SYNDICATED COLUMN: Not a Revolution, Just an Old-Fashioned Coup

Egypt Offers Lessons for America’s Left and Right

The U.S.-backed military coup that ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi reconfirms two historical lessons that Americans repeatedly refuse to accept.

The first is for American activists, the idealistic progressives working to make the world a fairer and more decent place. Once again in Egypt, we are seeing how you can’t make a revolution without revolutionizing society – which requires the complete, violent overthrow of the ruling class. The second lesson is for elite policymakers in Washington and other Western capitals, but they won’t learn it until the inevitable blowback from their incessant manipulation and backroom schemes prompts another September 11 — or worse.

First, the takeaway for leftists.

Western critics, most of them unabashedly pro-coup, blame the Muslim Brotherhood for its own overthrow. They weren’t inclusive enough, they presided over a lousy economy, after decades of exile they just weren’t ready to govern. For the sake of argument, let’s concede all that.

No matter where you stand on Morsi, it is undeniable that his nascent presidency never stood a chance. The 2011 “revolution” that began and ended in Tahrir Square, which defined the Arab Spring and inspired the Occupy Wall Street movement, toppled an aging U.S.-backed dictator, Hosni Mubarak. But Mubarak’s regime mostly remained in place. Mubarak’s old judiciary blocked Morsi and his party, a political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, at every turn. The other major holdover, the military and security forces, orchestrated his political demise, culminating in last week’s coup. Now there is a strong chance that Egypt is about to disintegrate into a civil conflict whose scale of violence might eclipse the mayhem in Syria.

Western analysts, liberals and even leftists who ought to know better have so cheapened the word “revolution,” attaching it to developments that, though notable, are nothing of the kind: independence struggles, civil rights movements, and most recently events like the Arab Spring, which enjoyed support by Western media and governments precisely because they were not violent, or at least not very violent, and thus not revolutionary — and therefore not a threat to the power of elites in charge of the current system. Although there may be strains of continuity in government and culture before and after a true revolution, such as the maintenance of some ministries and place names and so on, real revolution is characterized first and foremost by the replacement of one set of ruling elites — economic, cultural and political — over another. Revolution is also indicated by a vast set of radical transformations in the way that ordinary people live, such as the legalization of divorce, the abolition of the Catholic Church, and the establishment of the metric system after the French Revolution.

Though important and meaningful, what happened at Tahrir Square in 2011 didn’t come close to qualifying as a bona fide revolution. The rich remained rich, the poor remained poor, and though a few officials here and there lost their jobs, the ruling class as a whole retained their prerogatives. Meanwhile, life on the street remained miserable — and in exactly the same way as before.

Similarly, the 2013 coup d’état — weasel words to the contrary, if language has any meaning whatsoever, it is always a military coup when the military deposes a democratically elected ruler — isn’t a revolution either. Even if it was demonstrably true that, as General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi claimed and many protesters agree, that “it is not the army who took over, it is the army who acted on behalf of the people,” what we have here is nothing more than a personnel change. The system remains intact.

At the height of the Occupy movement during the fall of 2011, many knee-jerk pacifists, besotted with the post-1960s religion of militant nonviolence (in spite of its repeatedly proven ineffectiveness), agreed that radical transformation — revolution — was necessary in the United States. Yet these liberals also argued that (even though there was no historical precedent) the triumph of the mass of ordinary American workers over the corrupt bankers and their pet politicians could result from purely nonviolent protest.

They have only to look at Egypt to see why they are wrong. The Arab Spring was a huge experiment in the efficacy of nonviolence to affect political change. No country has seen a true revolution since the events of 2011. There were, however, changes — and these were most dramatic in the nations that saw the most violence, such as Libya.

Unless you dislodge the ruling elites, who have everything to gain from continuity and everything to lose from reform, your wannabe revolution doesn’t stand a chance of getting off the ground. The privileged classes won’t relinquish their privileges, power or wealth voluntarily. They will use their control over the police and the military (and, as we have recently learned, their access to the intimate details of our daily lives) in order to crush any meaningful opposition. They are violent. Their system is violence. Defeating them requires greater violence. Nothing less results in revolution.

