A good coup?

Fri, Jul 5, 2013, 01:00

Is there such a thing as a “good coup”? Many democrats are agonising over how to support the removal of Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi, clearly an expression of the will of the Egyptian people, without appearing to applaud the country’s military. This is an army, after all, despite its new-found concern for “the people”, whose hands are soaked in the blood of its people, whose officer caste has for decades helped run a brutal police state and enriched itself through its control of much of Egypt’s economy. Friends of the people? The people would do well to sup with a long spoon.

Such fears are reflected in the “deep concern” of Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore yesterday. “No one who truly holds to democratic values,” he argued, “can view with equanimity what was, to all intents and purposes, a military takeover.”

And yet, others are more equivocal.The UN, the US, the EU and other powers have stopped short of denouncing the move as a military coup; not least because to do so might trigger automatic sanctions. The US, in particular, has no wish to sever its relationship with its most powerful regional ally, Egypt’s army, which it subsidises to the tune of $1.3 billion a year.

And this was hardly a coup in the normal sense. A few tanks on the streets, not a shot fired, no seizing of public buildings, and limited arrests. A society at a tipping point, whose people in unprecedented numbers were out demanding change, whose incompetent government had lost its political authority and clung desperately to an evaporating electoral legitimacy, was tipped by a general’s tweet, the straw that broke the camel’s back. Little more. Hardly a coup.

Power has passed to the head of Egypt’s Constitutional Court, Adli Mansour, sworn in yesterday as head of state, with the promise of elections, an interim technocratic government, reconciliation talks and work on a new constitution. The army says it is standing back and is being trusted by opposition forces to do so. Time will tell whether the “good coup” is just that.