Egypt: When a Coup is Not a Coup

Egypt: When a Coup is Not a Coup

By Mark Ulrich

The big debate now, regarding Egypt, is whether the events of July 2013 should be classified as a coup d’état. The question becomes all the more divisive since U.S. foreign aid is rooted in the legality of a “no coup” policy. Much of the discussion, however, does not appear to be based on objective analysis, but is instead politically motivated with regard to foreign aid. Those opposing aid say it’s a coup; those in favor say it’s not. Common in the argument is justifying a coup via one-line dictionary definitions, like in Oxford “a sudden, violent, and illegal seizure of power from a government.” This, however, does not provide much analytical assessment of the purpose behind these events, which is necessary for this debate to have merit. What is missing is the larger narrative that describes coups in all their variations. For example, coups can be conducted by a small group of co-conspirators, or by a cadre backed by an entire insurgent movement. Even so, what happened in Egypt in July 2013 was not a coup but was in fact a counter-coup. The Muslim Brotherhood, an insurgent movement, conducted the actual coup d'état a year earlier when it manipulated the democratic process in order to establish a Sharia based Islamic State. The Egyptian military and much of the populace recognized and then reversed this coup. America, stable in its democracy is poised to support Egypt as the troubled nation navigates its way through the tortuous political obstacles common in forming this type of government.

Analysis of the insurgency’s strategy and nature seems to be largely missing, at least in open debate, among pundits voicing opinions. The usual methods of analyzing insurgencies seem to focus merely on tactics and terrorism, completely dismissing the movement's nature and strategy. This absence of analytical rigor can lead to politically or economically driven courses of action or inaction, instead of a more prudent and lucid solution derived though understanding this form of irregular warfare. Mohamed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood, was elected through a valid democratic process and therefore is the legitimate President of Egypt. This is true, but what many of those publicly debating this point may not realize is that the Muslim Brotherhood is an insurgent organization. Some may not accept this classification since, in more recent years, the Brotherhood has openly tried and succeeded in entering the political process and has denounced violence, even though they continue to export Islamist revolutions and subversive actions throughout the region. These actions are more predictable when assessment of an insurgency includes analysis their strategy. Muslim Brotherhood utilizes the ‘subversive strategy’ which, as defined in Joint Publication 3-24 “either attempts to transform an illegal political entity into a legitimate political party or to use an existing legitimate political party. This party will attempt to subvert the government from within.” The nature of this insurgency, through the use the subversive strategy, is to transform the secular Egyptian government to that of an Islamic theocracy. A major difference between a subversive strategy and a violent coup or abrupt overthrow, is that these changes are subtle and gradual, appearing to follow the accepted and legitimate political process.

The subversive strategy is used when a group is unsuccessful in sneaking or breaking in the back door of a government and instead tricks their way through the front door. This strategy centers on the insurgent’s political wing becoming a legitimate party which can enter the political process. Examples include Sinn Fein of the IRA, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and most recently the Taliban in Qatar. This party can then carry out seemingly normal political activities, while deriving support from illegal or illegitimate actions by other wings of the insurgency.  These activities, designed to appear normal and favorable, may include reintegration of insurgent members back into society, which are instead deliberate and calculated steps towards eventual destruction of the government from within. Some urged and continue to argue that the Muslim Brotherhood be included in the process as opposed to being opponents. Inclusion is only useful if repatriation or collaboration of the organization’s members is the true intent. In the analysis of a movement, using specific methodologies such as the dynamics of insurgency, referenced in U.S. Army Field Manual 3-24 Counterinsurgency, helps decipher the type of insurgency, its strategy, and the condition of the movement. The point is that insurgents do not commit to reconciliation from a functioning subversive strategy and from a position of strength like the Muslim Brotherhood was at the time of the anti-Mubarak riots and follow on elections. Instead reintegration-type actions are done when an insurgent movement is weak and fracturing. No one says, “We’re winning!...Let’s quit.”

If an insurgency successfully enters the government, and continues to follow the subversive model, many follow-on events are generally predictable. Looking at the insurgent’s ideology, goals, and capabilities provides a means to deduce how they plan on accomplishing their goals. An insurgent who wanted to change Egypt into an Islamic State under Sharia law would need to change the constitution, suspend rights, and manipulate the judicial, military, and political systems. Judges and legislators who do not cooperate would have to be intimidated or fired. The use of referendums to help justify changing the constitution may be used if many people are generally dissatisfied and plied with things like heavy propaganda, bribes, and intimidation. Opponents and the media need to be silenced and more insurgents or supporters need to be brought into the government. If an insurgent actually becomes head of state, even if done completely within the bounds of the law, the strategy moves into its final stages by deliberately dismantling that form of government from the top.

Hugo Chavez, the recently deceased presidential dictator of Venezuela, draws an interesting parallel to the current issues in Egypt. President Chavez, a military officer and founder of the secretive socialist Movimiento Bolivariano Revolucionario 200 (MBR-200), had a goal to overthrow, through coup, the Carlos Andres Perez presidency in 1992. Although these attempts failed and Chavez was arrested, he became famous, was later pardoned, and then successfully ran for public office through legitimate means. As president he changed the constitution, suspended free press, and other actions common to this strategy to affect the same types of changes that he would have enacted if he had been victorious in the original overthrow.

In the case of Egypt, Morsi began ordering the release of hundreds of prisoners and pardoned dozens of convicted hardliner Islamists from the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya, which is considered to be a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union. Morsi began removing his opponents from their posts like Egypt’s intelligence chief, several ministers, and a governor and replacing them with allies from his organization and the aforementioned Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya. It may appear to be normal for a political leader to bring in members of their own party to the government, however the Brotherhood is an insurgency and the goal is not to form an effective transitional democratic government, but instead to destroy it in favor of an exclusive Sharia law based regime. Morsi continued extralegal moves, in the spirit and doctrine of the subversive strategy, by replacing the military’s top leadership, attempting to remove a leading prosecutor, proclaiming he was taking full executive and legislative power, and stating he was now beyond the reach of Egypt’s judicial checks-and-balances.