Egypt is about to teach America’s political class yet another lesson about blowback, the tendency of meddling in the internal politics of foreign countries to result in anti-Americanism, which manifests itself in the form of terrorism.

After 9/11 you’d think that the U.S. would tread lightly in the Muslim world. This would go double in Egypt, where America’s pet dictator Hosni Mubarak ruled for 29 years, only to go down in flames despite being propped up by billions of dollars in U.S. foreign aid. In the end, like a bored and easily distracted infant, the State Department green-lit Mubarak’s removal. Now, two years later, they’re at it again, brazenly orchestrating and signing off on an old-fashioned military coup to remove the first democratically elected leader of the spiritual center of the Arab world — who just happens to be an Islamist.

The behind-the-scenes machinations of the White House are sordidly reminiscent of CIA-backed coups in Latin America in the 1960s.

“As President Mohamed Morsi huddled in his guard’s quarters during his last hours as Egypt’s first elected leader, he received a call from an Arab foreign minister with a final offer to end a standoff with the country’s top generals, senior advisers with the president said,” reported The New York Times over the weekend. “The foreign minister said he was acting as an emissary of Washington, the advisers said, and he asked if Mr. Morsi would accept the appointment of a new prime minister and cabinet, one that would take over all legislative powers and replace his chosen provincial governors.”

Over my dead body, Morsi replied.

This was conveyed to Anne Patterson, Obama’s ambassador to Egypt, and Susan Rice, his national security advisor. Rice told Morsi’s advisor she had green-lit a coup. “‘Mother just told us that we will stop playing in one hour,’ an aide texted an associate, playing on a sarcastic Egyptian expression for the country’s Western patron, ‘Mother America,'” the Times reported.

What could go wrong?

(Ted Rall’s website is His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in 2014 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)


23 thoughts on “SYNDICATED COLUMN: Not a Revolution, Just an Old-Fashioned Coup

  1. Here we go again, again. Ted, you don’t really have a grip on human nature, or really — animal nature. The processes we are built to use are ancient and immutable. Humans don’t just wake up one day and because they’re all pissed off at a bunch of rich bankers, decide to pull the temple down on themselves. It takes much, much more than that.

    First, you need a basis for your movement for change. There is no such basis in America. Just some vague notions of injustice and wealth disparity. In a country as rich as the US, that is almost meaningless. Do people lose their homes? Yes. Do they die poor in the streets, literally starving to death? No. Being poor and disenfranchised in the US is way different from being poor and disenfranchised in other parts of the world.]

    Second, things need to be so bad there is simply no alternative to violence. The United States is light years away from such a reality. Just because you hate rich bankers and powerful elites acting with impunity doesn’t mean Americans are ready (or even considering) using violence to displace them. In fact, I’d say there’s maybe a couple hundred such people — if that — nationwide who would resort to violence to displace elites. Those that would, are not really acting in terms of revolution. They’re acting out of spite, pissed off that elites are wealthy, powerful, and get away with crimes the rest of us can’t. Sorry — that’s no basis for revolution.

    Americans are, for the most part, incredibly wealthy and privileged. We’re about as close to revolution, or the need for revolution, as I am close to becoming an NBA player. Meaning, it’s not even remotely in the realm of possibility.

    It’s time to move on from this meme Ted. It’s starting to sound like a personal fantasy for you more than objective analysis. You want revolution, violent revolution, because YOU don’t like bankers, YOU don’t like “the system”, YOU want the elite to get their comeuppance. That’s not the same thing as opining on the objective reality of America, where fantasies like revolution are just that — fantasies.

    • Exko: You’re conflating your prediction of the likelihood of revolution – with which I mostly agree – with our belief that it is nevertheless essential. And them with my statement that, if it’s ever gonna happen, it won’t/can’t be purely nonviolent.

