from the International Monetary Fund.  This is unlikely because Obama possesses a sharp sense of realism and rapidly scales back his policies to meet an opposition well beyond the half-way point.

            Having moved for a second time to overthrow a head of state whose legitimacy was unquestioned internationally while domestically challenged the Egyptian army and General Sissi have taken a step from which there is no turning back.  Whatever else happened when the 2012 constitution was put into place, it established in theory that President Morsi was not only the head of state but also the supreme commander of the armed forces.  The constitution tactfully avoided discussing who was in charge should the Supreme Commander (the president of the republic) and the Commander in Chief (the Defense Minister and a general) disagree.  No longer.  When Julius Caesar led the Thirteenth Legion across the Rubicon he had committed a capital offence, as did the soldiers who obeyed him.  In Republican Rome only elected officials could command armies on Italian soil; thereafter only success mattered for there would be no other accounting.  Whether General Sissi’s agreement with President Morsi last fall was a tactical retreat or a real truce can, along with the discussions of coups and legitimacy, be left to future historians.  Neither of Egypt’s two living and deposed presidents can be allowed to return to power if those who pulled them down have any hopes for their own futures.

            The army coup that forced former President Mubarak out of office had widespread support and any who opposed it, the feloul (remnants of the old regime), were too disorganized and politically weakened to return to power and exact retribution from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.  The coup that has forced President Morsi out of office may have the support of a significant portion and perhaps even a majority of the Egyptian population, but it has occurred in a very different political environment.  Opponents, centered around the Muslim Brotherhood, however, are far from disorganized even if they are momentarily bereft of much of their top leadership.  President Morsi’s supporters believe they were stripped of legitimate authority and have every right to regain it.  The Muslim Brotherhood would be ill-advised to trust the Armed Forces in their present composition again with either their president or their political order and those feelings of distrust have presumably been strengthened by the shooting deaths of more than 50 people in front of the Rabi’a al-Adawiyah mosque.  The precise sequence of events on the morning of July 8 may elude us.  They are certainly relevant should anyone bring criminal charges and they will also be relevant more generally for human rights advocates who will correctly place responsibility on the government for its handling of demonstrations.  But such precision will not be important as the competing narratives of the Egyptian revolution that belong to different political camps continue to develop.  There are, in these developing narratives, no accidents and no bad decisions; there are only actors whose actions reflect their inner moral motivations.  I am not asking that we spare a tear for the Armed Forces but only recognize what the generals themselves must recognize:  there is no way back, no way to compromise with ex-president Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.  Certain dates mark irrevocable turning points:  February 25, 1954 when Nasser ousted Naguib from the Revolutionary Command Council was one, February 11, 2011 was another and July 8, 2013 marks still another.  The Armed Forces are a powerful institutional presence in Egypt as are the courts, and the Muslim Brothers. 

Even if most Egyptians have never studied political science, they do understand that their choices are already limited by the available institutional options as well as by agendas set by politically powerful, and frequently intransigent, actors. 

            Both of Egypt’s two recent ex-presidents, faced with massive opposition in the streets, seem to have taken pride that they could be described as stubborn; neither seems to have thought, until the generals were at the door to usher them out, that the time to craft a new way to govern had come and gone.  And the partisans of both continue to believe that although their preferred president had indeed made mistakes, he did not deserve to be driven from office.  He had, after all, performed adequately and students who do passable work do not deserve, at the end of the day, to be failed.  Parenthetically I note that we hear similar complaints from the Obama administration and its friends:  American policy and US Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson have made mistakes but it is not really their fault that the policy has proven to be both unworkable and so profoundly misunderstood by Egyptians as to have provoked their hostility. 

            It is an open question whether it is possible, in the current circumstances, for anyone to think clearly about Egyptian politics as anything other than a morality play in which people are ultimately rewarded or punished for their intentions and their actions by God, the dialectic of history, or the principle of karma.  There is also some question about whether Western scholars whose reputations were centered on claims about the essential political values of the objects of their research can now look clearly at events that have (at best) cast profound doubt on their conclusions.   Just as an earlier generation of American academics, in particular, were convinced that the Armed Forces in Egypt were the agents of unfolding modernization so too have their recent successors been certain that the Muslim Brothers, in a variety of national guises, would be the agents of democracy and the destroyers of authoritarianism.             