Eventually, Morsi made several overt missteps by moving too fast in his dismantling of Egypt’s system of government. By doing so, he and the Muslim Brotherhood became exposed as conspirators against democracy. This started with many opposition representatives resigning in protest and announcing that Morsi’s Islamists, in large numbers, had subverted the constitutional drafting committee and were openly turning the nation away from being a republic. Additionally, Morsi’s hasty actions to intimidate the press backfired and he was forced to openly renounce his own administration’s arbitrary arrests of reporters declaring his support for public opposition, something generally incongruous with extremist Islamic regimes. He pushed to limit the freedom to demonstrate and thwart free expression by way of “secret police,” a subversive tactic reminiscent of the strategy’s namesake. An example of this occurred during demonstrations in December, 2012 when witnesses recount the arrests, detention, and beatings of protesters by members of the Muslim Brotherhood. This paramilitary element, in insurgent speak, is referred to as the movement’s ‘underground’ and the activity is referred to as ‘populace and resource control operations.’ Underground members are not commonly used this overtly as most of their activities are covert or clandestine by nature. Since changing the constitution is generally critical in the subversive strategy, it is not unpredictable for a movement to assume risk and use their underground to openly block opposition.

In the cases of Hugo Chavez and Mohamed Morsi, these insurgent leaders manipulated their way into the legitimate political process to gain entry, utilizing the subversive insurgent strategy, in order to change the constitutions, consolidate extraordinary powers, and remove opposition members all in an effort to overthrow the legitimate democratic system of government. What the Egyptian Armed Forces did was counter the Muslim Brotherhood’s coup d'état. Mohamed Morsi violated his oath while the military followed their: "I swear to be a loyal Soldier to the Arab Republic of Egypt, preserving and defending it, on land, sea and air, preserving the republic system. I will never leave my gun till death. I swear and my God is a witness." Coup d'état are not the job of the military, “preserving the republic system” is their job, and they followed their oath.

As we debate whether or not Egypt’s military conducted a coup against a legitimate democratic president in the summer of 2013, we should ask ourselves what rights we as Americans would accept losing before those stripping that which we consider inalienable are recognized as usurpers and would impel the people and the military to return the government to its foundation? We just celebrated our 237th year of independence, and enjoy a very stable government with a steadfast system of checks-and-balances, but have we forgotten our own uncertain beginnings? At times, we take for granted the fact that, without George Washington removing a king, refusing to be a king, and later guiding our new nation as the president, we might not have succeeded in this ‘great experiment.’ The problem is men like George Washington are, like his predecessor and sole peer Cincinnatus, rare.

There may be some still willing to hang their entire argument on the fact that Morsi was duly elected and therefore there is no legal remedy until the next election. Does this mean that the election is the only characteristic of a democracy, regardless of Morsi’s conduct to oppress political opposition, manipulate the constitution, and violate individual rights? The Egyptian military, backed by the people, preserved their nation, countered the Muslim Brotherhood's insurgent coup, and reclaimed their country. By doing so, the Egyptian people have made a clear statement that they reject authoritarian rule and favor a democracy, at least for now. Opportunities to assist nascent democracies are infrequent enough, especially in that region. These events should signal the United States to embrace and support the struggling democratic nation, as opposed to allowing the insurgents to regroup and reorganize amid the confusion and unrest, while we debate our short-term agendas in the name of political righteousness.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not constitute an endorsement by or opinion of the Department of Defense.

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Comments

An excellent article in light of current developments in Egypt.

This is an interesting article for a couple of reasons---1) the Egyptian Army did in fact further the initial move to democracy by holding fire on the demonstrators and pulling back allowing the population to overthrow in their minds a old corrupt dictator who had become unresponsive to the people.

2) What we as national level decision makers did not want to seem to understand was that the MB has lived/survived in the underground for years---where else could the current AQ leader have come from?---they had structure, organization, money at a time during the initial days and weeks after the overthrow of Mubarak that was critical in forming the publics' opinion for the coming elections which were reasonably fair for that area of the world.

3) We the national decision makers failed to massively support a more moderate secular side as soon as was possible ie immediately to counter the MB---election results showed a strong secular component in that the MB did not get a majority of the votes --setting in motion the events leading to the military resuming government control as they viewed Morsi as committing a legal coup d'état and turning the country into an Islamic State when a large section of the military/public is actually secular.

I think if one would run a survey of the population you would find that the bulk of the population wants simply to have a sense of security and economic development---and a reasonable feeling they can have a voice in that development---Egypt has always been secular in the eyes of the ME especially in music, newspapers, films etc---that was really what Morsi and the MB was attempting to throttle.

The interesting part will be just how long will the Army hold power before releasing it as they realize that the majority of the population wants a secular government---by holding back US support, by not engaging at the mil to mil level will drastically hurt us over the longer run and turn Egypt towards the Russians as they currently feel the US has abandoned them and does not understand their motives. Actually when one listens to current Saudi complaints about our ME policies Egypt is often mentioned as an example of our poor thought through ME policies.

Another case of the US not being able to jump over their own shadow/or ditching their preconceived views in understanding the ME.

Re this

We the national decision makers failed to massively support a more moderate secular side as soon as was possible ie immediately to counter the MB

Would it really be practical or appropriate for the US to engage in that kind of egregious interference in another country's electoral process? I imagine Egyptians would react to a US decision to "massively support" a faction in their election in about the same way that Americans would respond to a decision by, say, Saudi Arabia to "massively support" one party in a US election.

If we try to control the outcome of an election, it's not democracy any more.

It is not a matter of controlling the outcome but rather one of leveling the playing field---or did someone forget where MB began?---if the idealized values of one nation state motivates the population of another nation state to push for those values and then that first state refuses to assist then why did the first nation state ever get involved in the first place?

If the population of the second state is pushing for change and they have survived the confrontation on the ground are they not entitled to an equal playing field?---that is the issue---the population pushed massively on the ground, got a change, attempted to play the game but in the end they failed and even then they were willing to play the game even if the game was rigged by the "supposed" winners of the elections--now if the other side starts to change the rules quietly ignoring what the population assumed to be their "win" then who is to step in?

