On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

It’s back to square one

The Egyptians wanted democracy but they have ended up endorsing a military coup, something that they could not have imagined a year or two ago.

FOR the past one week, I have been spending my leave in Europe, reading through all their newspapers and following their coverage of the political situation in Egypt.

It’s pretty clear that many European leaders are at a loss on how they should react to the military coup there.

When Mohamed Morsi was arrested, one top British leader immediately deplored the action of the army. A democratically elected leader, he argued, should not be forced to step down by the army.

The Foreign Office, meanwhile, later said that it was an inevitable change, suggesting that while it was a coup, the world needed to recognise that the army only moved in after millions of Egyptians took to the streets to protest against Morsi.

Some even said that more people were involved in this massive protest than the one that had brought down the army-backed dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

Any coup is clearly detested by Western democrats and Morsi was democratically elected in June 2012 after the fall of Mubarak.

But judging from the Western reactions, it is clear that the Muslim Brotherhood with its Islamist approach is naturally not palatable in Europe.

And who can blame the Europeans? Just two years ago, the Egyptians had clashed with the army and police in the streets to bring down Mubarak.

Now these protesters are welcoming the same security forces, which still comprise many of Mubarak’s supporters, to overthrow Morsi’s government.

Many in the judiciary, who had previously backed Mubarak, are now involved in the next phase of action after conspiring with the army to topple Morsi. And they are being cheered on by the people in the streets who hated the Mubarak establishment.

Quite simply put, the revolution in June 2011 has gone around and come back to the same position.

The Egyptians thought Morsi could bring hope and change but after two years, they reckon that things are more or less the same, if not worse.

There was no democracy under Mubarak and, under Morsi, despite his promises, there was none either.

And now that the army is in charge, many doubt if any form of real democracy will prevail, even as the people wait for a date to be set for fresh elections.

Under Morsi, protesters who opposed him were reportedly violently crushed by the police and by Muslim Brotherhood members.

The Interior Ministry, which Mubarak had used, was also used by Morsi to punish protesters and, in many cases, it was said that many of his opponents were killed.

Under Mubarak, there were substantial Christian representatives in the government but under Morsi, their numbers shrank.

The Coptic Christians, many of whom were strong supporters of the revolution that ousted Mubarak, learnt the hard way that Morsi was turning a blind eye to attacks on Christians in Egypt.

There were many minority groups who supported Morsi but, once in power, his concern for them diminished. For these minorities, it is a classic case of being careful with what you wish for.

Morsi also reportedly pushed to lower the retirement age of judges so that he could clear the way for his allies to be appointed. Judicial intervention was something he had openly detested previously.

And now the vicious circle repeats itself. Following the coup, the pro-Morsi media has been shut down while the pro-army media has taken on an inflammatory stance.

For the common people of Egypt, it’s back to square one. They have ended up endorsing a military coup, something that they could not have imagined a year or two ago.

Two years back, the angry people of Egypt got rid of a dictator but then elected an incompetent leader who had no idea how to run a country.

There’s a lesson here. The Egyptians wanted democracy but promises by politicians must always be followed by real work and proper planning.

The institutions that provide the checks and balances must be in place.

The lesson for Europe is that their leaders cannot be too simplistic and idealistic in attaching political labels on different regimes.

The Syrian government has been painted as dictatorial but what about the freedom fighters who want to take over?

Images on YouTube of freedom fighters purportedly cutting off their opponents’ body parts and eating them like cannibals have had a chilling and terrifying effect across the continent.

Surely, these people who claimed to fight Assad on religious grounds cannot be the type of people they want to take over Syria.

The world will be watching Egypt closely as those who fought against Mubarak at Tahrir Square are now on different sides.

Morsi’s supporters have found victory snatched from them and their only solution would be to go to the streets again.

The danger is when the streets become the battleground, government work in a real democracy can never be done.