This Day (Lagos)

6 July 2013

Africa: A Coup By the River Nile

analysis

Fellow Africans, this is a very tense moment for all of us, from Pretoria to Cairo. First, our greatest statesman, Madiba Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the first Black President of South Africa, is lying critically ill in the hospital and apparently hanging to a life support machine for life.

May God almighty be with him to the glorious end. Second, and of no smaller importance, is the latest military coup, or military correction, or whatever they wish to call it in Egypt. I doubt if Africa has been in the news on such massive scale in recent time. All the big news Agencies and television networks are camping out around our continent at the moment.

Let us concentrate on developments in Egypt today and return to South Africa when the time comes. I had always been fascinated about the place of Egypt in ancient history. My first encounter with that trouble-prone country was through the well-documented Biblical accounts. Egypt had always been blessed, or accursed, with very stubborn leaders, depending on your views. The Bible is replete with incredible tales of rambunctious Pharaohs whose exploits I'm not able to lay out on this page. The world also continues to marvel at the architectural ingenuity that gave birth to the pyramids that dot the landscape of Egypt. It is impossible to ignore the medical magic that gave Egypt the ability to embalm and keep corpses fresh for centuries. Or the agricultural revolution that came from the Nile Region.

Egypt occupies a special position in the comity of African nations. As a post-graduate student, I was sufficiently fascinated by Egyptian Literature that I wrote a substantial part of my Master's thesis on the works of famous Egyptian feminist author, Nawal El Saadawi. My romance did not end there; I did extensive reading of Egypt's first Nobel Laureate in Literature, Naguib Mahfouz, before and after he won the coveted prize. We devoted ample space to celebrating the accomplished writer on the Features' page of National Concord newspaper. You can therefore imagine my special interest in Egyptian affairs and my disappointment in the fact that one of Africa's greatest nations is embroiled in seeming perpetual strife with no clear solution in sight.

I've followed the unfolding saga with keen interest and avid attention and read too many comments for and against the latest military incursion in Egypt. I wish to contribute my humble piece and state the following in order to draw useful lessons for the rest of Africa and the world in general. No matter your position, it will be difficult for all of us to form a consensus on the matter. But there are great instructions to both sides of the divide. We can only hope that other African countries will avoid such a pitfall by studying this terrible saga which is being documented globally.

One aspect of the imbroglio that is very tempting is to wholeheartedly, and offhandedly, dismiss the coup as a misadventure that should never have happened. The argument is very valid on the surface as I will demonstrate shortly. Most genuine Democrats hate any form of military intervention. Nigeria has had its fair share of living under maximum rulers and brutish dictators for more than half of its 53 years existence as an independent country. This is the reason we came up with the coinage that the worst of civilian governments is better than the best of military regimes. We shall examine the veracity of this later.

Let's not belabour ourselves with the epic story of how Egypt arrived at the present debacle but content ourselves with the current outlandish melodrama that is being played out to what may yet turn out to be a disaster of monumental proportions. Barely one year ago, Egyptians trooped to the polls and elected, as President, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, a political organisation that had been in existence for over 80 years since 1928 but had prior to 2011 not had any joy on the Egyptian political scene. Indeed the Muslim Brotherhood had been the subject of successive Egyptian government crackdowns in the 1940's to 1960's. The Muslim Brotherhood is said to be the largest political organisation in Egypt and formed a political party, the Freedom and Justice Party, to contest the 2011 elections. The Party won a popular mandate in 2011 that was expected to usher in a new lease of life and abundant prosperity for Egypt. There were indeed great expectations for the new leadership which was largely expected to rally round all Egyptians without any form of discrimination. But the President, Morsi, who was the first civilian Egyptian President since the 1952 revolution in which the monarchy was overthrown and the military was brought to power, came under instant pressure from the Muslim Brotherhood who felt this was their time and they should be allowed to rule as they deem fit and how best they know by following and practising Islamic tenets.

Sooner than later, it was obvious Armageddon was going to come because from time immemorial Egypt was never an Islamic Republic, strictu senso, even if they shared affinities with the Arabs. Their situation was very similar to that of Turkey that parades many Muslims without being overtly Islamic. The suspicion now is that Egypt is on fire as a result of the struggle for the soul of the nation between those who wish to Islamise the country and those who prefer a secular and less religious society. Morsi's dilemma was palpably how to strike a delicate balance between the contending forces. His supporters think his removal was a carefully and skillfully planned conspiracy of the Zionists against the Islamic revolution of Egypt.