            There is no particular reason for now to believe that the Egyptian Armed Forces are the modernizers envisaged by American academics in the 1960s.  Nor is there reason to believe that the Muslim Brotherhood is the carrier of democratization through an Islamic state as envisaged in the 1990s and early 2000s.  Of course the governments after 1952, invariably led by Army officers, pursued industrialization policies for strategic reasons.  So, too, the Muslim Brotherhood leadership pursued open elections for their own strategic reasons.  Neither the Army nor the MB are or were particularly committed to the wider principles that academics like to read into these policy choices. 

              While it may be that Husni Mubarak and Muhammad Morsi shared some psychological features, it is equally likely that the structure of contemporary Egyptian politics makes it easy for office holders to indulge their refusal, if not to cooperate, at least to recognize the legitimacy as well as efficacy of their political constraints.  Both men, faced with widespread and intense opposition, chose to resist rather than to respond.   Military hierarchy shaped Mubarak, the last of three military officers to preside over republican Egypt.  Over decades, his political base narrowed and became increasingly fragile.  The civilian hierarchy of the Muslim Brotherhood shaped Morsi’s adult political education and it took only months for his political base to narrow and for wider and wider opposition to shatter it.   In each case the armed forces stepped in forestalling the failure of the state in the face of mass mobilization.

            There is no reason to believe that the underlying concerns and motivations of various institutions and their leaderships have changed in the past few years but they may, as have many Egyptians, learned that the politics of revolutionary upheaval is an unforgiving environment.  I have never believed that the army generals particularly want to rule Egypt on their own; what they do want is a political cohort that can provide stability and sufficient economic growth to allow the maintenance of stability.  This the Muslim Brothers proved to be incapable of providing.  Whether this was due to their incompetence or to powerful opposition was less relevant to the army than the simple fact of their failure and the unexpectedly massive opposition.   Had the petition campaign demanding Morsi’s resignation indeed been as inconsequential as it appeared to the leaders of the MB (and most observers) when it began, there is no particular reason to believe the Armed Forces would have moved.

            Egyptian society is increasingly polarized.  Egyptians tell very different stories about the revolution until this point and they see the events of the last week in completely different ways.  Such disagreements about the moral narrative of change are characteristic of revolution and they persist for generations.  In this sense Egypt as well as its army has crossed the Rubicon:  it will be a very long time before the Egyptian revolution is an object of academic study rather than a source of emotionally resonant political allegiance.  Much as I appreciate the call for dialogue between the competing camps, it will be a while before their discussions are anything other than the trading of irreconcilable and irascible monologues. Even today there is no rue Robespierre in Paris and no Kerensky Street in Moscow. 

Whether the two camps are equally large is less important now than that they can no longer agree on a common political project or political policies.  The two camps are not secular and religious nor are they political Islam and moderates.  They might, more charitably, be called adherents of majoritarian revolution and revolutionary pluralism.  The MB is now a cadre party dedicated to the conquest of power and the transformation of society in accord with their vision.  Because similarly organized parties elsewhere and at other times were dedicated to socialist utopias it is easy to dismiss the MB’s rhetoric of revolution as pretension or smokescreen.  But the current leaders have their own vision of a just society as well as of the mainsprings of political action; their understanding of politics has allowed them to persevere and also, at moments, crucially to misunderstand what was happening around them.   Their opponents, not united by much other than a distaste for the MB and (an important point) a desire to create political structures in which non-majoritarian parties can thrive, would prefer a plural political order.  They have been, at least in the past few months, more realistically attuned to what is happening around them.  Thus, both the Salafi Nour party and the Social Democratic party realistically understood how unpopular Morsi had become and that the Armed Forces were no longer willing to wait.  They agree about very little (if anything) substantively but they have both been willing to participate in a coalition to re-constitute a government and perhaps re-found the state. 

At this point in Egypt’s political and constitutional history it may be that stubbornness is not an admirable quality in a president.  This has less to do with the personal characteristics of those who offer themselves up for the office and more with the structures of power.  Perhaps Egypt needs a president who is in reality (and not merely formally) independent of the ruling party.  Only such a president can change the prime minister or call for new elections when millions of people take to the streets to protest its policies. Egypt clearly needs some mechanism to recognize protests of such magnitude and respond to them short of creating widespread social violence and a constitutional crisis.  The 2012 constitution was written to resolve the problems of the Mubarak regime in which presidents could too easily dissolve parliament and subject governing parties to their will.  The MB was determined to write a constitution in which a strong party could dominate both the presidency and the legislature.  Unfortunately it seems to have magnified the problems of the new order.  And much of the confusion of outside commentators has come from their inability to see the difference.