By the way an level playing field does not mean we control the election-but rather we provide the ability of the various groups to at least compete. Only when a population as a whole feels they had a voice in the decision will they accept the outcome regardless of what the outcome is. It is all about perception.

The population as a whole initially accepted Morsi, but if fact from the local press comments were fully aware and openly complained of the shift of a country traditionally built on secular Islam to one of a slide into fundamentalism with all the slow but steady restrictions on the population from hair cuts, to alcohol to movies to women's dress codes, to beatings of secular group members.

Now the question arises-- why were we surprised by the Army's response?---they did if I remember carry on a somewhat brutal crackdown on the MB in the past.

What concerns me is the lack of response by the US to the developments---there were warnings initially on the MB and the possible direction they would head towards---but they were washed aside in the "declarations of how great it was to see democracy in action in the ME and the Arab Spring in Egypt".

Who was intently watching was in fact the military---if the population was no longer capable to changing the slide to fundamentalism who was left to halt it? Remember the MB did not get over 40% in the general election but over time they seemed to think they were alone elected to rule---they simply got to comfortable with power and felt they could force the entire population to shift with them.

What was then our reaction?---that is really what is interesting to watch.

if the idealized values of one nation state motivates the population of another nation state to push for those values and then that first state refuses to assist then why did the first nation state ever get involved in the first place?

Assuming the "first nation state" is the US, I don't know that it did get involved in the first place. The revolution against Mubarak was not instigated or managed by the US, and neither was the transition. The Egyptian revolution may have been motivated by any number of idealized values, none of them exclusively American, but how would that provide the US any standing to unilaterally attempt to level the electoral playing field in another country?

The idea of the US interfering in electoral politics of another country seems wholly illegitimate and wholly counterproductive to me, whether or not we perceive their electoral playing field to be unbalanced. It's just none of our business.

All very well to speak of leveling playing fields, but really, if the field were skewed in favor of a party we liked, would anyone be expecting us to intervene? It's not about seeking a level playing field, it's about seeking an outcome that suits our interests. That's normal enough, but if we use our desire to advance our interests as grounds to meddle in the electoral politics of other nations, we have to expect more than a bit of backlash. I'm not sure the speculative advantages (meddling in other people's elections has been known to have unintended consequences) can compensate for the rather more probable adverse outcomes. Even people in the groups we support are likely to be very uncomfortable with the US taking their side. It de-legitimizes them, opens them to accusations of being foreign puppets, and offends their nationalist sensibilities. Sometimes we're better off minding our own business. Most of the time, I suspect.

Interesting note on this topic- Egypt recently declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. How much credibility does this add to the article, considering the declaration comes from the military back interim government in opposition to the party? Assad's regime also declared the opposition factions in Syria terrorists. How credible was Assad's claim? Internationally, I would argue that this adds very little credibility and is a standard response for any government that must justify its actions, domestically and internationally, against a violent opponent. It would be interesting to discuss the impact of the US, UK, or France declaring the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization.

I cannot see why the UK would declare the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation.

Yes there is a law to declare a group is terrorist, regardless IIRC of where they operate and there is an appeal process, as one Iranian group has been removed from the list. It is a rather odd process, for example Boko Haram was only listed this year, even though its renewed terror campaign is over two years old and Nigeria is a Commonwealth member.

I quote: PROSCRIPTION CRITERIA

Under the Terrorism Act 2000, the Home Secretary may proscribe an
organisation if she believes it is concerned in terrorism. For the purposes of the Act, this means that the organisation:

1) commits or participates in acts of terrorism;
2) prepares for terrorism;
3) promotes or encourages terrorism (including the unlawful glorification
of terrorism); or is otherwise concerned in terrorism.

If the statutory test is met, there are other factors which the Secretary of State will take into account when deciding whether or not to exercise the discretion to proscribe. These discretionary factors are:

1) the nature and scale of an organisation’s activities;
2) the specific threat that it poses to the UK;
3) the specific threat that it poses to British nationals overseas;
4) the extent of the organisation’s presence in the UK; and
the need to support other members of the international community in
the global fight against terrorism.

Link: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/fil...

The MB has a presence in London, amidst the Arab communities and in the past one of its spokesmen has condemned terror attacks in the UK and assisted in hostage negotiations where officialdom has failed.

On the stated criteria the MB is a long way from fulfilling them.

This is both unfortunate and predictable. They simply mimic the West in using the law to declare those denied effective legal vehicles to advance political issues to be "terrorists" and thereby completely denied legal means of recourse in order to facilitate state behavior free of legal protections available to other citizens.

Pandora's box is wide open at this point.

No fan of the MB here, but this is the proverbial"slippery slope."

After all, who will the government declare illegal next?

Your article makes a great point that I agree is being missed in much of the wider discussion, i.e., what does a democracy do when the government doesn't respond to the will of the people? Or, more to the point of your argument, what does a democracy do, as you outlined, when a subversive element uses legitimate means to gain power and then works from the inside to dismantle the established, popularly supported democratic system? It's quite a quandary for democracy. Do we stand idly by and watch while our elected leaders vote the democratic system away?

It seems the United States has also considered this quandary and provided a legal, military solution not all that dissimilar in concept to that which occurred in Egypt. Title 10 of the United States Code legal obligates the US military to support and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. While what exactly this means is absolutely debatable, it certainly opens the door for legitimate military intervention against domestic opponents of the US constitution.

Oath of Enlistment and Office

"I, [state your name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God." (Title 10, US Code; Act of 5 May 1960 replacing the wording first adopted in 1789, with amendment effective 5 October 1962).

"I, [state your name], having been appointed an officer in the Army of the United States, as indicated above in the grade of _____ do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter; So help me God." (DA Form 71, 1 August 1959, for officers.)

"In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself."

"The accumulation of all power – legislative, executive, and judiciary – in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny."

