Late on July 3, Egypt’s military suspended the constitution and announced steps to move the country toward a new presidential election, following days of protests by millions of Egyptians against the Islamist-led government.
Heather Maher, of Radio Free Europe, talked to Egyptian-born Mirette Mabrouk, deputy director for regional programs at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, about the events in Cairo that led to the ousting of Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi.
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Heather Maher: There are differing views as to whether what happened constitutes a military coup — was it?
Mirette Mabrouk: I think we would have to say, yes, it is a military coup, but it’s a military coup that took place with overwhelming public support and in my considered opinion it is a coup that never, ever would have been attempted or even considered if the army had not realized there was overwhelming public support for this. I think the army wanted to be on the right side.
Morsi’s supporters are vowing to fight. Will military force be needed to make then stand down?
Mabrouk: I think it’s really very difficult to tell and I think people who leap up and give you considered opinions on what’s happening are either hopeful or just enthusiastic. The [Muslim] Brotherhood has not made a habit of making intelligent, considered decisions since it has taken power. It had for the last 80 years but I think since it’s come into power it has not been particularly considered in its responses.
If it had been, the former president would have made the offer that he made [on July 2] a long time ago, which was to sack the prime minister and sack the government and consider constitutional amendments. That would have happened a long time ago and it probably wouldn’t have come to this.
I’m not terribly hopeful that they’re going to do the right thing, which is to say, “Well, we appear to be outnumbered, the country really does want a change and, if we’ve chosen [once] to go the democratic route, we can go back to the ballot boxes” — because they do very well at the ballot boxes — “we can go back to the ballot boxes and take it from there.”
So you don’t see a likelihood of violence in the next few days?
Mabrouk: I am worried that there might be. I don’t think that it is a foregone conclusion at all. I think there will definitely be scuffles, I don’t know about the extent of the violence. I worry about it, but I’m hopeful that it won’t come to that.
Is this a setback for democracy or a positive development for Egypt in its post-Mubarak evolution?
Mabrouk: I wish there was a black-and-white answer to that. It’s a coup, so generally speaking, under normal circumstances one would never consider a coup a big step forward for democracy.
On the other hand, there is no doubt that this really was the will of the people. I’ve been getting calls from Cairo and you cannot hear over the beeping of horns in the street and the fireworks going off and the sheer jubilation in the street. Apparently these have been the largest demonstrations ever recorded, and I don’t mean in Egypt, I mean apparently ever recorded.
So there is no doubt that there is overwhelming public support for this. So hopefully, hopefully, Egypt is going to get back on the road to the democratic transition that it started on when we first had a revolution two years ago.
The military has promised elections — how long do you see this interim period lasting, and how long will it take to restore Egypt to normalcy?
Mabrouk: It depends what you mean by normal. If you mean some sort of stability I think as soon as we get a caretaker government then you are likely to see some form of stability. I think people need to know that there is someone at the helm and that the person at the helm is going to take into account all of Egypt and not a narrow interest group, which I think was the feeling with the previous government.
I don’t know when elections would be held. I think the figure of about six months was being bandied about, but I haven’t seen it. So we really can’t tell. But definitely we have an interim president already, and we’ve been promised a government that is going to represent Egyptian society — all of it — and we’ll take it from there.
Mirette Mabrouk is deputy director for regional programs at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. This article is copyright (c) 2013. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.