Since the July 3, 2013 removal from power of Egyptian president Muhammad Mursi by Gen. Al-Sisi, controversy has been raging, both in Egyptian Intellictuals Defend Mursis Ouster as a Will of the People and not a coupEgypt and worldwide, over whether his ouster was democratic or anti-democratic.

The Muslim Brotherhood (MB), together with other Egyptian opponents of Mursi’s ouster, reiterate that it was a military coup and an anti-democratic move, on the grounds that Mursi was legitimately elected in a democratic election and by the will of the people. Therefore, they argue, his supporters’ struggle to restore him to power and to reinstate the parliament and the constitution that was drafted during Mursi’s presidency is effectively a struggle to restore the democracy that Al-Sisi and his cohorts stole from the Egyptians.[1]

The argument that the ouster constitutes a military coup and a blow to democracy has been also voiced by Western politicians and opinion leaders such as U.S. Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, as well as in the U.S. media, and the official MB website frequently quotes from the latter, including from articles in The New York Times and Washington Post, to bolster its claims that the ouster is anti-democratic. The articles it quotes claim that the “liberals” who support the coup in Egypt have abandoned democracy.[2]

16266Al-Jazeera cartoon: Cutting down the trees of Egypt’s democracy (, July 4, 2013)

Countering this argument are intellectuals who claim that it was Mursi’s regime that was undemocratic, and that he was ousted in a popular revolution that reflects the will of the masses who despised his arbitrary measures and his preference for the interests of political Islam over concern for individual rights. Among these supporters of the ouster are several Egyptian intellectuals and writers.

The Egyptian poet ‘Abd Al-Mu’ti Higazi wrote that the Egyptian revolution is in line with principles set out by the fathers of democracy and by the French and American revolutions, among them Jean-Jacques Rousseau and John Locke. He explained that the Egyptian masses who came out to demand Mursi’s ouster did so in order to defend Egypt’s democracy from tyranny, and in order to realize their democratic right to control their own destiny. Harshly criticizing the West for condemning this as infringement on democracy, he said that the West turns its back on democracy whenever it suits its interests to do so.

Similarly, Egyptian playwright ‘Ali Salem rejected the argument that Mursi’s removal had been an anti-democratic coup; Salem has previously written that elections are only one criterion for democracy. In an article he penned after Mursi’s ouster, he argued that the system under which Mursi had come to power was a flawed kind of democracy, because it allowed religious-based parties to run. In another article addressed to President Obama, he explained that democracy is new to the Egyptians, which is why they made the mistake of electing the MB, and that now they wish to rectify this mistake.

Egyptian intellectual Mamoun Fandy wrote that the elections that put Mursi in power had not been democratic at all, because they were rigged. He argued that the entire election mechanism – including the ballots, the Interior Ministry, the district governors, and the judges who had overseen the elections – was the same as during the Mubarak era and that it had rigged elections at that time as well. Hence, he said, Mursi’s Egypt was not a democracy, but a country in the throes of a process of democratization that could not be completed within a single year. Mursi’s rule, he added, was also non-democratic in that it was not committed to the rights of the individual – which, for Fandy, are the essence of democracy – but rather to the interests of certain collectives, namely the MB and other political Islam groups. Also, he said, there was no separation of religion and state, as required in a true democracy.

The following are excerpts from the articles of these three Egyptian intellectuals:

The West Turns Its Back On Democracy When It Suits Its Interests To Do So

Poet ‘Abd Al-Mu’ti Higazi wrote in his article, published August 16, 2013: “I am neither surprised nor puzzled that some people in the West, who boast that they are the fathers and sons of democracy, sometimes turn their backs on democracy itself, especially when it is they who are in power, when they see what happens to democracy outside their own country, or when their interests contravene their [belief in] democracy… The people in the West can always defend democracy, but they have often turned their backs on it. When millions of us took [to the streets] to defend democracy and overthrow dictatorship, [the West] turned on us, condemned us, and called our revolution a coup.

“True, democracy emerged and ripened in the West. We owe our knowledge of it to Plato, Aristotle, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. However, the West also gave us [the tyrants] Peisistratos, Hippias, and Nero in the ancient era, as well as Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin in the modern age… All this does not negate the existence of contemporary democracies in the East, like India and Japan, which are no less authentic than the democracies of the West.”

The Events In Egypt Constitute Democracy As First Conceived In Ancient Athens

“The events of the recent months in Egypt are resounding proof that democracy is not the sole prerogative of the West, but is a system for regulating coexistence and a system of government that can be adopted by anyone. In June and July [2013], the Egyptians presented their own attempt at understanding democracy. [Their] implementation of it, as everyone could see, took a primal form which we thought had long passed from the world. We know that democracy [means] that the people governs its own affairs. [In its purest form, this means that] the all the people gather [in the squares], as the Athenians did in Athens when they gathered in the agora to govern their own affairs – for they were [both] governors and governed. They made and followed laws, elected their leaders and held them to account…

“We have seen that in the past 60 years, the elections held in our countries have been mostly rigged, and that [the rulers] who spoke in our name were [figures who had been] imposed on us. This [went on] until things went too far, and [then] all the Egyptians began representing themselves, holding their rulers to account, impeaching them, and overthrowing the entire regime and demanding real democracy.

