Coup We Can Believe In

The revolving door of Egyptian autocrats keeps on spinning.

Photo by Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images

The first political statement I’ve seen on the military coup in Egypt comes from a pleased-sounding Eric Cantor. The majority leader, who had always taken a skeptical line on (now-ousted) President Morsi, moves extremely quickly to argue that Morsi had lost his legitimacy.

The Egyptian people have made clear that President Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government has threatened the pluralistic democracy for which they called two years ago. As President Obama has said, democracy is about more than elections.

That quote is from yesterday’s White House read-out of President Obama’s conversation with the embattled Morsi. And that’s likely to be the acceptable take on the coup. When Mubarak fell in 2011, he handed power to the military. A junta ran the country until last summer’s presidential election, when Morsi narrowly defeated the military’s preferred candidate—after Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood had previously promised to stay out of the election. After the glow of the First Democratic Election, Morsi and the Brotherhood moved repeatedly to consolidate power away from the judiciary and the military. Unlucky for him, simultaneously, the country’s economy sped up its decline. A poll this week from the Center for Public Opinion Research had 63 percent of Egyptians saying their lives were worse under Morsi, and 64 percent saying the Brotherhood’s rule was worse than they’d anticipated.

So we’re back to a simulacrum of the 2011 situation. Power hasn’t been taken from a secular autocrat. It’s been taken from an increasingly religious and autocratic politician, someone who’d won an election but might have lost to a unified opposition. We’re unlikely to see the administration stray from the “mistakes were made” Cantor take here, or for it to call this a coup—something that would scramble our foreign aid scheduling. No, despite years of “congratulations to Egypt!”-style pablum, this is probably the outcome the administration prefers. It’s a mess that removes an unpredictable force right next to Israel, and replaces it with a reliable, undemocratic force.