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After Morsi’s Ouster, Egypt’s Path to National Unity Threatened by Worsening Violence, Divisions

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With the killings of at least 42 Muslim Brotherhood protesters today in Cairo, Egypt’s reconciliation effort following last week’s ouster of President Mohamed Morsi remains fraught with violence. We host a discussion on what caused Morsi’s overthrow and what comes next for Egypt with three guests: Michael Wahid Hanna, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation; Shadi Hamid, director of research for the Brookings Doha Center and a fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings; and Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous based in Cairo.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: International response to the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi in Egypt has been mixed. The African Union suspended Egypt due to what it described as an “unconstitutional change of government.” But in Washington, D.C., the White House has refused to call Morsi’s ouster a coup. In a statement released Saturday, the White House said the administration remains, quote, “committed to the Egyptian people and their aspirations for democracy, [economy] opportunity, and dignity.”

Meanwhile, the editors of The Wall Street Journal praised the ouster of Morsi. In an editorial headlined “After the Coup in Cairo,” the editors wrote, quote, “Egyptians would be lucky if their new ruling generals turn out to be in the mold of Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, who took over power [amid] chaos but hired free-market reformers and midwifed a transition to democracy.”

Well, to talk more about Egypt, we’re joined by two guests. From New York, here, Michael Wahid Hanna. He is a senior fellow at The Century Foundation. And from Doha, Qatar, we’re joined by Shadi Hamid, director of research for the Brookings Doha Center and a fellow at the Saban Center of Middle East Policy at Brookings. His recent opinion piece for The New York Times was entitled “Demoting Democracy in Egypt.” Still with us, Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous in Cairo, his most recent piece, “What Led to Morsi’s Fall—and What Comes Next?”

Michael Wahid Hanna, your response to what has taken place in Egypt, to the fall of Mohamed Morsi and now the subsequent killings and woundings?

MICHAEL WAHID HANNA: Well, I mean, I think we begin not now, today, but in a long series of fateful decisions leading up to June 30th. I think it’s important to realize that by the time we get to June 30th, Egypt has very few options to have a safe exit, to have an orderly resolution, and it is that series of mistakes and intransigence and hubris, that I think mostly lies at the feet of Mohamed Morsi, that has brought us to this point. I think after June 30th Morsi was an irreparably damaged leader. Not only had he seen unprecedented public protest, a new uprising against his rule that in fact, in numbers, surpassed that that brought down Mubarak, but he had lost control of the levers of authority of the state. And his continuance as president, I think, was untenable. I think at that point the honorable step would have been to resign. I think that was the one way out, to call early elections. That was the way out for Egypt in terms of preserving the country and its social fabric, and perhaps avoiding bloodshed. I think we’ve seen since that time a series of very sub-optimal outcomes and ones that perhaps might usher in further instability. But I think we cannot isolate those decisions from everything that preceded it in the year under his tenure.

AMY GOODMAN: Shadi Hamid, your response?

SHADI HAMID: Look, I mean, no one should act surprised by the violence that we saw earlier today. At least 43 unarmed protesters have been massacred, mostly from the Brotherhood and other supporters of Morsi. Now, this kind of thing is intrinsic to a coup. You can’t support a coup and then afterward say that you don’t want the results of the coup. What coups do is they provoke a crisis of legitimacy. You have one part of the country that considers the new president to be legitimate, Adly Mansour, and you have the other part of the country that maintains that President Morsi is—continues to be the legitimate president and commander of the armed chiefs. Because there is no political process—there are no elections, the constitution has been suspended—there is no organized political process through which to resolve that fundamental crisis of legitimacy. So, inevitably, there’s going to be violence. And those of us who were against the coup were saying this day in and day out the last week and longer, that a coup would be dangerous. Historically, coups can lead to either civil war, civil conflict, military dictatorship. We’re supposed to learn from the lessons of the past, but watching this, we’re making the same mistakes. And we saw some similar events in Algeria in 1992, where the military there engineered a military coup to annul elections that brought Islamists to power.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Wahid Hanna?

