Was the Egyptian Ouster of Morsi a Military “coup d’état?”

For purposes of withholding funding,
it should not be so characterized

There have been many Coups d’état and other more or less related events have been given that label. Generally, coups have involved the military (1) taking over and (2) then running a country (3) indefinitely. Here’s a definition from Wikipedia:

coup d’état (/ˌkuːdeɪˈtɑː/; plural: coups d’état), also known as a coup, a putsch, or an overthrow, is the sudden deposition of a government,[1][2][3][4] usually by a small group of the existing state establishment—typically the military—to depose the extant government and replace it with another body, civil or military. A coup d’état is considered successful when the usurpers establish their dominance. When the coup neither fails completely nor succeeds, a civil war is a likely consequence.

A coup d’état typically uses the extant government’s power to assume political control of the country. In Coup d’État: A Practical Handbook, military historian Edward Luttwak states that [a] coup consists of the infiltration of a small, but critical, segment of the state apparatus, which is then used to displace the government from its control of the remainder.” The armed forces, whether military or paramilitary, are not a defining factor of a coup d’état. Lately a view that all coups are a danger to democracy and stability has been challenged by the indication of the phenomenon of a “democratic coup d’état”, which “respond to a popular uprising against an authoritarian or totalitarian regime and topple that regime for the limited purpose of holding the free and fair elections of civilian leaders.”[5] [Emphasis added.]

To decide whether the events in Egypt amounted to a “military coup,” and hence require the United States to withhold military and other funding from Egypt, it is necessary to understand “military coup” in the context of  FY 12 State Department and Foreign Operations Appropriations Law, Section 7008, which provides:

Sec. 7008. None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available pursuant to titles III through VI of this Act shall be obligated or expended to finance directly any assistance to the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup d’etat or decree or, after the date of enactment of this Act, a coup d’etat or decree in which the military plays a decisive roleProvided, That assistance may be resumed to such government if the President determines and certifies to the Committees on Appropriations that subsequent to the termination of assistance a democratically elected government has taken office: Provided further, That the provisions of this section shall not apply to assistance to promote democratic elections or public participation in democratic processes: Provided further, That funds made available pursuant to the previous provisos shall be subject to the regular notification procedures of the Committees on Appropriations. (Emphasis added.)

Was Morsi the duly elected President of Egypt?

President Morsi was elected in what many consider to have been a “fair and free” election. For all I know to the contrary, he may have been elected consistently with a democratic process. So was the late unlamented el Thugo Chávez in Venezuela.

Obama Chavez

Are “democratically elected dictators” better than non-democratically elected dictators? I don’t think soDemocracy is a difficult and often mercurial process occasionally toward individual freedoms, but has little beyond that to recommend it when it fails to lead toward individual freedoms but instead empowers dictators hostile to them. Do the policies and actions of democratically elected dictators further United States policies? Some do, some don’t. Only to the extent that the policies of the United States favor an increasingly violent Middle East, Islamist ascendancy and rejection of individual freedoms, Morsi’s policies and actions favored them. Otherwise, they ran counter to them. 

Millions of those who had supported Morsi for president later sought his removal from office. Once elected, he did not do what he had told them he would do but instead supported the increasing power of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and the concomitant rejection of individual freedoms. For those and other reasons, record numbers of civilians demanded his removal.

Others, generally Islamist supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, took a very different view. The Egyptian military, for long a force for secularly tinged moderation and increasingly distrustful of Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood, intervened on behalf of the civilians who demanded Morsi’s ouster and, perhaps, more individual freedom. The military then set a timetable for new “democratic” elections and for the drafting of a new and possibly less Islamist constitution than that adopted under President Morsi.

Was the military role “decisive?”

Former United States Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, said during an interview on July 9th:

The army did the only thing it could do. The Muslim Brotherhood was engaged in a creeping coup after their election. With millions of people on the street demonstrating against the Muslim Brotherhood and with the Brotherhood on the street demonstrating in favor of [Mohammed] Morsi, it was only a matter of time before the civilians started mayhem against each other. [Emphasis added.]

