Even as Army Seizes Power, Egyptians Claim Revolt as Their Own

Share with others:


Print Email Read Later

CAIRO -- Soldiers killed her brother Mina almost two years ago, when the generals still ran Egypt.

But on Thursday, a day after President Mohamed Morsi was deposed and generals again took a leading role in the country, Mina's sister, Mary Daniel, said she was "happy, and the people are happy."

"It was not a military coup," said Ms. Daniel, who sat in Tahrir Square as air force helicopters buzzed the crowd in a display at once exultant and vain. A general may have announced Egypt's new order, but legitimacy belonged to the millions who had marched, she said.

"Now, the sight of the people will scare anyone," she said.

In protest squares and elsewhere in Egypt, it was hard to find much hand-wringing about the circumstances that forced Mr. Morsi from power, swept away in disgrace by an army edict just a year after becoming Egypt's first freely elected president. Instead, the military was widely seen as a servant of the popular will -- moved to step in after the largest demonstrations anyone could remember -- and not some rogue actor, instigating change.

Egyptians coined new phrases that better suited the character of their second revolt in less than three years while distancing it somewhat from the military. "It was a people's coup," said Hussein Abdulrazak, who sat outside his clothing store near Tahrir Square, where revelers carried portraits of Egypt's defense minister.

For Mr. Morsi's most strident opponents, who hated the blend of religion and politics that the president represented, the elation needed no caveat, no explanation. Most people, though, said they were willing to bless a temporary role for the army only after considering what they said were the president's dangerous and extraordinary failures.

They included pocketbook issues and deeper worries about identity, as Egypt fractured in alarming ways. The loss of stature in the world that many hoped would ease after Mr. Mubarak's ouster instead grew more pronounced, as on the day last month when the government appointed a former member of a militant group as governor of Luxor, Egypt's prized tourist destination, embarrassing the country.

The president frequently saluted young people killed by the authorities. But their cases stayed cold, and Mr. Morsi never made public a report about their deaths. Mr. Morsi said he was the leader of the whole country, but sat silently last month, listening, when a cleric called Egyptian Shiites unclean.

"The military helped. But the people made him leave. God willing, we're celebrating," said Mr. Abdulrazak, whose own complaints started in his shop when safety concerns in the area kept customers away.

There was no getting around the fact that Mr. Morsi was the winner, however narrowly, in an election. Some people tried revising history to explain why disregarding the vote might be acceptable.

In a tent near what had been Mr. Morsi's palace, Moussa Moussa, a political activist and real estate developer, called the elections that had brought Mr. Morsi to power and allowed Islamists to capture 75 percent of the seats in the parliament "a Hollywood movie," suggesting that the internationally monitored elections had been rigged.

And he said that the jurist who became Egypt's interim president -- and whom most Egyptians had scarcely heard of -- was "one of the best judges in one of the best courts in the world."

Near the tent, opponents of the president prepared to slaughter sheep that had been marked with the names of Mr. Morsi and other Muslim Brotherhood leaders, to celebrate. And the country was riveted by cascading news updates about the arrest of the Brotherhood's leaders.

"We are going to start a new relationship with the world," Mr. Moussa said.

But there was alarm, too, at the Brotherhood arrests. "It's not clear on what authority this is happening," said Sally Sami, a human-rights activist. "I want a state of law, and for institutions to be respected. What happens to them," she said, referring to the Brotherhood leaders, "will be acceptable one day for me."

But her sense of caution did not preclude happiness at Mr. Morsi's fall. Critics of his ouster seemed to have relied on a narrow definition of democracy, Ms. Sami said.

"Why is it just ballot boxes? Are ballot boxes the only forms of democratic expression when the rulers fail the people?" she said. "Why did we have to bear his bad administration at a time when the country cannot cope with such failure?"

She was satisfied, for now, with the road map proposed by the army for a civilian-led transition. Ms. Sami and other activists said they would take to the streets again, if the army did not keep its promises. "My conscience is comfortable," she said.

In his coffee shop, Ayman Hakim said that what had happened to Mr. Morsi may have been unfair, but that the alternative was worse. Egypt did not have four years to dither as the economy collapsed. And he could not wait any longer for the customers to fill his cafe.

Under Mr. Morsi, religion had become a wedge, and "Egyptians did not feel comfortable," said Mr. Hakim, who as a teenager had been a Brotherhood member. Egypt's only other power, the army, stepped in "like a big father" to protect the country, he said. And that was just fine with him. "I'm looking toward the future," he said.

Asmaa Al Zohairy contributed reporting.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

You have 2 remaining free articles this month

Try unlimited digital access

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here

You’ve reached the limit of free articles this month.

To continue unlimited reading

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here