MICHAEL WAHID HANNA: Yeah, no, I think there’s a couple of points that are very important. The violence that we saw today isn’t just intrinsic to a coup, it’s intrinsic to how Egypt’s security forces have operated continuously, under Mubarak, under the previous period of interim military rule and, crucially, under Mohamed Morsi. This isn’t new. And it is one of his fateful decisions to essentially try to co-opt the police force and to use that mode of repression in the face of growing instability and protest against him. So, this violence, yes, it is nothing new, but it is also—we saw in Port Said in January 2013, very recently, a police rampage that killed over 50 citizens. Following that violence, we saw Mohamed Morsi praising the police force. So, yes, this is nothing new, but this is intrinsic to the Egyptian state, not necessarily something out of the blue.

I think it’s important, when we think about Algeria, to also think about all the ways in which this is different. These Islamists governed; the Muslim Brotherhood was in power. I think what we also saw was widespread popular protest and mass mobilization against Morsi that includes conservatives and Muslims, and even in his time of need, his Islamist support, some of it, began to fray and peel away in the form of the Nour Party. So it’s a very different fact pattern. And I don’t think we should expect an Algeria scenario, because I think these are very different situations.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you respond to that, Shadi Hamid? Also, Al Jazeera reporting the military’s vast economic interests in Egypt—one of those secrets which is not really a secret—analysts have predicted the Egyptian military controls anything from 15 to 40 percent of the economy. Shadi Hamid?

SHADI HAMID: Yeah, well, I mean, there’s a couple things here. First of all, in Algeria, I mean, what happened was a military coup. Of course there are major differences, but I think we can also try to learn from what happened in Algeria, so that the international community and Egyptians themselves can start to reduce the polarization that is going on. I mean, Michael made some valid points about Morsi’s tenure being a disaster. It was. But that doesn’t justify a military coup against the first democratically elected government. And no one can pretend that that was going to go smoothly.

And I should also note that there is something unprecedented about this. Michael said that there’s nothing new about the military killing people. That’s true, but what is new, that this is the first massacre against the Muslim Brotherhood since the 1950s, since 1954 under Gamal Abdel Nasser. So this never happened under Mubarak, not under Sadat. In that sense, this is going to have a powerful symbolic effect, and it’s going to be very difficult to turn back from this. How do you convince the Brotherhood to reintegrate into the political process and participate in upcoming elections when their blood is being spilled? I had some hope for that yesterday, but after the events of this morning, it’s going to be very, very difficult.


MICHAEL WAHID HANNA: Well, I share some of those concerns. I mean, this is an appalling loss of life. The brutality of the Egyptian security forces, police and army included, is terribly worrisome for the future stability of the country. I think one thing we’ve learned about Egypt post-Mubarak is that repressive stability is a failure. It cannot work henceforth. It produces its own instability. So, I mean, I don’t—I don’t approach this scenario blithely. I’ve thought for quite some time that Egypt has been on the cusp of civil strife. We’ve seen the signs of a society breaking down. And I’m not going to lay that all on the foot of June 30th and the uprising. I think that’s been the case for months now. We saw a public lynching of Shia citizens in the streets following incitement by clerics. This is a society in need of reconciliation and a halt to the dehumanization that is going on. But I think that began long before June 30th.

AMY GOODMAN: And what about the issue of Mohamed ElBaradei being named, and then, well, they sort of stepped back from naming him as the prime minister? Mohamed ElBaradei, who of course was the Nobel Peace Prize-winning head of the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, came back, was running for president. He doesn’t win. But then, after a military coup, he is named. But because of the Salafist party, they pull the name back, as they object.

MICHAEL WAHID HANNA: Yeah, so, the Salafi Nour Party, who was the—which was the second-largest party in the parliament that was dissolved, obviously is playing a crucial role and is very important for this transition, because they broke away from Morsi, called for early elections. While they didn’t participate in the protests themselves, they did validate the transition roadmap set out by the military. And so, they have essentially something like a veto. And, of course, ElBaradei is a very controversial figure for the Islamists. And—


MICHAEL WAHID HANNA: He is seen as the leading force of reformists. He’s been very critical of the Muslim Brotherhood. He’s been somewhat inflexible in his political demands. And so, he’s become a bête noire for the Islamists and including the Muslim Brotherhood. And so, I think it is probably a good thing that he doesn’t fill the slot of prime minister.

