A little over a year ago today, millions of Egyptians voted for Mohamed Morsi, in spite of severe misgivings about the man and his Muslim Brotherhood, because they could not in good conscience vote for his Mubarak-redux opponent, General Shafiq. They reasoned that the devil you don’t know is better than the devil you do, and they gave the new president a chance, although Morsi, a pinch-hitter candidate brought in by the Brotherhood at the last minute when the party boss was disqualified, lacked stature or charisma for the job. In the year since he was elected, many of those who cast reluctant ballots for him have had time to suffer severe buyer’s remorse, and today they cheered his ouster.
That explains the paradox that bemuses Western media observers: why 22 million Egyptians signed a petition withdrawing confidence from Morsi only a year into his administration, and why millions thronged the streets for the better part of a week calling for his departure, and why they cheered wildly when the military staged a bloodless coup to oust the first democratically-elected president in Egyptian history. The Morsi administration has not only proved disastrously inept, it has also turned out to be insular, divisive, and shockingly power-hungry. He acted, not as a president for all Egyptians, but as if his mandate came from the Muslim Brotherhood alone. He put himself above the law while he forced through an overnight constitution, against massive opposition; and rigged Parliament to consolidate a permanent majority for his Muslim Brotherhood party. He was kicking away the ladder that brought him to power, oblivious to the evidence that millions of Egyptians, who found his ideology repugnant but had nevertheless entrusted him with their votes, were feeling betrayed.
And Egypt- that majority of Egyptians, those who voted for him reluctantly a year ago and those who voted against him- Egypt today clamored for an annulment from its commitment to the Muslim Brotherhood administration. If the January 25th Revolution was a long-drawn, painful, bittersweet divorce from the Mubarak regime after a long marriage that had seen happier days, the June 30th Rebellion was a visceral rejection of a regrettable mistake, a correction in direction: an annulment.
That the annulment had to come at the hands of the military is worrying to many who wonder if this will be back to the future. The sight of armored tanks on the streets is less reassuring than it was during the days of innocence of the January 25th revolution, before the SCAF abused its powers during eighteen months of rule. The sight of white-uniformed police being hoisted above the crowd and hailed by demonstrators is even more disturbing to a nation who remembers the abusive, loathsome role the police and security forces played under Mubarak and the brutality with which they repressed the revolution of 2011.
Those who warn of a back to the future scenario might think of another analogy: in Muslim religious law, if a man divorces his wife three times, he may not take her back, even if it is their joint wish, before she has married another husband in the interim. The name for this intermediate husband who makes the remarriage of the divorced couple legal is a ‘legitimizer’; the brief one-year Morsi regime may be regarded as having played the role of ‘legitimizer’ that allows Egypt to go back to its military-backed autocracy.
But the ‘legitimizer’ regime may not go quietly. To the Muslim Brotherhood and their considerable base around the country, this defeat is bitter, and extremists among them may be plotting insurrection and violence. That would be a mistake, just as it would be a mistake by the newly-triumphant, liberal, secular majority of the country to try to shut the Islamists out of the democratic process in future elections. The Brotherhood was not ready to rule in June of 2012, but Islamist parties are entitled to have a voice in the politics of Egypt, as long as they respect the spirit and not just the letter of the democratic process.To those who mutter that Egypt is only jumping out of the frying pan of Islamist misrule into the fire of military dictatorship, that Egypt can only be ruled by a strongman, perhaps the answer is this: we don’t need another hero. Whoever comes to power in Egypt at the next election or whoever make seek to take advantage of the military's role as kingmaker, will have to deal with a new reality: the masses of Egypt have found their way out of the thunder-dome, not once but twice, and will find their way out again if need be. The people have spoken, and their voice may be loud, chaotic, and divided, but above all, it will not be silenced.