  2. @Ted

    Yes, it was a coup. But that’s entirely beside the point here. What the Egyptians wanted was a vote of no confidence in Morsi, and another election scheduled. Egyptian law does not permit this, so they hit the streets instead.

    The Muslim Brotherhood was a creation of British intelligence to counter the emerging Egyptian nationalism of the early 20th century, and once they came into power a year ago they enforced IMF austerity onto the people. Hence the 33 million people who showed up to get rid of him. The only people who root for him now are a bunch of whackjob wahhabis who got goodies under his rule.

    In regards to the military, Morsi was trying to get Egypt more involved in Syria, which would haved dragged the military into it, so of course the military had to get rid of him. And, actually, I agree with their decision. Better a coup than to start WWIII. I have no doubt that the Obama Admin put Morsi up to this.

    So in essence, this may be a coup, but it is also a disaster for Obama regime neocon psychos, because they lost their Muslim Brotherhood asset to a major extent. Which is a good thing, because Political Islam need to go the same route that Political Christianity went when the Enlightenment Revolutions happened in the late 18th century. We cannot have a bunch of cannabal rapist beheaders running around the place, right?

  3. One and one-half billion dollars of aid to Egypt under Morsi?

    If Morsi was good for the USA, there’s no way he could have been good for the people who belong to Egypt; the US gives nothing without the expectation of a return on investment, and that means national wealth diverted from the people of Egypt.

    That doesn’t mean things will change for the better there from this point on. When the people stop believing in their leaders, the conservative idea of the power elite obtains that, “Things must change or they will never be the same.”– paraphrased from The Leopard.

    As long as the people will continue believing that they are sacrificing and dying for the nation, they will calmly accept their fate, believing in their heroism. When they figure out that they have been dupes, and not heroes, things will get interesting.

  4. “No matter where you stand on Morsi, it is undeniable that his nascent presidency never stood a chance. The 2011 “revolution” that began and ended in Tahrir Square, which defined the Arab Spring and inspired the Occupy Wall Street movement, toppled an aging U.S.-backed dictator, Hosni Mubarak. But Mubarak’s regime mostly remained in place.”

    Wait a minute; if Morsi’s problem was the Mubarak holdovers, why didn’t he make a populist end-run around them? Why not appeal to the people to drive out the remnants? He was brought into office on a populist movement; if he intended to sustain that movement, why not turn to it in order to remove the anti-populist faction that he was meant to replace?

    While the U.S. may be happy to see him go, the idea that his ouster was not backed by the populace is sheer bullshit. The enemy of my enemy need not be my friend — he’s just another motherfucker on my list. Morsi altered the constitution in order to preserve power. He attacked the electoral system itself in order to secure his party’s rule. This is not how a populist, even a selfish one, acts. He would have secured power via popular acclaim, which he could have easily done. You can’t blame Mubarak remnants for his complete refusal to appeal to the people with even short-term populist policies addressing the poverty in Egypt.

    Morsi shat the bed and — perhaps — U.S. capitalized on it. That doesn’t make the protesters of Egypt wrong to have gotten rid of him. That means they’re screwed no matter where they turn.

  5. @Ted: Ok, fair enough. It is certainly true that in any country, elites don’t relinquish power when simply asked. It has to be taken from them, which means by force. No doubt about it.

    But, the point for me is that the notion of that happening in America is so remote as to be pointless in practical terms of discussion. You might as well say, “when Aliens invade Earth we’re aren’t going to just be able to reason with them, we’ll have to make a show of force”. I would put the likelihood of violent upheaval in the US on almost the same scale as that scenario. I hate the corrupt system and it’s corrupt players as much as anyone, but violence is not in the realm of possibility. It’s just not.

    • Exko: I agree, violent revolution does not appear imminent in the US.