But beyond that, we have a much broader issue that has plagued Egypt since the fall of Mubarak, and it’s the inability to even come to threshold levels of consensus. And this lack of even threshold levels of consensus has meant that nothing has gotten done. The country has been paralyzed. The systemic issues of reform, whether they be in terms of security sector reform, economic reform, accountability and transitional justice, none of these things have gotten done. And unfortunately, there’s no near-term prospect for that to happen now.

AMY GOODMAN: What was the flashpoint for this? Just the first anniversary of Mohamed Morsi becoming president?

MICHAEL WAHID HANNA: Well, the campaign was pegged to that, but this has been building for some time. We’ve seen also a sort of coalescing of a very inchoate group: the activists and revolutionaries who led the initial uprising against Mubarak, we also have figures that supported the former regime, and then you have people coming out for the very first time. Economic scarcity and deprivation are taking a toll, and so you have mobilization by the urban poor, you have mobilization in rural constituencies—geographic dispersion of protests, which produce something quite unprecedented in Egyptian history.

AMY GOODMAN: Shadi Hamid, we’re just getting word that as a result of the massacre that took place this morning, that the ultraconservative Salafists, the Islamists, the al-Nour Party, is suspending its participation in efforts to form an interim government. What is the significance of this?

SHADI HAMID: That’s very important, because the Nour Party was the only Islamist party that was part of this post-Morsi coalition, and it was important for the military to point to the Nour Party and say, “It’s not just liberals or leftists; we also have Islamists as part of this new coalition.” Now that they’re leaving, it undermines that argument. But perhaps even more problematic for the military is that Nour now might decide to take to the streets—not the leadership, but certainly the rank and file, many of whom have been very uncomfortable watching one of their fellow Islamists be deposed. So I think we’re going to see more Salafis, especially after today’s massacre, perhaps joining the streets in some fashion to support Morsi’s cause, if you will.

AMY GOODMAN: And let me put that question to you. With al-Nour pulling out, with the Nour Party pulling out—they were the ones who were standing with the military leader, saying that, yes, conservative Islamists stand with this coup, as well.

MICHAEL WAHID HANNA: Yeah. It was a testament to the alienation of the Muslim Brotherhood, the fact that not only had they alienated the reformists and revolutionaries, not reconciled with any of the former regime members, but also alienated those within the Islamist current, that they had lost that support, that they would go so far as to essentially validate his ouster. They’ve suspended their participation, not fully, irrevocably withdrawn, so there might be some chance of their return, but obviously, as Shadi mentioned, they are important to this whole setup.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to a comment of the Muslim Brotherhood. This was a comment made by Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood party. A Muslim Brotherhood spokesperson told ABC this weekend all the signs indicate what happened in Egypt was a coup. This is Gehad El-Haddad.

GEHAD EL-HADDAD: I don’t understand what naivety can behold any person to see all the ingredients, political science-wise, of a coup and not see it as a coup. It’s military junta on TV, tanks on the street, troops on protests, military people shooting civilians. I mean, it’s every ingredient of a full police state. I mean, what else are people waiting for?

AMY GOODMAN: The Muslim Brotherhood has also rejected dialogue with the new leadership. This is senior Brotherhood leader Mohamed al-Beltagy.

MOHAMED AL-BELTAGY: [translated] Everyone knows that the one who is effectively ruling Egypt now is General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and not this so-called head of constitutional court, and therefore we are facing a military coup, which we do not accept and which we will not deal with and we will not sit to negotiate with, unless they correct this crime, that is not committed only against President Morsi or the Brotherhood or the Freedom and Justice Party, but against the will of the people, which was expressed in the ballot boxes.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Wahid Hanna, your response?