“And what was the position of the West on this [June 30, 2013] revolution, in which democracy was expressed as never before? Not only did the people of the West, or their spokesmen in the U.S., England, and Germany – and even in France – deny the democratic essence of the Egyptian revolution, but they called it a military coup – [just] because the army decided to defend the revolution and the revolutionaries and to prevent the falling regime from launching a war against them by means of its armed militias…

“We say to [the Westerners] that what they know about democracy does not qualify them to act as fair teachers and judges [of democracy], because, unfortunately, their interests keep them from discerning the truth and judging in a balanced [manner]. Perhaps we have had an opportunity to learn what they do not know, for [the pain] we suffered under tyranny opened doors to us that were never opened to others – just as the tyranny of Peisistratos and his family towards the ancient Athenians opened the doors of democracy to them. They achieved [democracy] following a violent struggle in which the tyrants made a pact with the foreign invaders against their [own] homeland…”

The People’s Right To Impeach Its Leaders Is In The Founding Texts Of The French And American Revolutions

“We found ourselves confronting a cruel regime that besieged us from every direction, and came at us from the past and the future, from the U.S. and Qatar, from Turkey and Pakistan. It closed every door to us, and we were left with no choice but to rely on ourselves, and gather in our millions in the cities and villages, in the squares and the streets – a scene that had never been envisioned by anyone except Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He spoke of the need to establish a total consensus at least once, in order [to lay down the foundations of] a social contract. Perhaps we must review what Rousseau wrote in “The Social Contract,” what John Locke wrote in his “Second Treatise of Civil Government,” and what was written in the constitutions and statements that were issued during the French and American revolutions regarding the right of the people to impeach its rulers… I think American Senator John McCain, [who, during his last visit to Cairo early August 2013 described the events there as a coup], has never read these [texts] and does not know of them, and this is what made him condemn our revolution.”[3]

The MB’s ‘Democracy’ Has Nothing To Do With Politics As Perceived Worldwide

Egyptian playwright Ali Salem wrote in his July 26, 2013 column in the London daily Al-Sharq-Al-Awsat: “For many long days, I devoted extensive efforts to clarifying that what occurred in Egypt on June 30, [2013] had been a revolution rather than a coup. All that time, the talk naturally [revolved] around [the issue of] democracy and the fact that it was inconceivable that a leader elected by popular vote should be ousted before the end of his legitimate term in office. This position is important, even if I do not identify with it. [But] I constantly felt that there was something wrong in the discussion yet found it difficult to put my finger on it. What is it? The error lies in the fact that we’re talking about two different types of democracy. The first is [the democracy] that the West practices, and for the sake of which it paid a steep price for many centuries, and now it is holding us to account based on the rules of this democracy. The second [type of democracy] is the framework under which the Egyptian people elected the MB movement, and from the very first moment it became evident that [the Egyptian people] could not sustain [this type of democracy]…

“The source of the error lay in permitting [to form] parties on a religious basis or, in a clever play on words, [civil parties] ‘with a religious source of authority’. Therefore, this was not democracy as conceived by the West, but a democracy that we invented, which is unrelated to politics as it is perceived worldwide. This is a Western form of democracy, but with an Oriental aroma. Allowing religious movements to establish parties on a confessional basis is fundamentally at odds with [the principles of] democracy, because it transforms the party followers from voters into disciples. And, in this fashion, politics becomes less [a matter] of correct or incorrect [and more a matter of] faith versus apostasy. Its objectives focus on getting the disciple into paradise and keeping him out of hell. [In the case of] other [i.e., non-religious] parties, one can disagree with their political [positions] yet continue to maintain an amicable dialogue with their members. But when you disagree with the disciples [of a religious party], the disagreement entails only one thing: war…”[4]

Elections Are Not An Exclusive Yardstick Of Democracy

Salem expressed a similar idea in an article he published about seven years ago, in which he wrote: “Elections at the ballot box [by themselves] are not democracy, but [only] one part of it that must be preceded by other parts. Treating elections as the exclusive yardstick [to measure] democracy is merely self-deception. According to this [approach], standing in line [to cast a vote] into the ballot box becomes the be all and end all of mankind’s long odyssey in its struggle to attain a form of government that has hitherto been demonstrated as the optimal way to rule the public…”[5]