From the evidence we have, it looks to me like the Muslim Brotherhood provoked it, that they wanted the army to react the way it did. The Brotherhood was looking to create martyrs for its cause. And for well or ill, there are plenty of people in the military who’d be just as happy to help them reach that objective of martyrdom. [Emphasis added.]

We’ve got to find a way to keep this calm. Showing a signal of support for the military will certainly keep our leverage where it is now. And the military, sad to say, is the only institution in Egypt that’s capable of restoring peace and getting stability into the equation, which has important ramifications not just in Egypt domestically but for us internationally – keeping the Camp David Peace Accords with Israel in effect, and keeping the absolutely vital Suez Canal open. [Emphasis added.]

Morsi’s single-minded pursuit of radical Islamic political theory alienated a lot of the Egyptian people. But if something isn’t done to turn the economy around, which really is on the verge of being a basket case, then you’re going to have potentially serious humanitarian problems, shortages of food and the like, and enormous political instability, because of people not having jobs, not having incomes.” [Emphasis added.]

Ambassador Bolton continued with the thought that “of course it was a coup.” Labels such as that are sometimes useful, but more often vague and therefore potentially destructive, constructs — along with such labels as “fair” and “common sense.” We do “need to cut through semantics” and focus instead on what is best for the United States — a question very difficult to answer because it requires an understanding of reality, whatever that may be. Considering the fallacious analyses provided by the Intelligence Community, and the political spin given to those analyses, “reality” is not readily apparent. As observed here by Caroline Glick,

Did the recent mess in Egypt destroy, restore or bring democracy? Probably it did none of those things.  One big problem is that we in the West do not know what’s going on. That has been a problem with our, and now President Obama’s, foreign policies for a long time. [Emphasis added.]

In order to “destroy” or “restore” “democracy,” it has to have existed. I think it also has to have promoted, rather than sought to destroy, individual freedom.

The American foreign policy establishment’s rush to romanticize as the Arab Spring the political instability that engulfed the Arab world following the self-immolation of a Tunisian peddler in December 2010 was perhaps the greatest demonstration ever given of the members of that establishment’s utter cluelessness about the nature of Arab politics and society. Their enthusiastic embrace of protesters who have now brought down President Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood regime indicates that it takes more than a complete repudiation of their core assumptions to convince them to abandon them. [Emphasis added.]

US reporters and commentators today portray this week’s protests as the restoration of the Egyptian revolution. That revolution, they remain convinced, was poised to replace long-time Egyptian leader and US-ally Hosni Mubarak with a liberal democratic government led by people who used Facebook and Twitter.

Subsequently, we were told, that revolution was hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood. But now that Morsi and his government have been overthrown, the Facebook revolution is back on track.

And again, they are wrong.

As was the case in 2011, the voices of liberal democracy in Egypt are so few and far between that they have no chance whatsoever of gaining power, today or for the foreseeable future. At this point it is hard to know what the balance of power is between the Islamists who won 74 percent of the vote in the 2011 parliamentary elections and their opponents. But it is clear that their opponents are not liberal democrats. They are a mix of neo-Nasserist fascists, communists and other not particularly palatable groups. [Emphasis added.]

None of them share Western conceptions of freedom and limited government. None of them are particularly pro-American. None of them like Jews. And none of them support maintaining Egypt’s cold peace with Israel. [Emphasis added.]

It is unrealistic to expect them to be otherwise, but aren’t those things important from the perspective of our national interests — as well as those of Israel, the only reasonably free and democratic nation in the Middle East? As between alternatives of varying badness, isn’t it prudent to favor the least bad?

Shortly after Mubarak was overthrown, the Obama administration began actively supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Muslim Brotherhood believed that the way to gain and then consolidate power was to hold elections as quickly as possible. Others wanted to wait until a constitutional convention convened and a new blueprint for Egyptian governance was written. But the Muslim Brotherhood would have none of it. And Obama supported it. [Emphasis added.]