JAMES MADISON, Federalist No. 51, Feb. 6, 1788

Our founding fathers thought long and hard, with much debate between men from all of the diverse and independently sovereign 13 original states under the Articles of Confederation about how to devise a durable system of governance that possessed the ability to serve the whole in a way the Confederation could not, while at the same time ensuring that the people always retained full control over this system. This was no small task, and many parts contribute toward that whole.

A military that swears its loyalty and duty, not to one President, and not to one government, but rather to the over-arching document designed to create and sustain what Madison describes in the Federalist Papers is a critical part of that whole. Something elected officials grown drunk with power, or more concerned with the future of themselves or their party, would do well to remember.

The people are likewise empowered. This was the primary purpose of the first 10 amendments, combining to form our Bill of Rights. The Constitution balanced power across government, the Bill of Rights ensured it remained obliged "to control itself."

The people were already empowered to act out illegally if need be to ensure government stayed focused on serving the people rather than itself. Granting both the right and duty to rise up in insurgency, the Declaration is our birthright as Americans, and our gift to people everywhere. This is American Exceptionalism, this gift of self-determination recognized as a universal right for people everywhere.

We seem to be forgetting where we came from, and why words and documents we now take for granted, or wish to change aspects of that seem inconvenient or incompatible with the modern world, exist in the form they are.

Egypt is on it's own journey. It will be long and messy, just as ours has been. External manipulation is not likely to make that journey shorter, less bloody, or better. But it can make it less legitimate. We should guard carefully against being the perpetrator of illegitimacy upon others. That should be a top strategic lesson learned from our experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan.

External manipulation is not likely to make that journey shorter, less bloody, or better. But it can make it less legitimate.

That's the issue, isn't it? A lot of the conversation is confusing the Egyptians with the US as an outside party and what is good for Egyptians versus what is good for the US or whether the US can help or hinder the process. I suppose that is a natural emotional and psychological outcome for those who view the world largely through mil-mil relationships. Perhaps that is one problem with the "doing" of strategy for the military community. To be fair, you've often been left alone to do it or pushed forward for domestic reasons as the main diplomats. Then again, State has its own hang-ups and that's putting it mildly. Flexibility is probably hard for institutions that view a messy human world through inflexible academic poli-sci or doctrinal principles or romanticized notions of other militaries.

Coup? No, not in reality. Dictionary definition, yes? Doesn't resonate with this old Soldier. Reality still does.

And if the folks over in Egypt are willing to act, to do what's necessary to maintain democracy as opposed to Sharia law, more power to them.

And here's what's best - no need for American boots on the ground in this one. Egypt has already proven they can handle their business.

And if my old Officer Basic classmate from Egypt, who will remain nameless, had anything to do with it, the next round's on me, brother.

This was a great argument, yet a disturbing proposal. I can’t help but to think how this argument applies to Afghanistan. It is hard to imagine an end to conflict in Afghanistan without reconciliation and reintegration of the Taliban, and their participation in Afghan politics. It could be argued, more easily than the contrary, the Taliban is not in a position of weakness. I assume this will not change after U.S. troops begin to withdraw next year. By your argument, inclusion of the Taliban into Afghan politics would be another phase of their subversive strategy, aiming to destroy the Afghan government from within.

I attempted to find an example to counter your argument. The PIRA/Sinn Fein and their Ballot Box and Armalite strategy showed some promise. In the early 1980s, the armed and political campaigns were conducted as complementary efforts. By the 1990s, the PIRA and Sinn Fein slowly shifted from a campaign of violence towards a predominately political campaign. However, this occurred only after counter-insurgency/terror strategies of the UK had severely disrupted the PIRA and public support, through elections of Sinn Fein representatives, began to decline due to war weariness; the PIRA and Sinn Fein were in a position of weakness. This is not a good trend for GIROA and the people of Afghanistan.

I will continue to search for a case study that counters your argument. Thanks for the brain food!

Mark,

Enjoyed your article and bravery for throwing ideas into cyper space.

Regardless of dictionaries, naming this a coup has some connotations which are purposeful.

The image of a coup which most of us grow up with is that a legitimate government is overthrown by some military big wig so he can become dictator and uses his military legions to force himself into power. Hollywood has created dozens of cheap movies about South American countries being taken over by some guy with a ton of medals and he declares himself the tin hat dictator. This image is common backgorund noise for most of us. So when someone describes recent events in Egypt as a coup, I suspect it is purposeful to set the agenda. The agenda is that we favor distain on the recent change in government.

In reality, the tin hat dictator scenario is not what happened. The sitution is alien to most people not familiar with Egyptian history and to the actual events on the ground.

The MB has always been a revolutionary organization. When they seizeed power it was a revolution, and like most reveloutions supported by a minority of the people. When they changed the constitution and forced their power over the rest of the people the people (to include the military) rose back up to retake control of their country.

I'm very leery of anyone proclaiming foul - coup! This leads most Americans who don't know much about MB, to formulate certain perceptions of events. To those who know even a little, it is not the Hollywood coup. The MB has an agenda, and it is not equal to what we know as a political party in the US. For anyone wishing to know more, I recommend reading Sayed Qutb's book, Milestones. He was a leader of MB in 1950s and was killed in prison as a revolutionary. He advocates a plan to take over the world and inspiration to OBL, et al. Step one is to take over Egypt.

When we saw the coup, what we really saw was 30 million people sayng, "Stop. I don't want MB rule."

By definition an academic may call it a coup, however this does not do justice to what really has happened in Egypt.

Tinpot dictators and military takeovers are by no means a Hollywood invention; there have been plenty of both in the real world. That does not, of course, mean that events in Egypt are necessarily equivalent or analogous to those anywhere else.

Of course the MB has an agenda. So does the Egyptian military. Neither agenda is likely to be "equal to what we know as a political party in the US", nor is there any reason why it should be.

Recognizing that a coup is in fact a coup, even if we find the outcome conducive to our interests, is not necessarily about "crying foul" or challenging the coup. It does mean that the US must be very cautious about supporting the coup, particularly in the early stages. The last thing we want to do is support or play into the narrative that holds that it's useless to work within the system, because "the west" will never allow an Islamist government to hold power, a narrative that's very useful to those who want to convince people to blow things up.

