Neither Heroes, Nor Villains: A Conversation with Talal Asad on Egypt After Morsi

Ayça Çubukçu in Jadaliyya:

AP345923627836_0copyAyça Çubukçu (AÇ): First of all, I would like to thank you for agreeing to have this open conversation, which we hope to share with our readers at Jadaliyya. After the military intervention on 3 July in Egypt, some commentators have claimed that what we have witnessed on 3 July is a strategic effort on the part of the Egyptian army to contain revolutionary forces within Egypt—more specifically, that the army was forced to intervene by a popular uprising which it wanted to contain. Others have claimed that the Egyptian army was supporting the uprising against President Mohamad Morsi in some sincere fashion, or that what we have seen in early July is a continuation of the 2011 revolution. Yet others have insisted that what we have witnessed is an outright coup d'état against a democratically elected president. What is your interpretation of this debate?

Talal Asad (TA): Well, there has been quite a lot of talk of course about whether or not this is a coup, or whether it is essentially a response by the army to the people’s revolutionary demands. I would have no hesitation in calling it a coup, but this may not be the most important thing to determine at the very beginning. The point I want to stress is that the opposition has been made up of a number of disparate elements–perhaps not too disparate–including most importantly, what are known as the fuloul—that is, the beneficiaries of the old Mubarak regime—as well as the movement calling itself Tamarod that includes many of the younger pro-democracy people who have been determined at any cost to get rid of President Morsi. I myself am not too concerned about the legitimacy or illegitimacy of removing a nationally elected president. It is true that this president did not win by a vast margin, but there is no requirement in a liberal democracy that that be a condition of electoral success. And even if, as the protesters have also insisted, he has been acting largely on behalf of his Freedom and Justice Party rather than the country as a whole, that by and large is how politics works in liberal democracies. There is much rhetoric about “the nation” and “the people,” but electoral democracies work not in favor of all citizens but rather of special interests represented by the party that wins in the elections.

But I am much more concerned here about the fact that a particular kind of alliance has been constructed in which some people (that is, the beneficiaries of the Mubarak regime, including the army) are much clearer about what they want, and others (the pro-democracy movement) who are not so clear. At any rate, to the extent that they are clear about what they want, they are certainly not very clear about how to achieve it. They remain largely at the level of slogans because their efforts are invested largely in the media.

More here.