Five months after elections of questionable pedigree catapulted Morsi to power, Obama was silent when in December 2012 Morsi arrogated dictatorial powers and pushed through a Muslim Brotherhood constitution. [Emphasis added.]

Obama ignored Congress three times and maintained full funding of Egypt despite the fact that the Morsi government had abandoned its democratic and pluralistic protestations. [Emphasis added.]

He was silent over the past year as the demonstrators assembled to oppose Morsi’s power grabs. He was unmoved as churches were torched and Christians were massacred. He was silent as Morsi courted Iran. [Emphasis added.]

What does President Obama want? His desires seem consistent with the interests of the Muslim Brotherhood rather than the needs of the United States.

US Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson and Obama remained the Muslim Brotherhood’s greatest champions as the forces began to gather ahead of this week’s mass protests. Patterson met with the Coptic pope and told him to keep the Coptic Christians out of the protests.

Obama, so quick to call for Mubarak to step down, called for the protesters to exercise restraint this time around and then ignored them during his vacation in Africa. [Emphasis added.]

The first time Obama threatened to curtail US funding of the Egyptian military was Wednesday night, after the military ignored American warnings and entreaties, and deposed Morsi and his government.

This week’s events showed how the US’s strategy in Egypt has harmed America.

Can the United States pursue a strategy — any consistent strategy supportive of her legitimate interests — with a President who consistently leads inconsistently, with mushiness, from behind and in the wrong directions?

Obama in Egypt

In 2011, the military acted to force Mubarak from power only after Obama called for it to do so. This week, the military overthrew Morsi and began rounding up his supporters in defiance of the White House. [Emphasis added.]

. . . .

And as the anti-American posters in Tahrir Square this week showed, America’s self-induced smallness is a tragedy that will harm the region and endanger the US.

As far as Israel is concerned, all we can do is continue what we have been doing, and hope that at some point, the Americans will embrace our sound strategy. 

Regardless of whether a military coup (as statutorily intended) deposed President Morsi, has there been one since then?

President Obama is now threatening to cut off aid to Egypt if the military does not stop arresting Muslim Brotherhood members.

According to this article,

The original statements were more subtle. Now the White House and State Department are turning their Brotherhood cards face up. As I wrote in Barack’s Plan B for the Brotherhoodthe goal is to get the Brotherhood back into power. [Emphasis added.]

Obama Inc is explicitly emphasizing that the Muslim Brotherhood’s leaders and members must remain free and join a new government. The hypocrisy of Obama’s people claiming that they aren’t taking sides, when they never said one critical word to Morsi despite his abuses, but are now heating up their faxes and blackberries blasting out condemnations of the new Egyptian government in defense of the Brotherhood is astounding.

Even while Muslim Brotherhood leaders incite violence and their followers murder Christians, Obama is using foreign aid as leverage to protect a hate group and terror group.

The Washington Times reports along the same lines.

If the terms of the  FY 12 State Department and Foreign Operations Appropriations Law, Section 7008 linked above (as distinguished from the whim of the Obama Administration) are dispositive, how are the current Obama Administration threats relevant to them? Beats me. President Morsi was either the “duly elected President” or he was not and the role of the military in the “coup”that removed him was either “decisive” or it wasn’t.


What should we do?

Egypt needs time to sort things out. Should we “give” Egypt time? According to this National Review article, we should.

Our support for the military is a lever we would temporarily lose and permanently weaken if we cut off all support until a new government has been elected with no clear benefits except the maintenance of a policy the U.S. has already waived on many occasions. As a White House official rightly stated, a suspension of aid “would not be in our best interests.” [Emphasis added.]

The Egyptian military controls the Suez Canal and is crucial to the security of the Sinai Peninsula and the maintenance of the Camp David accords (which condition aid to the Egyptian military on its commitments to Israel, and by which the army continues to abide). Cutting off our support for them would unnecessarily undermine an essential but tenuous relationship.

