The Dangers of the Egyptian Military's Intervention

Earlier this month, the Egyptian military overthrew President Mohammed Morsi, who was elected only a year ago. The military stepped in to intervene when tens of thousands of protestors gathered in support and opposition to Morsi’s regime.

Some consider the military intervention a necessary corrective to Morsi’s dismal and sometimes tyrannical rule. However, I would disagree. The military overthrow of Mohammed Morsi is detrimental to Egypt because it further legitimizes military intervention into the democratic process, while romanticizing Islamist rule and driving Islamists to more violent options.

Egyptian military intervention will harm the Egyptian political process in the long run. Egypt is no stranger to military intervention. In 1952, a military coup deposed the British-backed monarchy. Unfortunately, this military transition became more than just a transition. Military officers like Gamel Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat ruled autocratically for decades. The same sort of military autocracy may not necessarily occur with Egypt’s military removal of Morsi, but it does remain a possibility. At the very least, military intervention legitimizes the military stepping into the political process, and this is quite dangerous. It means the military is no longer under civilian control, but can act as a wild card overthrowing regimes that it deems unfavorable to either itself or to Egypt as a whole. Some liberal and secular parties may be excited now because their foe, Morsi, was deposed. There is no restriction on the military’s power, though. It could just as easily unseat the more secular government forming right now.

The tendency, too, is for military coups to not relinquish power. Morsi’s deposition was fueled by his political overreach, human rights violations, and inability to correct economic woes. The new liberal secular regime is unlikely to be guilty of the first two offenses, but Egypt’s economy is unlikely to recover soon. The Egyptian military may intervene to correct the new regime’s economic failings. A similar situation occurred in Brazil, another country with a history of military interventions, in the early 1960s. The Egyptian military has exercised restraint, but they relinquished power before just over a year ago to Mohammed Morsi. Again, if they installed and then overthrew him, who is to say they will not do the same with the current liberal regime?

In addition to upsetting the democratic process, the military usurpation has the unintended consequence of solidifying support for extreme Islamists. It is true that a sizable portion of Egypt’s population looks unfavorably upon Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood’s reign. However, an equally large segment of the Egyptian population is supportive of Morsi. These supporters may have become more disillusioned with Islamist rule under the Muslim Brotherhood if events had been allowed to play out. The Muslim Brotherhood and Islamists like to say that once they get into power, their ultra-conservative Muslim policies will flourish. It does not work out that way, though. Rather, it leads to persecution, human rights abuses, and a mishandling of the economy by religious leaders unqualified to craft economic policy. This was happening in Egypt and it was causing breaks in the Muslim Brotherhood’s support. Now, however, with the military coup, Muslim Brotherhood supporters can make the claim that their chance at power was cut short and their true vision for society was not yet fully implemented. Obviously, this is a half-truth, since they were allowed to enact some of their platform during their year in power. Politics sometimes works through such half-truths, and any political organization that has had its term forcibly cut will be embittered, and more willing to venture outside the democratic process to achieve their aims.

One final consequence of the military coup is the potential for the Muslim Brotherhood’s alienation from the democratic political process. At first glance, that sounds great. Better for an organization committed to an oppressive ideology to not be involved in the political process, right? Unfortunately, organizations do not give up their goals quite so easily. If they feel like those goals cannot be achieved through participating in elected government because they will be deposed, they will seek more radical means of actualizing their goals. This could take the form of violent agitation. Using brutal intimidation, the Muslim Brotherhood may adopt a coercive position, as Hezbollah and al-Qaeda have done. The result would be the undermining of government, sectarian violence, and brutal clashes with the military.

Before people begin to celebrate the ouster of an oppressive Islamist regime, they should reflect on the political fallout such an action can precipitate. Democracy is a tricky business and sometimes poor leadership is elected. Yet the process should be allowed to work itself out. The idea of fixing problems quickly through force is attractive, but it can often trample the same rights the force is attempting to preserve. Egypt’s democratic transition is going to be messy. So was the West’s transition to democracy. What is needed is an exercise in patience, adaptability, and the prayer that not only political liberty, but also spiritual liberty can be experienced in Egypt.


We might make a better start by not having illusions about third world politics. To often we have ended up rooting for one wretched tyrant then rooting for his replacement and so on ad infiniteum. Most of the rulers in the Western world were in fact nasty pieces of work until we managed to bring them under control by a few coincidences of history. Why should we think things should be different elsewhere?
It's a tricky matter, to be sure. Many Egyptians have a bad taste in their mouths about how everything went down. There's a widespread suspicion that the U.S. had a big hand in it, because we wanted to choose Mubarak's successor and Morsi was not our guy. Egyptians who believe the U.S. pulls the Egyptian military's strings are convinced we ordered the coup.

It's also the case that many people in Egypt had been experiencing long lines at the pump, and those lines immediately disappeared after the coup. That leads many to believe that the anti-Morsi forces were behind the energy crisis as a way to destabilize the government.

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