Local organizations and Egyptian Americans have reacted to the military takeover of Egypt’s first democratically elected president in Egyptian history, Mohammed Morsi.
After massive, well organized protests in Egypt on June 30, 2013, Gen Abdul Fattah al-Sisi took power in a military coup d’État. Several protests have taken place in front of the White House over the past two weeks from both pro-democracy Egyptian-American who oppose the military coup as well as protesters who agree with the military's removal of Morsi.
A demonstration on Friday, July 5 attracted about 200 men, women, and children who chanted “Down Down Ya Sisi. Democracy, Democracy. Morsi, Morsi, Legitimacy, Legitimacy” to the thumping of drums. Mohammad Morsi is currently being held by the Egyptian military; he only served one year of his four year term as Egypt's first president chosen in a free and legitimate national election.
Demonstrators at the anti-coup rallies want to clarify that it is not about Morsi but about voting to see if he needs to go. “I didn’t vote for Morsi,” says one attendee, holding an Egyptian flag. Morsi has been criticized across the board for his management of state, his failure to listen to the people and his exclusionary and ill-timed decisions.
Rally organizers from Egyptian Americans for Democracy and Human Rights said the purpose of the rally was to draw attention to the fact that President Morsi was democratically elected and should remain in office until he is voted out. EADHR is a brand new organization formed in the aftermath of the recent events in Egypt. Dar Al-Hijrah Imam Shaker ElSayed is a key spokesman, as is Dr. Akram Elzend of Falls Church, VA.
“The events motivated us to establish this group to defend democracy and human rights, and stand up nationwide,” says Elzend. EADHR is currently working on a long term plan.
Violence has taken at least 51 lives and injured 300 in Cairo and more in other Egyptian cities, according to a spokesman for the Ministry of Health. Gunmen opened fire on supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi outside the Republican Guard headquarters during Fajr (dawn) prayers. The army claims that protesters had turned violent, but Human Rights Watch interviewed dozens of witnesses and reviewed numerous videos of the event and found the army and police moved in violently against the protesters as they prayed.
EADHR and the Muslim American Society has condemned this blatant violence against peaceful protesters calling for democracy in Egypt. EADHR called upon President Obama to denounce the unprovoked attack and take concrete steps to prevent further violence by the US supported Egyptian army. “The US gives the Egyptian military over $1.5 billion in aid and therefore is in a position to rein in the army,” states EADHR Spokesman Dr. Akram Elzend
A report from the Egyptian Centre for Media Studies and Public Opinion published in the Middle East Monitor claims that a majority of Egyptians are opposed to the removal of President Mohamed Morsi from office. According to the report, twenty-six percent support the coup, and sixty-three percent are against it. Those who are pro-coup have differing reasons for support. Sixty-six percent wanted to overthrow the president in order to "regain" the civilian identity of Egypt, whereas forty-five percent backed the coup because they support military rule.
Prince George’s Muslim Association Imam Dr. Ahmad Azzari was at the protest in Lafayette Park on Friday, in jeans and a baseball cap, as an Egyptian American to rally against the military and to inform the whole world that “America as a supporter of democracy should be against the coup that happened.”
He thinks that the American government’s stand is vague at best and they need to abandon these regimes, cut aid and close the American embassy in Egypt in response to the coup. “There is a big rift in the Egyptian society for sure because the military, the old Mubarak regime worked really hard to make this rift in the Egyptian society and they succeeded ... we are hear to listen to both sides but in peace; there should be no bloodshed and no unjustifiable arrest by police,” he told the Muslim Link. “Every voice in Egypt must be heard, not just in Egypt but all over the world. We are in support of any peaceful protest in Egypt.”
Noha Alkholon’s feeling of sadness for Egypt brought her here from Michigan to attend the rally. “Half of Egypt is very sad; Egyptians are looking for freedom. Egyptians can choose for themselves, they aren’t dumb! If they don’t want the Muslim Brotherhood they can take them out, but it has to be the choice of the Egyptian people,” Alkholon said, adding that she is not part of any particular group or party. “The people in Tahrir Square aren’t the only Egyptians, even if that’s all that the media shows.”
Even though the U.S. Congress is divided on whether to call this a coup, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. has demanded aid be cut off to Egypt. “Regardless of what anyone thinks about Mohammed Morsi, he was elected by a majority of Egyptians last year,” says the senator. “It is difficult for me to conclude that what happened was anything other than a coup in which the military played a decisive role,” adds McCain. “I do not want to suspend our critical assistance to Egypt, but I believe that is the right thing to do at this time.”
“It is important that it is called a coup,” says Imam Mahdi Bray, National Director for the American Muslim Alliance (AMA), who recently visited Sen. John McCain's office and expressed AMA's support for Sen. McCain's position of cutting off US financial aid to Egypt. AMA urges supporters to contact Sen. McCain and let him know your position. Imam Bray attended and spoke at both the Friday and Sunday rallies.