MICHAEL WAHID HANNA: Yeah, I mean, this has been a very controversial issue for Egyptians. Clearly, technically, this is a coup. There’s no question about the fact that this was a military ouster. But it wasn’t just a coup. It was also a popular uprising. And I think for those that participated, there was a sense of—a sense of negation of agency. And I think it’s important to put those things together. It’s not one or the other; it is both. And that presents a very complicated scenario and a set of considerations. But this intervention on the part of the military could not and would not have happened without the mass mobilization that preceded it, and that’s an important point to make.

AMY GOODMAN: Shadi Hamid, where do you see this all going at this point? What do you think needs to be—happen, now that the government has been removed, but now the massacre today has taken place?

SHADI HAMID: You know, there’s no clear route. There’s no—as Michael was pointing out, there is no basic, minimum consensus. And it’s even worse now, because there is no electoral process. There is no political system whatsoever, really. I mean, we have an interim government here, an interim president, who has full power, is backed by the military, and no real accountability to the people.

But, again, I come back to this issue: How do you reintegrate the Muslim Brotherhood back into the political process? They still represent a big portion of the Egyptian public. They can’t be made to disappear. They can’t be eradicated as some seem to want now. So, bringing them back, though, as I said earlier, is very challenging, because how will they give up their legitimacy claim? They’ve been telling their supporters the past week that Morsi’s legitimacy is worth fighting and dying for. So, after kind of raising that sentiment—

AMY GOODMAN: Shadi, I want to interrupt because we’re about to lose Sharif in Cairo. Sharif, very quickly, the issue of the press and Al Jazeera and other news organizations being shut down at this point?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, that’s a very worrying development, and certain opposition leaders have—like Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour, have called for them to be reopened.

You know, I think it’s important to realize, when we talk about this issue of a coup and a popular uprising, is what happened is very similar to what happened after—in Mubarak’s ouster. It was an uprising that ended in the military forcing Mubarak out and taking over power. The difference is that Mohamed Morsi was elected. And I think the question we have to ask ourselves, that—you know, this revolution didn’t fit into a nice, neat, little box in 18 days, but it was a revolution that was ongoing. And this question of legitimacy, that it is only through the ballot box, which is the way the Muslim Brotherhood sees it, but I think many revolutionaries see it a very different way, that if you continue to act in a very authoritarian way, continue to allow the police to kill and torture with impunity and not hold them accountable and yet give them promotions, you know, alienate completely all of the political opposition and use a very thin electoral mandate to push through very divisive legislation, at some point, you know, in this revolutionary moment, do you lose that legitimacy? And I think we saw increasing anger on the street, increasing mass mobilizations, that culminated on June 30th. So, it’s important to keep these things in context when we have this kind of going back and forth—”Is it a coup? Is it not a coup?” It’s technically a coup, yes, but we have to compare it to the ouster of Mubarak in that context.

And, you know, the question I think people have to ask is: Did Morsi lose his legitimacy? And he angered so many different—different sections of Egyptian public life that we saw, you know, the biggest uprising that we’ve seen in—possibly in Egyptian history. So, that’s the question we have to ask here and going forward. And there was no good options, and I think there was no good options mainly because of what the Muslim Brotherhood did during their rule and the way the military managed the transition following Mubarak’s ouster, and, to a lesser extent, the way the political opposition acted throughout much of the transition, which was often in a crass and opportunistic way.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to have to leave this discussion here, but of course we’re going to continue to follow the story, what is happening in Egypt. Sharif, I want to thank you for being with us, Democracy Now! correspondent in Cairo. His latest piece is in The Nation magazine, “What Led to Morsi’s Fall—and What Comes Next?” We’ll link to it at democracynow.org. You can hear also Sharif’s podcast reports of the events unfolding in Egypt at democracynow.org.

I also want to thank our guests, Michael Wahid Hanna, senior fellow at The Century Foundation, as well as Shadi Hamid, director of research for Brookings Doha Center, fellow at the Saban Center of Middle East Policy at Brookings. His most recent piece is in The New York Times, we’ll link to it, “Demoting Democracy in Egypt.”

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we go to Brazil to Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian, the latest news around the NSA leaker/whistleblower, Edward Snowden. Stay with us.

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