‘What do we call it?’
You could hear that or read it (between the lines, of course) from every reporter and nearly every news source yesterday, as all of them scrambled over each other to cover every single damn minute-by-minute update on the chaos in Egypt – the chaos that turned from a military ultimatum to a disposed president to cheering crowds in Cairo’s Tahrir Square – and then the pretty weak thud that landed at their feet without a definition.
Coup? Right? It’s a coup, isn’t it? A military coup?
Well, not so fast. The president – Mohammed Morsi – and his office called it a coup, but they were the ones removed from office. Do you really want to start stealing their definition? What, you’re on their side now?
No reporter wants to appear biased or inaccurate, even when it’s certainty they will be.
How many people covered that overthrow yesterday and the four days before it without ever stepping foot in Egypt, or even without any intention of entering the ‘Departures’ wing of their closest airport?
There’s nothing wrong with covering something from afar – no, I’m serious – but context is everything. You can cover Canucks games from your couch and Obama’s inaugurations from a bar in South Philly.
When the TVs are on or when your Internet connection is good, you might be more informed than the folks in the middle of a damn conflict. At least you can see beyond the fervor or know what’s happening a block away.
Unfortunately, though, very few of us know Egypt. They had pharaohs a long time ago, right? But, what’s their deal now?
They had a revolution that lasted over a year from 2011 to 2012. It booted Hosni Mubarak and gave the country Morsi, who won over 51 per cent of the vote and became the first democratically elected president in the country’s history.
So far, so good?
Well, people weren’t happy with the guy. Not after a year, apparently. Some people aren’t happy with Obama or Harper, either, but they’re still in office. And, like Morsi, they were elected, so who’s to say the military should have a majority say in their employment?
Frankly, though, it’s hard to avoid what we saw in Cairo on Wednesday, because the crowds of happy, cheering, gleeful Egyptians that crowded in to herald the un-appointment of their president – whoop-whooping as the army rolled into town instead – looked positively thrilled with the “ruling”.
So, it was a coup, right?
Come on… military. Army. Generals and overthrow. Isn’t that a coup?
Again, not so fast. Obama wasn’t willing to use the word, and I know for a fact (because I was trying to pull info from every major network with reporters on the ground to fill the boots of my story) that the BBC, The Guardian, and NBC were refusing to use it, too.
I have friends who have friends in Egypt (don’t worry, I know what that sounds like), and they all said it wasn’t a coup because many, many Egyptians want Morsi out.
Right, but… it’s still a coup, isn’t it?
Maybe it’s moral to some people, but it’s still a coup. Yeah?
I know far too little about Morsi, about the Egyptian army, or about the country in general to really have an informed opinion about any of it. From the perspective of law and order, you could easily scoff at the removal of a democratically elected official. You could be enraged about it, actually. That’s not democracy. That’s not a free world.
Of course, critics say Morsi spent his 12 months in power concentrating power in the hands of his own Islamist party and has failed to change any or all of the fault lines he vowed to fix when he took office.
If he deserves to go, then I guess he should go. (Normally, I’d suggest a vote, an impeachment, or something formal, but what do I know? I’ve only lived in a democratic country for my entire life.)
But, it’s still a coup. Just because people like the coup doesn’t mean it’s not a coup. Mussolini had fans. Every leader of the Soviet Union had fans – Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Gorby, all of them.
Again, I’m not directly comparing the Egyptian army or any of its personnel to those dictators (I’m not comparing Morsi to them, either), but there’s something to be said for perspective and something to be said for the power of words. The fear of words, more like it.
Coup is suddenly a terrifying bomb to drop, but that doesn’t mean it’s open for clarification. It shouldn’t matter whether 99% of Egypt approves of Morsi’s dismissal. The word is a word and it means what it means.
Granted, the following definition is from Wikipedia, but it’s valid for the sake of our discussion:
“A coup d’état, also known as a coup, a putsch, or an overthrow, is the sudden deposition of a government, usually by a small group of the existing state establishment — typically the military — to depose the extant government and replace it with another body, civil or military.”
I think of it this way: the Canucks take a penalty and the Sharks get a powerplay. It was a terrible call. But, it’s still a powerplay.
Morsi is no longer the president of Egypt and many within the nation’s borders – specifically, the ones jammed into the eye of Cairo – are pleased. But, to all of us outside – and to every government that has to suddenly sit back and assess the situation and understand what it means for world order and what it means for them, like the United States in particular – we need to call it what it is.