The challenge of Egypt's future
A military overthrow of a popularly elected government is, by any definition, a coup d'etat. But that is not how Egyptians who successfully protested for the ousting of president Mohammed Mursi see it; nor are overseas leaders in democracies condemning the army's actions. Uncertainties for the country's future now abound, with the same questions being raised as in the wake of similar events that unfolded little more than a year ago. Of one matter, there should be no doubt, though: there has to be a swift return to civilian rule with the generals respecting rights and freedoms.
There are ironies aplenty. Mursi was Egypt's first democratically elected president and was removed by demonstrations that were as big as those that led to the military ousting of the country's decades-long autocratic leader, Hosni Mubarak. Protesters are praising coup leader General Abdelfattah Said al-Sisi for taking control - this despite the use of force, the arrest of the Islamist president and rounding up of members of his Muslim Brotherhood party, the scrapping of the constitution and imposition of a road map for a return to popular rule that lacks a timetable. These are the same methods as before, yet last time the generals were decried as thugs.
Among the complaints against Mursi was an inability to implement far-reaching reforms, turning around Egypt's broken economy a priority among them. People the world over have high expectations of their governments and are impatient for change. It was unreasonable to expect a new leader in a country unfamiliar with democratic rule to accomplish so mammoth a task in a mere 12 months. Mursi narrowly won election and a sizeable proportion of the population was never going to accept his rule, but that does not forgive his political incompetence. He failed to build a broad consensus across society, alienating with policies that strengthened the brotherhood's power and ignored the requests of opponents.
Challenging times lie ahead. The Brotherhood had a mandate to rule and its politicians and their supporters cannot be marginalised. Interim president Adli Mansour, the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court, has to skilfully chart a course that ushers in a system that is politically and socially inclusive. The military has to keep its promises, staying at arm's length from the processes under way, while doing its job of maintaining stability. Unless all sides keep their bargain and are tolerant and understanding, Egypt's future will be bleak.