For his incompetence, he deserved to be voted out of office at the next election. For his majoritarian and undemocratic practices, he deserved to be placed under sustained domestic and international pressure, especially by the United States, the leading provider of aid to Egypt. He deserved to have the United States not only suspend its bilateral aid to Egypt but also block any IMF agreement until he entered into a meaningful, substantive dialogue with his political opponents, including on amending the flawed constitution he rammed through in December as well as electoral law. He ought to have been ostracized and isolated by the international democratic community. Morsi is certainly not the only democratically elected leader to have acted undemocratically in recent years, and these are the kinds of actions the United States and other democracies have generally taken in response. And all this would have been a great deal more pressure than Hosni Mubarak ever faced except in the final two weeks of his 30-year rule.
But was a military coup the best answer? The good news is that a bad leader is gone. Yet that is where the good news ends. People talk cheerfully about starting over in building an Egyptian democracy. But the slate is hardly clean, and the obstacles to Egyptian democracy are greater than they were before the coup.
The military, having effectively deposed two Egyptian leaders in 2½ years, has firmly established itself as the only real power in the country. Mohamed ElBaradei and other secular leaders are happy to have been vaulted into positions of apparent power, but one wonders how real or long-lasting their influence will be. Live by the sword, die by the sword: If the military can depose one democratically elected government, it can depose another. What happens when Egyptian “people power” returns to confront the next government, as it surely will? Once again the military will have the choice of intervening or not. Its decision is likely to have a lot to do with how the military feels about that government. So who will wield the real power when the next crisis comes?
And the next crises are entirely predictable. The economic problems that Morsi inherited and failed to solve require significant sacrifices by average Egyptians, who have already sacrificed much. Such reforms would be difficult to implement even in a calm political climate, and the post-coup climate will be anything but calm. At least some portion of the millions who voted for Morsi have probably come to two conclusions: first, that democracy is a sham; and, second, that what matters in Egypt is who has the guns. Some followers of the Muslim Brotherhood may well decide that violence is their best and only recourse. And the military will in turn impose more-severe limitations on civil liberties to combat the violence, employing — along with the police — their traditional brutal methods. They may even attempt to prevent the Brotherhood from fielding candidates in the next election. After all, having deposed one Muslim Brotherhood government, the military may not think it wise to let another, possibly angrier Brotherhood government get elected six months from now. What will the secular liberal civilians now allied with the military do as these threats to personal liberties and democratic processes metastasize? On Thursday, as the military was arresting dozens of Muslim Brotherhood leaders, ElBaradei said he would be the first “to shout loud and clearly if I see any sign of regression in terms of democracy.” One wonders when he will choose to see it, and what will happen to him if he ever does start shouting.