The military stepped in at a crucial point when the despotism and abject mismanagement of the Muslim Brotherhood had driven millions of Egyptians into the streets demanding a new government, which could have turned out much more turbulently. Yet the Obama administration cannot plausibly claim that what happened wasn’t a seizure of power by the military (as representatives of the Egyptian government have contended), and will have to obey the letter of the law. [Emphasis added.]

Suppose the Egyptian military had instead supported the Morsi regime by dispersing, killing and/or arresting millions of protesters, hence joining with the Muslim Brotherhood to ensure their continuing oppression? Would that also have been a “seizure of power by the military?”

Thus, the State Department should take some time before announcing its formal conclusion on the matter, effectively giving the army a grace period. This deliberation cannot go on in perpetuity, but the popular demand and clear necessity for a new regime in Egypt justifies some discretion.

The conclusion will inevitably be that this was a coup, but it is a coup our interests demand we make an exception to support. The Obama administration should request and Congress should pass a waiver of the law for Egypt, authorizing the president to continue aid despite the coup — contingent on the military’s adhering to a roadmap for constitutional reform and eventual democratic elections. (Congress would probably not be willing to pass an unqualified waiver anyway.) Because of the complexity of Egypt’s situation, it is more important to lay an enduring constitutional groundwork for minority rights (especially freedom of speech and conscience) and equal protection of law. Elections are important, but the U.S. should support the military in prioritizing these issues rather than pushing them toward an arbitrary deadline for elections. Maintaining the flow of aid allows us to retain leverage in this process.[Emphasis added.]

A waiver? The Obama Administration waives statutory requirements as and when it wants to do so, for political and/or other purposes — most recently the employer mandate of ObamaCare, which it postponed until after the 2014 elections for clearly political purposes. A congressional authorization to waive the requirements of FY 12 State Department and Foreign Operations Appropriations Law so that the Obama Administration can do (or not do) something it wants to do (or not do) would be silly. Only an explicit statutory requirement that funding for the Egyptian Government cease — or continue — for at least eight months (six months for the election to occur and another two months to see what happens next) — could have any impact; even that might get “waived.” The Congress has become the least effective branch of “our” Government.

[S]uch a waiver . . . . would inevitably be seen as a sign of a U.S. commitment to the military’s policies and legitimacy. Given the rapidly unfolding pace of events and the potential for violence on both sides, the U.S. should wait a while to make such an exception, since it is possible the military will begin resorting to unacceptable violent repression and become unworthy of support. (It is also possible that the Islamists will start committing acts of terrorism and effectively spark a civil war, in which case our formal support for the military would become even more clearly justified.) But in the coming weeks, we will have a better sense of whether the military’s behavior is acceptable, and halting aid only until civilian rule is restored, as some suggest, would mean putting the same trust in a new regime (and the same military).

Fine. Then the best alternative seems to be to continue the limited funding now provided while awaiting developments.

When the Obama administration waived various aid conditions imposed by Congress regarding Egypt’s prosecution of foreign NGO workers and stayed silent as President Morsi asserted his power above the judiciary in a civilian coup, it failed to hold the Egyptian government accountable. Since we were so munificent toward the Brotherhood, cutting off aid now would reinforce perceptions, harmful among authentic democrats in Egypt, that the U.S. is aligned with the Islamist organization. The remedy for such mistakes is not to adhere to an arbitrary congressional policy but to hold the military accountable to U.S. interests and commit it to the development of legitimate constitutional rule in Egypt. [Emphasis added.]

What difference does any of this make now?

Clinton testifies

Whatever we do or don’t do, money is rolling in from elsewhere.

In a dazzling display of monetary muscle, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates poured $8 billion in a single day into the coffers of Egypt’s army rulers in cash, grants, loans without interest and gifts of gas, a dizzying life-saving infusion into its tottering economy. Forking out sums on this scale in a single day – or even month – is beyond the capacity of almost every world power – even the US and Russia – in this age of economic distress. The Arab oil colossuses managed to dwarf Iran’s pretensions to the standing of regional power. [Emphasis added.]

