Breaking The Mold

To study the history of the 1952 coup in Egypt is to know what a near thing it was. But for the flutter of a few wings Nasser and the Free Officers would have earned a stint in jail followed by life as disgraced ex-officers, instead of ruling Egypt for decades.  But the success of the coup created a template for power transition in the region and beyond. The recipe is easier than oven-baked popovers. An ambitious officer, some followers, tanks in the streets, and the ruler ushered out politely, or killed brutally, depending on the local customs. Nasser was for Middle East governance what Madonna is for pop music. He established new rules by brazenly breaking the old ones, even if he wholly lacked the requisite craftsmanship. A paranoid man to his very core, he set about establishing a new rule by coup-proofing his regime. And it worked. Sadat followed him in a constitutional manner and no backroom maneuvering by the military old guard would dislodge him, even with his knack for skydiving minus a parachute.  Mubarak would take it even further by virtually eliminating the ability of the military to take exceptional steps in politics, and in so doing he would sleep walk through his last decade in power.

But a new coloring book for the transition of power in Egypt emerged, written not by officers or rulers, but by the Egyptian people themselves. A lovable lot who run their lives by the twin faiths in the benevolence of God and the healing power of chaos, they invented a “revolution”. In the waning days of January 2011 it was possible to see this emerging, and those who took pause were a minority, up against the bully pulpit of the media, US presidency, and academics who dubbed it “Arab Spring”. The pages of that book are easily numbered. Massive crowds in the streets, waving signs and flags, followed by tanks rolling, the military bowing to the will of the people by turning off the cell phone of the ruler and forcing him to sleep on the office couch. What follows is given high sounding names, such as “transition” and “road map”.  Someone once remarked that God broke the mold after making the Egyptians. More likely it was the Egyptians who trampled it in their haste to show gratitude to their maker. What worked well in January 2011 would work equally well in June 2013, especially given that Morsi is far more hapless than Mubarak.

Is this the new “normal”? Perhaps. But it would be well for the doubters to voice their belief loudly now. To point out that democracy is not the objective, but the natural result of constitutionalism. Constitutionalism before democracy, or Egypt is condemned to an ugly cycle of chaos and repression.

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