      But we could be mistaken. There could be a violent uprising any time. Most of the necessary ingredients are there. True, there is no organization or party to guide it. But one might emerge overnight thanks to technology that makes organizing more efficient.

      Anyway, my point here is that the goal must be revolution, and thus violent revolution. If violent revolution is unlikely, nonviolent revolution is impossible.

  6. Ted,

    The new site won’t let in guest posts. Or is that intentional?

  7. 1.5 billion dollars in aid to Egypt every 5 months? That’s insane if it is true! If the USA is giving amounts like this to even a few other countries, then why can’t they divert some of this money back to the American people? Especially since Obama made it clear that it can’t continue after a coup – which it plainly was! ( a coup with the people’s support is still a coup )
    I knew bribery and support to foreign countries was going on, but this is nuts. Why do we even argue about money for women’s health care, unemployment benefits, social security and food stamps if our own government is throwing away money like this? It’s beyond insane, and Joe Q. Public needs to understand this fast and furiously! The US public needs to know that bribing foreign intersts and countries is felt to be more important than helping the situations of the poor, unemplowed and sick in the USA!

    • Rikster: Egypt receives at least $4 billion annually, slightly less than Israel, at number one. And yeah, that money would be well used here.

      It’s not like it’s going to help poor Egyptians.

  8. Alex and all other guest posters: there’s a slight change to log-in procedure. All remains the same, but please delete “rallblog” from the log-in URL.

  9. @Ted: “If violent revolution is unlikely, nonviolent revolution is impossible.”

    No, I disagree strongly with that. In fact, the very reason meaningful change is not possible is because of clay feet. Meaning, the people clamoring for change have no sound principles on which to stand. Just vague notions of unfairness. That doesn’t mean anything. Before rejecting the elites themselves, the values of the elites must be rejected. That takes effort and a willingness to really change, and is anathema to violence.

  10. Ted,

    “Alex and all other guest posters: there’s a slight change to log-in procedure. All remains the same, but please delete “rallblog” from the log-in URL.”

    I can’t find “rallblog” in the log-in URL at all.

  11. @Ted: That’s probably true for the most part, but I still insist: Before rejecting the elites themselves, the values of the elites must be rejected. Otherwise, what good is rejecting the elites? That process of rejecting the values of the elites is a non-violent process, by definition.

    • @exko: False equivalency. The elites believe in lots of things that we should not reject: traffic signals, laws against murder, etc. The efficacy of violence is one of those things.

  12. @Ted: Obviously I’m talking about the values that are the drivers of the problems in the first place. If you think traffic signals, laws against murder, etc … are drivers of the problems — I don’t know what to tell you. On the other hand, excessive greed, materialism, infinite growth, etc …. those ARE drivers of the problems. How you can expect to change anything by violent revolution when you share those same destructive values, I have no idea.

    • @Ex: Greed and so on are values. Violence is not a value. Violence is a tactic. And again I say: never in the history of the human race has there ever been a political revolution that did not insignificant part include violence as part of the diversity of tactics required to overthrow the previous system of governance.

  13. @Ted: I didn’t say violence is a value. I said the tenets of Capitalism are values. Let’s take a simple case: The environment. Most people would agree with the elites, that the environment is here for humans to exploit as we see fit, for our own benefit. Most believe there should be no limits on how we manipulate the natural resources of the environment to serve human needs. Clearly, this is a problem. How exactly do you think that’s going to be fixed when the people overthrowing the elites have that very same belief?

    One can go right down the list and see that these so-called revolutionaries believe in exactly the same things as the elites they hate so much. All these OWS types really want is just a bigger cut of the pie. They’re mad elites are so rich and powerful, and think they don’t have a big enough cut of the capitalist pie. Big deal. That’s no basis for change. None.

  14. @Ted: Ultimately, mass consumerism is the shared value of the elites and the rabble. As long as mass consumerism is the shared value you will always have this system. Like it or not, that will always be the case. You can’t free yourself from oppression when you’re in agreement about the basic tenets of how we should live.