Obama, You Are In The Camp That Opposes Liberty For Egyptians

In an additional article published on August 17, 2013, Salem addressed President Obama after the latter condemned the August 14, 2013 brutal dispersal of the pro-Mursi sit-ins in Cairo’s Raba’a Al-‘Adawiya Mosque and Al-Nahda Square, which claimed hundreds of casualties. Salem wrote: “[President Obama], something strange, strange and painful, has occurred in my life. I find myself in the camp that opposes you, or, to be more precise, I find you standing in the camp that opposes liberty for Egyptians… You, the most powerful president in the world, should have waited two weeks before you joined the Egyptian MB movement, something that the words of your balanced statements did not manage to conceal… What does America want? Is it [really] devoted to democracy? In other words, have you discovered that democracy has sustained severe damage in Egypt and have decided to treat it[?] Is the United States [really] devoted to liberty and human rights? Or [does it feel] a fervent desire, whose origins are unknown to us, to assist the MB movement? The problem is that, in their confusion, many people forgot that this movement is not originally a political organization, but [is] precisely like those notorious organizations that [emerged] in your midst; the ones led by the Reverend Jim Jones and David Koresh.

“The Egyptians allowed the MB to come to power by a tiny majority because democracy itself was new to us. Our brows were feverish when we needed the tranquility required for choosing [wisely]. More than an apology is required of us. Oh democratic world, we apologize to you, just as we apologize to ourselves. We were mistaken when we elected them [the MB], so allow us to correct our position. Mr. President, we are on our path towards liberty and democracy. We will [eventually] have a genuine and stable constitution, and parties that engage in politics with their feet on the ground instead of claiming that they have descended from heaven. The price we will pay in the blood of victims will be steep, but no Egyptian will ever forget [the victims], because, at every moment he enjoys liberty, he will remember that Egyptian comrades and citizens paid the price for it with their lives…”[6]

Mursi Was Not Elected Democratically

In his article, published August 12, 2013, Egyptian intellectual Dr. Mamoun Fandy attacked the MB in the Gulf, who, he claimed, “have embraced the American position that the events in Egypt were a coup against the legitimate [rule] of a democratically elected president.” He wrote: “The MB and its supporters argue that, during the [voting process] in which Mursi was elected, no vote-rigging occurred, unlike in the case of the elections in which Mubarak was chosen. As though the one-year period between Mubarak’s ouster and Mursi’s election carried with it the promise that Egyptian society would change [to resemble] Swiss society. My dear friends, the elections that Mursi [won] utilized the very same ballot boxes that were used to elect Mubarak. [We’re dealing] with the same Interior Ministry that supervised the elections during Mubarak’s [era], the same district governors who emerged from [the ranks of the] State Security [apparatus], and the same judges who supervised the [Mubarak-era] elections… An example is the state security officer who serves as governor of my voting district. This is the officer who rigged the elections on Mubarak’s behalf in 2005. He continued to govern the district under Mursi’s [rule], and rigged [the elections] in the same way. In fact, during the Mursi era he tampered [with them] even more…

“The main point is that the Egyptians are learning democracy and gradually forsaking the [ballot] riggers and the methods and atmosphere of [ballot] rigging. Something like this cannot be totally changed in one year… Egypt has not been transformed into Switzerland in a single year. Mursi was elected, but not democratically as some people argue.”

Democracy Mandates The Separation Of Religion And State

“Democracy occurs in a political context predicated on individual freedom. The atmosphere during Mursi’s election was not free, and the individual was not central to it. Mursi’s world is not the world of the individual, but the world of the MB group [in Arabic gama’a], the Islamic gama’a, the Salafi gama’a, etc. There are no individuals here. During the Mursi era, the masses expunged individual liberty in the name of religion, [just as,] in the Mubarak era, [they expunged it] in the name of bogus nationalism. Therefore, Mursi was not democratically elected…

“In all sincerity, no democracy can exist in any framework where [politics are] intermixed with religion. Democracy is created only in a framework where a separation of religion and state is obtained. When a mix occurs [between the two], all talk about democracy is devoid of substance. [In the case] before us, Mursi was elected, but neither the elections nor the president were democratic. I’m willing to bet that no connection exists between the MB and democracy, either in word or in deed, and therefore there’s no place for idle prattle on the topic…

“Mursi was chosen president in elections that [outwardly] resembled elections in the West; in other words, [there was] a ballot box and a line of people casting [voting] slips into the ballot. But he was not a president who was elected democratically, the way Obama was elected in the United States and Cameron in England… The ballot box was just an illusion, and [comparing Mursi to Obama and Cameron] is naïveté, [an example of] making decisions [exclusively] on the basis of external appearances…”[7]



[1], July 6, 2013.

[2], July 22, 2013, August 18, 2013.

[3] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), August 16, 2013.

[4] Al-Sharq-Al-Awsat (London), July 26, 2013.

[5], June 12, 2006.

[6] Al-Sharq-Al-Awsat (London), August 17, 2013.

[7] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), August 12, 2013.

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