Distinctions must have a difference that helps one to better understand the nature of some event.

We put far too much emphasis in military doctrine on the presence of violence to make an illegal, internal populace-based challenge to government an insurgency. Violence is a tactical choice, it does not help appreciate or understand the nature of the problem.

Similarly we place far to much emphasis on the participation of the military in making something a "coup." If the military is supporting a populace-based illegal challenge to governance it is still an insurgency.

If, however, some element of government acts without a reasonably broad base of popular support to illegally seize political power, then it is a coup.

In Egypt, the military simply threw in with a major segment of the populace, that makes it just another phase of an ongoing revolutionary insurgency. One that is likely far from over.

Dayuhan,

.... riddle me this... when has the "realm of logic" been applicable in mid-east developments of late?

r/
MAC

Never, and not just of late. Doesn't mean we can't call a spade a spade, or a coup a coup.

I would argue that it is coup. Not only do you have a popularly elected government, but you also have a government that has not really violated their newly written constitution. One can point to some the secular parties leaving the effort to draft a constitution, etc. However, I would view that in the range of normal political behavior. Nor does it compare to the years of human rights abuses under Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak. If anything, the police and military violated what would normally be considered legitimate civil control, as both organization did not take directions from the Morsi government, even before the coup. The former government does have much popular support (as we are seeing). To call it anything besides the removal of a legitimate government by a military force (or a coup) is reaching.
That said, I do not think a coup in all cases are bad. Societies have to figure out how best to govern themselves, and in many cases, the military stepping in for a time isn't a bad thing. It can be better than divide society that can become a violent anarchy. Many societies have had periods of relatively productive military rule. See Turkey and South Korea.

Of course it's a coup. That's beyond dispute. We can call it a coup that suits our interests, or we can call it a coup that we like, or we can call it a good coup, or a coup that we'd just as soon live with... but it's still a coup. Pretending that a coup ceases to be a coup if we approve of it takes us well outside the realm of logic.

Of course it’s a coup if the only definition we accept is the dictionary’s definition of a “sudden, illegal and often violent taking of government power” or definitions to that effect. According to Max Weber the struggle for power is continuous with the use of military force a central method for achieving political power in traditional or developing societies… I, for one, believe that places such as Egypt and Pakistan are actually very mature societies/civilizations and behave in a very predictable manner having been at it, and in the case of Egypt, for at least five-thousand years…

If we wish to stretch the definition a bit to include Max Weber’s dictum of military force as a method for achieving political power... then the removal of the Islamic Brotherhood is a legitimate effort by a united opposition to political Islam to change the power equation. The united opposition included a number of folks that were at the receiving end of the Islamic Brotherhood’s cleansing strategy… the Christians for example.

If history is an indicator of future events … factions within the military will likely begin to quarrel amongst themselves and this will cause the military to return power to a civilian body more to its liking. We can assume that a realignment of power relationships is presently on-going within the Egyptian military and civil society after the destruction of the Mubarak patronage system… A new patronage system is being created with new and old players as we speak. Once a patronage network is reestablished the military leadership will declare that it saved the country and return into the shadows to pressure successive civilian governments’ as is its traditional manner of conduct.

r/
MAC

Great article. Outstanding insight.

Hear, hear! I wish the comments had like button or stars so one could express appreciating for, or seconding of, opinions without cluttering the Home Page. Of course, on this thread, the N.S.A. (mini-ha-ha) would find out that I am pinging both sides. This article is great for two reasons.

The original content is outstanding and persuasively presented. The commentary is as insightful. One comes away with a decent idea of the pros and cons of this question. What really is a shame is that this type of thinking and discourse does not appear in the popular press.

Sincerely, I believe the American people are smart enough and ravenous for it. What I wonder is why President Obama would not invoke this type of reasoning to maintain military aid, if he felt that to be the preferred option.

Much as (in my limited knowledge) many armed insurgencies seem to model the military strategy of the American revolution, so too (as someone mentioned) these subversive insurgencies seem to hearken back to the Nazis.

Thanks to all for taking the time to teach me; tuition check is in the mail.

Ned McDonnell

Carl,

... last comment before putting subject to rest until we gain a bit more experience... Don't forget that geography includes the urban terrain... Cairo is a huge cement jungle with approximately 9.11 million souls... I am doubtful that the Egyptian Army is capable of closing it's international frontier much less clamping down on its major metropolitan areas such as Cairo, Giza, Alexandria, et al. Major metropolitan areas are sponges...

Lastly, I predict that the Egyptian military will act more in accordance with Sri Lankan experience than in accordance with our urgings of a kinder-gentler approach to inclusive political change... We will cringe at the violence as the Egyptian Army fights the state's existential threat. The Muslim Brotherhood will defend itself... days of rage and all that. We will gnash our teeth, pull at our hair, wring our hands, lament the suffering of the innocent and maybe even stop U.S. aid because we just don't want to accept the historical truism that sometimes building civil society based on social abstractions is a bloody affair... Welcome to the revolution and counter-revolution. It's all tit-for-tat.

Good to talk to you...

v/r
MAC

Carl,

... at first glance it would appear situation currently favors military. The military government's security infrastructure remains in place. Area commanders act as governing authority with green, black and white uniforms at their disposal and civilian officials in support of the military government. Green uniforms are military, black uniforms are special police units, white uniforms are traffic and local police.

Brotherhood, on the other hand has been busy organizing society religiously, socially, and politically since about 1928. Furthermore, Brotherhood has amassed tremendous amount of practical experience fighting military since about 1952... reaching utmost unpleasantness in 1981 with the assassination of Anwar al-Sadat. I'd venture to say that the Brotherhood can draw on a viable shadow-state to challenge the garrison-state. The question now to be asked is who will out-administer the other... the shadow-state or the garrison-state?