Tuesday, July 9, just six days after the Egyptian army overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi, a UAR delegation of foreign and energy ministers and national security adviser landed in Cairo. They came carrying the gifts of $1 billion as a grant and $2 billion in long-term credit.

In well-orchestrated moves, Saudi Arabia then stepped forward with a $5 billion package, of which a lump sum of $2 billion was drafted to Egypt’s state bank that day, followed by another $2 billion as a gift of Saudi gas, and a further $1 billion for propping up the sagging Egyptian currency.

The delivery by two Arab governments to a third of financial assistance on this scale and on a single day is unheard of in the Middle East, or, indeed, anywhere else. [Emphasis added.]

These levels of support suggest that the United States can and should await developments and give a lot more thought than recently to what is in the best interests of the United States — not the best interests of Islamists or of President Obama’s increasingly dubious legacy. To the extent that “democratic” regimes diminish freedoms, we should support them only to the extent that may be crucial to our interests. That should be extraordinarily rare indeed. The “democratically elected” regime in Egypt under President Morsi fell far short of that.

The mess in Egypt is, of course, not the only context in which the answer(s) to such questions should be found but probably will not even be sought. That has become a component of the “Arab Spring” mess, in which “nice” people such as these continue to be engaged.

UPDATE: This just in.

A “secret agreement” may have been concluded between the Obama Administration and the Muslim Brotherhood. It was allegedly discovered when Morsi was arrested by the Egyptian military after the “coup.” According to the linked article,

SECRET agreement between the Obama administration and the Muslim Brotherhood (not the Egyptian government) to give 40% of the Sinai and the annexation of that part of Egyptian territory in Gaza. The objective is to facilitate the conclusion of a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians

This agreement was signed by Khairat el Shater (number 2 of the Brotherhood) by Morsi and the Supreme Guide FM. (FM stands for Muslim Brotherhood)

A sum of U.S. $ 8 billion was paid in exchange for FM.

The document was seized by the army following the deposition of Morsi. This is the army that has leaked the news.

. . . .

The Obama administration would try to reach an agreement with el Sissi (chairman of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces): recognition of the legitimacy of the “coup” in exchange for his silence about the secret agreement. But el Sissi would be more interested in the conviction of FM and discredit their organization which is Egypt’s main source of danger.

True? False? Beats me, but it seems plausible. Please read the rest of the linked article.

About danmillerinpanama

I was graduated from Yale University in 1963 with a B.A. in economics and from the University of Virginia School of law, where I was the notes editor of the Virginia Law Review in 1966. Following four years of active duty with the Army JAG Corps, with two tours in Korea, I entered private practice in Washington, D.C. specializing in communications law. I retired in 1996 to sail with my wife, Jeanie, on our sailboat Namaste to and in the Caribbean. In 2002, we settled in the Republic of Panama and live in a very rural area up in the mountains. I have contributed to Pajamas Media and Pajamas Tatler. In addition to my own blog, Dan Miller in Panama, I an an editor of Warsclerotic and contribute to China Daily Mail when I have something to write about North Korea.
This entry was posted in Obama Ramadan Speech, 2016 Obama's America, Ambassador Bolton, Appeasement, Cairo, Cultural differences, Democracy, Egypt, Elections, Executive Decree, Foreign aid, Freedom, Freedom of religion, Government reliance, History, Ideology, Iran, Islamists, Israel, Law and Order, Libruls, Linguistics, Middle East, Military, Muslim Brotherhood, Obama, Peace, United States, Venezuela and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Was the Egyptian Ouster of Morsi a Military “coup d’état?”

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  7. --Rick says:

    Imagine if the military in Germany had stepped up and removed Hitler from power…would we view that activity as an evil coup or a move that benefited all of human kind?

  8. --Rick says:

    One of the facts that are often overlooked or under-emphasized when reporting on this story is that there is democracy or democratic elections and there is liberty and the two are not necessarily attached or inextricably joined. The Egyptian people did not fight Mubarak to vote, they fought for liberty – the right to individual freedoms to life, liberty and their pursuit of happiness. What they got when they voted for the Muslim Brotherhood as a newer form of tyranny swept in on the winds of “democratic” change – the right to vote. Their choice led to a limitation on all other rights and a move by Morsi to end the right to vote by securing unlimited power for himself and his followers.