This is the ironic danger of democracy. The argument that Morsi was popularly elected and should be allowed to complete his term is of course sensible as that is the classic definition and ideal goal of elections. The military had no reason to hurry him out of power before the expiration of the time. The pro-Morsi supporters insist that the view that the military intervened because the same electorate was calling for his removal did not hold any water. It is always in the nature of opposition to seek the fall of whoever was in power, anyway. What the military did was to hearken to cat-calls from the opposition while studiously ignoring those who wanted Morsi to remain in power. That may be true.

But there are those who maintain that it is not the job of a responsible military to perpetuate a useless civilian government in power. Their logic is simple. If the civilian seeks the protection of the military to keep a non-performing leader in power the same leader cannot say the military has no business in politics and political decisions. You cannot say because a man produced the pencil he has no right to manufacture the eraser. The thrust of this argument is that democracy should never be as dogmatic as to provide a safe haven for reckless leaders who abuse power and hope to postpone judgment day by using the same forces of coercion they claim should not remove them.

What makes someone a bloody tyrant? Is it his military uniform alone? Can a civilian be more blood-thirsty than a military ruler? These are questions begging for desperate answers. I believe the world is entering a new stage in human development and a fresh attitude is emerging about how to conduct the affairs of citizens from country to country. This is forcing a new look at political systems to determine what suits each nation. Can we have a wholesome acceptance of the same variance of democracy from the United States of America without a consideration for customs and traditions?

The major lesson to learn from Egypt is that stubbornness of leaders can easily derail democracy. Leaders who refuse to understand and appreciate different shades of opinions make it easy for enemies of democracy to strike. In the case of President Morsi, he was warned to listen to the cries of the people and carry everyone as a father of the nation because as President, you are no longer a factional or sectional leader. You are expected to rise above the sentiments of creed and race. Both are personal to you while the whole nation becomes your tribe and religion. Those who cannot separate emotion from governance often represent a wiling tool for the gods of tragedy. Morsi was given 48 clear hours by the Egyptian military to make amends. I'm of the opinion that he should have ignited a process in order to buy time for his government while finding a way to clip the wings of his overbearing military. He should have taken a cue from Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gadhafi who could have escaped being killed like rats if they had acted like elder statesmen, realised their time was up and handed over peacefully to a new dispensation.

The military of any nation can never be underestimated. They are trained to kill if threatened in peace or war. The Egyptian military said this much when they swore to defend their country with their blood against "terrorists and fools." It was a cocky President Morsi who dared the Egyptian military juggernauts. When he realised his folly and sought a belated compromise, it was too little and too late. A deposed President will find it difficult to have his rights restored. Certainly, a dead President will never have the chance to fight for that right. The military is a cult in every society. The survival of every government rests squarely on the shoulders of men and women in uniform. No nation can be great without a strong and conscientious military. They are practically worshipped in America as protectors of the freedom the citizens enjoy and treasure.

It must also be noted that not all military coups have been negative and wasteful. It is doubtful if the revolution in Ghana would have taken place without some young officers who brought in Jerry John Rawlings (aka Junior Jesus) as their leader. Even if many Ghanaians still hold that supposed revolution in contempt, Ghana was obviously luckier than most other African countries where its Generals formed an army of occupation and a general nuisance to the generality of their people. It is yet to be seen what Egypt stands to gain from this latest coup or if it would ever gain anything at all in the long run.

The Egyptian military showed its smartness by not putting one of them in power. That is what would have happened in many parts of Africa. These ones told the whole world they are not interested in usurping the power of the people but that they cannot sit idly by and watch their country disintegrate.

It does not appear to me that either of the options, to strike or not to strike, would have been palatable to everyone. How they manage the conflagration would be interesting to watch. As I write this, the Muslim Brotherhood is on a mass demonstration. They are making a powerful case for the return of their detained leader. Muslims are known to cling totally to certain principles. They are also not squeamish about defending their rights and beliefs. They will do so, if need be, with their blood. That is the crux of the matter.

Even if the military succeeds in permanently sacking President Morsi from power, will they be able to force peace on the country. There is no indication that the Muslim Brotherhood is about to let go easily and readily. Also, what happens if and when the military calls for another ritual of elections and the Muslim Brotherhood candidates win again? Will the Egyptian Generals in their paranoia annul the will of the people repeatedly? This is a multi-million dollar question without an easy answer.

No one should envy the Egyptians in their present precarious state. All they deserve is our thoughts and prayers while we ask God to spare us such monumental agony! Amen. Let us pray.

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