We agree... current border states may not be ideal as safe-havens... but that doesn't mean that fighters have to remain in-country. The Brotherhood appears to be less concerned with borders than with the region... Travel opportunities being what they are... we may be able to discern that fighters can disperse in a regional safe-haven versus this or that neighboring country. I do venture that the Libyan border area and northern Sudan could assume an important role should the country experience a conventional civil-war.

We can assume that the conflict phases will just take longer... not like they haven't been at it since 1928... Organization and Preparation should already be complete especially if a shadow-state already exists... Terrorism and Guerrilla Warfare already in progress and going to get worse (?)... so when can we expect Conventional War with select Green, Black and White units defecting and fighting loyal military units?

Lastly... for a change of pace instead of referring to revolutionary warfare phases as org and prep, terrorism and guerrilla warfare, and ending in conventional war... I'll use some Arab terms. Phase I- The Awakening. Phase II - Opening Eyes and Phase III - Arising and Standing Up.

What do you think... Opening Eyes Phase in progress?

r/
MAC

MAC:

Good points about the prospective opponents. The Muslim Brotherhood has a lot going for it. But I still think geography gives the edge to the Army. There isn't any good close place for the insurgents to hide out. The sea is to the north. Except for the Nile valley, any other place they could go is a long way away over very inhospitable terrain. The Sinai might be a place to go but there they might not only face the Egyptian Army but the Israelis too. Does that mean the Muslim Brotherhood doesn't have a chance? Nope. They have one, maybe a good one, especially if, as you suggest, they can turn parts of the Army and police.

Out administering in the original sense used by Fall means killing the opposition cadres so yours are the only ones left to rule. If the example provided by Algeria is any indication, the respective sides won't be at all hesitant to go after each others people. Iraq and Syria perhaps are good example too.

I don't know about conventional civil war, which I take to mean fairly large organized units duking it out. Where would the Muslim Brotherhood get the funds to do that and how would they supply themselves? How would they counter the EAF? That is only my civilian self making the judgment. I realize Syria is in the throes of a civil war but I keep coming back to the geography of Egypt, that seems to me to favor the established forces.

Opening Eyes phase seems right, but I am pretty ignorant about what really is going on there. I would expand the Opening Eyes phase to include those opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood. Both sides may come or have come to point of having their eyes opened to the realization that the thing must be fought out. God save the Egyptian people.

Hey I have question I just thought of. What is the institutional ethos of the Egyptian Army? Maj. Ulrich suggests they are a pretty professional outfit looking out for the country rather than a ruling group like in Syria. If so they would be hard to turn. Even if they were mainly looking out for themselves like the Pak Army, they would be cohesive and hard to turn. Do you know much about ethos of the Egyptian Army? I don't.

Carl,

Not making the argument that Libya or northern Sudan are the best safe havens... but the military wing of the underground will need a place for rest and refit. Syrian frontier was a long way from Baghdad... didn't stop bad men from using as staging area for supporters... Also... are you suggesting that Egyptian Army could close Libyan border area and conduct cross-border strikes to eliminate possible training camps/staging areas... Egypt military government might be able to solicit help from Sudanese government but Libya is a failed state at present... many factions, tribal militias, potential allies for any and all underground movements. I am not as confident as you to dismiss options so easily... but since I don't have a dog in this fight.. will defer to your opinion.

v/r
MAC

MAC:

Don't defer to my opinion. Boy would that be a mistake.

I think we are about in the same place as far as sanctuaries for an insurgency goes. Libya and Sudan aren't that great. Usable, but much less so than say Laos or Cambodia or Pakistan. Very much less so in my inexpert opinion. You would know better than I but Iran and Syria may not have been that great either. They seemed to meter their support very carefully. Basically it seems to me that the geography of Egypt, the very narrow band of the Nile Valley and the bigger delta, may, may give some advantage to those seeking to suppress an insurgency.

Yes I am suggesting that the Egyptian Army could conduct cross border strikes into Libya. There would be nothing to stop them. The Turkish Army hasn't been shy about cross border strikes. Libya perhaps is rife with little groups that would perhaps support Egyptian insurgents but none could challenge the Egyptian Army if they got serious. And I believe in the border area most of the people live along the coast which would make them easier to find.

Geography makes a difference and in Egypt geography may favor the Army.

The Egyptian military conducted a coup and in the interest of national security we should continue our foreign aid. (our democratic process should hash this debate out.) Playing semantic games undermines our legitimacy. Coup vs Counter Coup, terrorists, insurgents are cute for the PSYOP, I mean MISO, guys to play with abroad, but not here. The military of Egypt is not defending democracy, it has no interest in this concept and as a result of its actions in the past few days, it will be another generation before some sort of Western style democracy can be tried again.

Let us be honest, in Egypt we prefer secular authoritarian military rule to Islamic theocracy in its authoritarian and democratic forms, in other countries we prefer theocracy to authoritarian secularists.

Where would we prefer an Islamist theocracy?

The Land of the Two Holy Mosques

I think you are mistaken. That is a monarchy and the monarchy does not brook any opposition. They may enforce a legal regime very heavily influenced by religion, but the religious types don't run the outfit, the ruling family does.

It's time to study up on Carlos Marighella. The safe havens will be Libya and northern Sudan.

r/
MAC

Wouldn't a Libyan safe haven only be such if the Egyptian Army allowed it to be so? There is nothing that could stop them if they chose to strike. I imagine Libya knows that. And Libya is a very long way from the Nile, which is where the Egyptians live. If insurgents wanted to hide there, they would almost be taking themselves out of the fight. Similarly, Sudan is a very long way from Cairo and the Nile delta.

A coup is a coup I guess, or a counter-coup too but there are good coups and bad ones and this article argues that this is a good one. From the small amount that I know I would agree.

But there is something much larger being played out here. This may be the biggest battle yet in the contest within the Arab world between secularism and theocracy. They say Egypt is the quintessential Arab country so how this plays out will be of immense importance in that struggle. It won't be pretty and will be completely antithetical to Western sensibilities no matter who wins, but it will be important. It may have an even wider import in that it may affect the contest in the Muslim world between the takfiris and those who don't see the need to slaughter those who disagree.