    This new uprising is justified as a continuation of their initial battle for freedom from dictators and the right to live peacefully with equal opportunity for all to earn a living, to provide for their families, and to make choices that benefit them, as well as having the freedom to support or speak out on government policies and officials. So, no; if removing Mubarak was not a coup; then removing Morsi is also not a coup – it is a continuation of a revolution for liberty not unlike the battles fought in America between the British and their American supporters aided by France.

    We helped to create this mess and so, I think, we have an obligation to help and to work with the military to fix it and get a democratically elected, liberty driven government that is fit, at last, to rule over the military instead of having to rely upon the military to correct their mistakes by stepping in to save the lives of people throughout Egypt and beyond.

    A bit oversimplified, but there you have it – one humble take on this uprising and the way forward toward a lasting peace.

    • Rick,

      We helped to create this mess and so, I think, we have an obligation to help and to work with the military to fix it and get a democratically elected, liberty driven government that is fit, at last, to rule over the military instead of having to rely upon the military to correct their mistakes by stepping in to save the lives of people throughout Egypt and beyond. [Emphasis added.]

      I agree, particularly with the “liberty driven” part. To do that, however, we need to search for and absorb better understandings of what has been happening in Egypt and also in the rest of the area. Without that understanding, we are very likely to continue to mess up repeatedly, in Egypt and elsewhere..


      • --Rick says:

        Agreed, that is why I feel a continued dialogue and working relationship with the real power in Egypt at this point in time – the Egyptian military – is vital to such an understanding and the best outcome for Egypt. It’s a very complicated issue, but my military experience teaches me that the Egyptian military is more pro-American/pro-liberty than they get credit for and are the best hope for minimal blood shed as Egypt goes through its growing pains.

        I loved the article and the thoughtfulness with which it was presented and thank you for making your blog and thinking so readily available to all who seek rational thought and political honesty. Best to you and yours, always.

  9. OyiaBrown says:

    Reblogged this on Oyia Brown.

  10. Pingback: Egypt proves Western Democracy doesn’t work in Arab World « Ray Hanania Columns

  11. Pingback: Coup d’etat — State of Globe

  12. oogenhand says:

    Reblogged this on oogenhand and commented:
    Apparently Obama likes Qatar and dislikes KSA.

  13. Tom Carter says:

    Foreign assistance is a tool of foreign policy, and it should be used to advance the interests of the U.S. In foreign policy, those interests are determined primarily by the president, except where Congress may have properly limited or defined those interests.

    There’s no question that what recently happened in Egypt was a military coup. You can call it a rock concert or a boy scout convention if you want to, but that doesn’t change the truth. The law, as you quoted it, seems to leave the president room to determine that assistance to the Egyptian military should continue. I agree that in this case he should do that.

    The real problem is with the law. As in so many cases, it reflects a broad-brush statement of ideology (in this case, any time the military conducts a coup, that’s bad). The fact is, in many countries the military is the most effective, best organized, and certainly most powerful entity that exists. More than once the military has done the right thing in deposing a regime. If that’s true in this case, as it appears, our support should continue.

    The real problem is bumbling U.S. foreign policy, which certainly didn’t begin under Obama.

    • Tom,

      The real problem is bumbling U.S. foreign policy, which certainly didn’t begin under Obama.

      Nor is it likely to end there. To the extent that the law is not what it should be, or is subject to unintended interpretations, I agree that it should be amended. Unfortunately, with the “press of other matters,” that is not likely to happen anytime soon.


  14. annetbell says:

    I always enjoy and learn things from your intelligent, well thought out, and written posts! Namaste. . .. Anne

  15. Brittius says:

    Reblogged this on Brittius.com and commented:
    Authoritative and scholarly reading. Outstanding.

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