At the beginning of 2012, in the interval between the ousting of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak and the election won by Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, I had the opportunity to talk to a senior member of the Egyptian military that was overseeing the transition to a democratically-chosen leader.
During the course of the conversation I asked if the coming election would mark the end of the military's involvement in Egyptian politics.
"The army is sick and tired of having to run Egypt – it's not what we are trained for and we face constant criticism from abroad," was the reply in part.
"The people can choose a president and hopefully we can go back to barracks and get on with our job of ensuring the country's security.
"It would take very extreme circumstances for us to intervene again. "
Eighteen months on and the elected president has been deposed just one quarter of the way into his term and the military are once again pulling the strings. So what were the "extreme circumstances" that brought about this radical change of tactics?
Well, for a start Morsi's government was incompetent. The election was a golden opportunity to revive tourism, which had shrivelled almost to nothing during the disturbances that brought down Mubarak. Nothing was done. No attempt was made to woo back foreign investment, unemployment soared, inflation boomed, Egyptians were spending half a day in queues to refuel their cars, a burgeoning black market was accompanied by a crime wave and electricity outages were becoming more and more common.
Surprisingly some of these problems disappeared almost at the moment Morsi was ousted, especially the power cuts and fuel queues. One Egyptian academic put it down to the lack of ability among Brotherhood Ministers and senior officials.
"They simply had no idea about running a country – most of them had come out of jail – the expertise wasn't there," he said.
"The Egyptian military has that experience. It is simply better at it."
But ineptness in a government isn't usually a case for mounting a coup. In democracies they serve their term and are then thrown out at the next election.
What sent the crowds into the streets demanding instant action was not simply that they could see the downward economic spiral under Morsi – although that played a part – rather the feeling that the Muslim Brotherhood was reverting to type and taking the country step by step towards a fundamentalist Islamic state – anathema to many Egyptians especially the 60 per cent of the population who are under 25.
Discuss in our Forums
See what other readers are saying about this article!
Click here to read & post comments.
9 posts so far.
About the Author
Graham Cooke has been a journalist for more than four decades, having lived in England, Northern Ireland, New Zealand and Australia, for a lengthy period covering the diplomatic round for The Canberra Times.
He has travelled to and reported on events in more than 20 countries, including an extended stay in the Middle East. Based in Canberra, where he obtains casual employment as a speech writer in the Australian Public Service, he continues to find occasional assignments overseas, supporting the coverage of international news organisations.