A useful conflict to look at might be the civil war in Algeria in the 90s. Some similarities there are I think.

A general question for all. If the Muslim Brotherhood decides to go the insurgent route, is the pattern of settlement and geography in Egypt conducive to that, other than the Sinai? It seems it is mostly the banks of the Nile and not much else, no mountains like in Algeria.

The point seems to be that what is or isn't a coup depends on whether or not we like the people who take power. If somebody we don't like wins an election, it's a coup. If someone we do like seizes power, that's not a coup. I'm not sure that perspective does us much good, in the long run.

I personally think a group like the Brotherhood is less dangerous as a government then they are underground, but of course that can vary according to circumstances.

As far as patterns conducive to insurgency go... there are few environments as conducive to insurgency as the urban jungle.

Dayuhan:

I rather think that a political movement is much more capable of inflicting its will on a populace if it has control and can direct the overt instruments of state power, especially the police, as they can when they are the government, than they can when they are underground and running from the police.

Walling off neighborhoods worked pretty good in Baghdad and that is much easier to do if there are flat streets to put the barriers on. Those great big t-walls and such tend to tip over on mountainsides and are hard to set up in forests. Maybe cities aren't all that great for insurgents to hide in. And Cairo is a long way from any political border type sanctuary. But a city does tend to complicate things a bit.

A political movement in power may be more capable of "inflicting its will" if it has full control of the coercive apparatus, which Morsi very clearly did not. A movement in power, though, has to think about a lot more than just inflicting its will. It has to think about unemployment and trade and the price of wheat. It has to think about potholes in the streets and a perennially disappointed populace. It has to put the rubber to the road, make good on the promises, and actually perform, instead of just criticizing and preaching. If it can't perform - and generally they can't - they discredit themselves and their movement. Criticism and preaching is a lot easier than performance.

I'm concerned that the perception that the suppression of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt is supported or even promoted by the US or "the West" will play into the core narrative of AQ and the like and end up churning up recruitment and support for them. If you're barred from legitimate politics, the natural step is to turn to illegitimate politics.

A number of leaders in the Middle East, notably Mr Assad, have discovered that urban insurgency is anything but easy to manage. Whether or not the Muslim Brothers could "win" such an insurgency is open to question. I've little doubt that they could build it up to a point that would make it the new rallying point for the global Islamist movement.

Dayuhan:

Oh I don't know. A political movement in power that is ruthless enough and has some kind of ideology and a good secret police force doesn't have to give a hang what the people under their power think, the DPRK being the classic example.

Legitimate politics in our sense means being willing to compromise, ie letting the Copts live if they don't convert, or the Shia or the Sunnis or the Catholics. The AQ types don't seem willing to make that compromise. With them it is my way or die. Those guys are hard core killers and you don't generally talk hard core killers out of their vocation. If you are not willing to surrender, you kill them or they kill you. Secular vs takfiri, not much room for meeting in the middle in my opinion.

Well by golly Bashir should invest in some T-walls. His life might be easier. The Egyptian Army has a lot going for it in keeping an insurgency from becoming a destination for takfiri crusaders (take that editors of Inspire). Cairo and the Nile valley might be a bit hard to get to. The airports will be controlled and the sea may be controlled also. Libya and Sudan are a long way from the action.

Egypt isn't the DPRK, or anything even remotely analogous to it. It takes generations to establish that level of control, and Morsi would never in his lifetime had the option of ignoring the realities of governance or the expectations of a long-disappointed populace. From the American perspective, would it be better to be seen taking the side of "the people" vs an oppressive and inept Islamist government or to be seen holding the skirts of the military as they gun down civilians in the streets of Cairo?

I think AQ would much rather see the Muslim Brotherhood fighting an insurgency against the Egyptian Army than stepping on their collective putz in the Presidential Palace. Americans supporting an Egyptian Army firing on Islamist civilians is a vision calculated to make the shade of OBL rise up and jizz in his dishdash. There are few things we could do that would more thoroughly reinforce the core narrative of AQ.

I suspect that the Brotherhood and AQ would have a very good chance to sustain a viable insurgency in Egypt. They might not win, but from the AQ perspective at least having it string into into perpetuity would be a perfectly acceptable, even desirable outcome.

Dayuhan:

Obviously Egypt isn't the DPRK. That wasn't the point of my comment.

Well maybe the Muslim Brotherhood and AQ would do better if they aren't running the government. They try pretty hard to take over places so they can run the government. That seems to be their objective so maybe they view running the outfit as advantageous.

A takfiri insurgency could be got up in Egypt and maybe it could run for some years, maybe even win. But the Egyptian Army put one down in the 90s and the Algerian Army did the same. Those guys seem to be fairly good at that and geography may favor them.

I would suggest if a mere 20,000 native hotheads (approx size of Taliban)believe it is a coup then it probably is a coup. As far as local politics is concerned (is there any other type that matters) there may be some room for debate within the HN population but the situation is on the brink.

What any foreigner thinks is of zero importance.

If 15,000,000 citizens think it's a coup and 500 of their supporters are shot dead in the street then we need to stop wondering about coups and prepare for civil war.

Iran 1978 anyone?

RC

Col Ulrich's piece raises an v important and useful issue, that of labels. These matter much more today than say 50 years ago as both domestic and particularly intl law is playing a greater role in shaping us foreign policy. Three issue areas come to mind immediately re labeling a regime transition a coup. First is largely academic, for the purpose of comparing the dynamics of this coup to others. From a social science perspective, it's almost surely a coup. From a US FP perspective, given domestic legal constraints that combine with US national interest in the region, allowing the event to become accepted as a coup would be problematic, assuming the admin would wand to retain a free hand re US foreign/mil aid. Third, there's the intl law perspective, which again has a large normative aspect to it, and in this case it seems (though I'm not totally up to speed on this law in this area) that it was a coup.

