Egypt’s hotbed of civil unrest boiled over on July 3, when democratically-elected president Mohamed Morsi failed to meet a 48-hour ultimatum to quell the demands of a nationwide protest of millions.
Scores of unrelenting protesters rejoiced as Col. Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, the chairman of the Supreme Council of Forces of Egypt, announced Morsi’s deposition and the dissolution of a parliament that, just a year and a half ago, was established by seemingly legitimate means.
The capriciousness of the Egyptian public and its intensely polarized political affiliations are contrasted only by the stability and strength of its most secular institution — the Egyptian Armed Forces. Yet regardless of association, each side in the uprising has a hint of credibility to its claims.
In light of longtime tyrant Hosni Mubarak’s removal, the Egyptian people celebrated reluctantly until once again taking to the streets to demand greater transparency and a hastier transition to a popularly elected government. The military hurriedly obliged and thus a parliament was formed.
In the grand scheme of things, the Egyptian Supreme Court, composed heavily of Mubarak-era appointees, declared the elections null and void for lack of consistency with electoral standards established by the interim military government. A presidential election, held three months later, solidified the incumbency of Freedom and Justice Party leader Morsi who challenged the court’s ruling, reinstated parliament and pushed for a constitutional referendum.
The referendum, much like the parliamentary elections, was
boycotted by secularist groups that insisted the makeup of the legislative body was overtly religious, with more than 65 percent of seats belonging to Islamist parties favoring the establishment stricter of Islamic law.
Their apprehensions were valid, as nearly 64 percent of the approximately 17 million votes approved the inception of a constitution which severely limited the role of women in civil affairs, curbed liberties of religious minorities and stifled freedoms of expression, limited by Sharia law.
The Islamist-dominated parliament’s indiscretion for minority rights was compounded by Morsi’s decree granting himself immunity from Supreme Court rulings, inciting massive riots across Egypt.
Fueled by a staggering unemployment rate and a stagnating economy, opposition activists set out to collect 15 million petition signatures to demand new elections. The subsequent campaign gathered more than 22 million signatures and incited the largest mass demonstration on record — and the rest was history.
Whether Morsi’s removal was a coup against an increasingly authoritarian regime or simply a risk-averse move to prevent civil war remains a mystery. What is clear, however, is that proponents and opponents of the change have similarly viable arguments.
On one end, a military-backed ouster of a democratically elected parliament is inherently undemocratic. On the other hand, the
consolidation of power in the hands of one man and an increasingly theocratic ruling class, regardless of popular consensus, is equally, if not excessively, as undemocratic.