Kenan Malik in Padaemonium:
When, on 3 July, the Egyptian army ousted President Mohammed Morsi, and took control of the nation, many liberals and secularists rationalized it not as a coup but as the military acting on behalf of the people to protect the revolution. When the army imprisoned Morsi, and other Muslim Brotherhood leaders, censored its media and suspended the constitution, many liberals and secularists rationalized it not as an authoritarian crackdown but as measures necessary to check the ambitions of the Brotherhood and to preserve the gains of the revolution. When, last week, the army shot dead dozens of pro-Morsi protestors, many liberals and secularists rationalized it not as a barbaric act comparable with the savagery of previous dictator Hosni Mubarak, but as ‘self-defence’ against ‘terrorists’ bent on bringing down democracy. In reality what is being rationalized away is the soul of the Egyptian revolution.
The tragedy of Egypt today is that contemporary events echo a historical pattern repeated again and again throughout the Arab world. Supporters of the coup point out that the Egyptian army is more than merely an army; it occupies, they argue, a special place in Egyptian society. They are right. But the army only does so because of the weakness of the political sphere. There is a long history in the Arab world of popular movements for democratic change and a secular society. Such movements have, however, often been organizationally fragile and politically incoherent. In their stead, the military has taken on the role of the agent of social change, the mechanism through which the nation is ‘modernized’. Secularism and ‘progressive’ politics have, as a result, long been associated not with freedom and democracy but with military power and authoritarian rule – from Nasserism in Egypt to Ba’athism in Syria and Iraq. This is turn has encouraged the growth of religious anti-liberal movements, including Islamism.