Good discussion, but I think there is merit to debating and attempting to define 'coup' or 'non-coup'. While there are serious economic considerations, I don't think we as a nation of conscience can let those be the most important or only considerations. The article makes valid points, but just because we may determine that a coup is justified, doesn't keep it from being a coup. If the president was legally elected and later removed by the military or the people, it is a coup. If the president was elected as part of a coup (subversion), and later removed from power, it is one coup followed by a second coup.

Interpreting the actions of the Egyptian military and defining what a coup is has little to do with the United States' position. The 1978 Camp David Peace Accords are at risk if the United States withdraws $2.1 Billion dollar donation. In addition, the funds that are not directly appropriated to the military are used to purchase wheat from the United States farmers. This figure routinely approaches $1 Billion per year. Turning off the valve would likely result in the Egyptians snubbing US farmers for Russian and Ukrainian wheat. Finally, the US has a 3 to 1 trade advantage with Egypt and cannot risk this relationship with the state of the economy. This information is boring to me as well. It is significant to the adopted policies though.

I would agree with your post if the argument was that the United States has more to gain economically by keeping trade flowing with Egyptians, regardless of who is in power, but the standing argument is that the United States does not support or give aid to a coup. Interpreting the actions of the Egyptian military and defining what a coup is has everything to do with the United State’s position. I would disagree with Mr. Ulrich’s statement that President Morsi was elected through a valid democratic process because of the involvement the Muslim Brotherhood played in voter intimidation and fraud. Blaming a corrupt voting process in the Middle East did not provide reason to overthrow Morsi, rather it reinforces Mr. Ulrich’s stance that the Muslim Brother hood and Morsi led an insurgent movement using a subversive strategy. While Morsi was gaining votes legitimately, he separated himself from the intimidation and terrorist tactics his organization partook in to secure his victory. After being elected, Morsi moved faster than expected to gain control of constitutional drafting processes, dissolve judicial authority and review, legally protect and legitimize the militant wing of his insurgency, and develop his own regime.

The Egyptian military didn’t suddenly and violently overthrow Morsi, they defeated and insurgency that that took advantage of a movement fueled by an enraged population. Regardless of the feelings of Mubarak, the Egyptian military defended Egypt against Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood’s attempts at imprisoning the Egyptian people by a rouse of democracy.

This information is boring to me as well. It is significant to the adopted policies though.

That made me smile, although I find that sort of stuff fascinating. I think it's called the outward gaze or something like that (The Clausewitz Delusion) but I may be remembering that wrong.

An excellent, well-written article. Good to see that the Irregular Warfare Center has succeeded in adding to Army doctrine the subversive strategy as a recognized part of the insurgent playbook. Hitler and the Nazi Party used the same strategy to gain power in the early 1930s; more recently, Muqtada al-Sadr and the Jaish al-Mahdi attempted the same in Iraq. Those who say Morsi could do whatever he liked because he was elected do not understand history. One person, one vote, one time is a recipe for totalitarianism.

Is the the P. Mansoor who wrote Baghdad at Sunrise? If it is your book was great.

I have a question about the Egyptian Army as an institution. The Algerian Army in the 90s and the Turkish Army several times have done something perhaps similar to the action that the Egyptian Army has taken. They all seem to have intervened in their country's politics in order to prevent something happening that they considered to be contrary to the interests of their nation. That implies they have an institutional vision of what their country should be and that vision seems to be more in line with western political sensibilities than what the Islamofascists (how's that for a tendentious label?) think is good. What do you (or anybody else for that matter, all are welcome) think of that? And to the extent that it might be true, have the extensive contacts the Egyptian Army has had with western militaries over the decades had anything to do with shaping that view?

Before Madhu tries to corral me in again I want to say that I agree with the article. I also feel that caution must be taken when making historical comparisons. France went through many gyrations from the revolution in 1789 until the third republic in the 1870’s. Since 1932 Thailand has had about twenty coups and you can expect more into the foreseeable future. Which were “good” and which were “bad” is often a matter of interpretation. These are countries going through social upheavals that some have placed under the general rubric of “modernization” (like coup, another term with a value bias attached to it). Be careful in assuming that all democracies are “good” and all authoritarian systems are “bad”. What any country needs at the time is much more complex than that simple dichotomy.

I won't corral you, I'm deciding to be nice for a change. You may well be correct. I don't know Egypt very well and was foolish to offer an opinion. I should stick to my "area" South Asia, although that is why I became so suspicious of the "democratic coup", my mental models are all wrong for Egypt:

Pat Lang writes:

Political Islamism is seen by Egyptian liberals, Christians and the officer corps as a specific threat to modern Egypt. The romance carried on by Washington with Islamists in Egypt contributed greatly to the decline of American influence there. There are too many naive "kids" in positions of influence in American government.

http://turcopolier.typepad.com/sic_semper_tyrannis/2013/08/httpwwwslatec...

The opposite point of view is:

Again, nobody knows. It is possible that the economy would have been so deeply damaged that even greater and more violent protests would have erupted. The Muslim Brotherhood might have taken over the arteries of power so thoroughly that they would have been able to set up their own dictatorship, effectively blocking any path that may have temporarily opened to a truly inclusive democracy, where power is shared pluralistically rather than being wielded uncompromisingly by whoever finds himself in power at the time.

But this scenario seems as unlikely as that of the DP in Turkey setting up its own dictatorship in the face of a strong, mobilized, opposition. There was already strong discontent with Morsy and his government, witnessed by the more than the 22 million signatures calling for him to step down before the coup took place. With this level of opposition in an already mobilized society, could the Muslim Brotherhood really set up its own dictatorship before the next election?

Just like in Turkey in 1960, what Egypt really needed was for those who had ascended to power for the first time to peacefully lose an election. Not because the other side cannot tolerate the very thought of those who have so long been viewed as second-class citizens sitting in the presidential palace, but because they just weren't governing well. Because they simply lost the support of ordinary people and had to leave the way they came, through the polls.

http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/08/05/the_snake_that_eats_its...

We shall see. The thing for the US is that we have a client and a client state relationship sometimes takes on a life of its own, clientitis and DC constituencies develop, this is just life. Maybe it's still okay.