Egyptian constitutional expert, Tarek Al Bishry writes in the Arabic language newspaper Shorouk newspaper, ”The people must realize that their present quest does not concern the restoration of the Muslim Brotherhood's rule, but the defense of the constitution and the democratic system. Moreover, they must make a political choice, not between supporting the Muslim Brotherhood or their opponents, but between defending democracy and supporting a dictatorship.”
U.S. Congress would need the okay from President Obama if it does vote to cut funding to Egypt. So far his administration has shown no interest in such an action.
A leading member of EADHR, Hany Saqr, said the US non-response is a blow to a democratic Egypt. “This is beyond politics. Washington can debate whether a coup took place but can’t ignore the loss of life which is destabilizing Egypt and directly undermining US calls for democracy in the region,” he said.
On July 8, 2013, the interim Egyptian head of state, Adli Mansour, announced that Egypt will hold new parliamentary elections once amendments to its suspended constitution are approved in a referendum, framing a legislative vote in about six months.
The interim government is propped by a $12 billion commitment from the rulers of Kuwait, UAE and Saudi Arabia.
The new government draws its authority from the military commander who executed the takeover. The July 8 declaration grants the military autonomy beyond the president’s control. ”It’s a coup, it’s a coup,” rally the protesters.
Elzend doesn’t believe that the interim president holds any real power; after the killings in Cairo, the interim president didn’t show any presence, says Elzend.
The interim president will have the power to issue legislation, constitutional declarations and ill-defined states of emergency, toping the alleged power grabbing of the deposed President Morsi. The declaration includes statements of protections for basic rights, including free speech or assembly, according to the New York Times. Egypt’s next permanent charter will be shaped by high members of the judiciary left in place after decades of authoritarianism. “I have huge concerns about the judiciary, they belong to the old [Mubarak] regime,” comments Dr. Elzend, giving examples from the struggle for democracy in U.S. history.
Morsi was accused of controlling state media but after his ouster, freedom of press has been one of the civil liberties affected in Egypt, say protesters. “This was the case when Mubarak was in power; once [the military] stepped in, they closed several channels. Al Jazeera has been granted limited coverage after it’s office was shut down,” says Dr. Saleh, a protest organizer from Baltimore, MD, concerned about the public access to information in Egypt.
Elzend noted that Islamic media channels which sympathized with the January 25 revolution were arrested without charge. Alkholon passionately believes that a country can never have democracy if only one side is shown in the media.
Anti-Morsi protesters say that he concentrated power in members of his political party, the Muslim Brotherhood, and drove Egypt’s economy to the ground. On the other hand, supporters say he inherited an economy destroyed by 40 years of Mubarak rule, and that during the one year term Morsi served, the country had unprecedented freedom of press and the right to peaceful demonstrations. “An important human rights violation that concerns us is that after the military coup happened, we are hearing stories from the streets in Egypt that paint the picture of the Mubarak era: same secret services, intelligence, and police tactics,” added Elzend.
“During the term of President Morsi there were 37 large protests where people called him names; no one shot them or arrested them but right now people are being killed while praying and it is called the Army defending themselves,” decries Dr. Saleh.
Another concern is that if religious parties are not given a seat at the table and have their liberties taken away, they will resort to violence. “[The military is] forcing them to this route... corner someone to justify their attacks and when they defend themselves then say you are attacking them,” says Dr. Saleh, a member of the Muslim American Society (MAS) and lab director at the University of Maryland.
MAS in a press release stated that the loss of personal freedoms in Egypt and the subversion of the democratic process have led to widespread unrest in the country. MAS – which has a large number of Egyptian-American members – believes that ‘discounting the results of free and transparent ballot elections sends the message that any fledgling democracy can be squashed through internal turmoil, and further silenced through violence and curtailing of freedoms.’
Dalia Mogahed, a prominent Egyptian American pollster and researcher, extolled pro-Morsi supporters on social media not to take the path of violence. “Nothing would please your enemies more. [It is] a perfect pretense for mass repression and political exclusion.”
“We are sending the wrong message that democracy is not for everybody, that they can’t think for themselves, that they are mindless,” says Saleh.
Mona Ngem, a senior community leader, thinks that a conspiracy to divide and rule is at play. “The country divided into two camps, each believing in the just cause of its position. The first feels they were lied to and dismissed by the Muslim Brotherhood and are vindicated by gaining back their stolen country from their clutches; the second [are] infuriated for having their legitimately elected President removed and their political power stolen from them,” she says.
Elzend reminds critics who call this the unfinished revolution, that anything built by force will be illegitimate. “People voted, Morsi won fifty- two percent of the votes; that was the will of people. They will lose the hope in the word democracy. Let’s agree on a common ground.”
About 20 anti-Morsi protesters attended a Washington DC rally on Sunday, July 7, 2013.
Adil ElaSalle of Alexandria, VA held a sign at the Friday rally to remind President Obama of the words of his role model Abraham Lincoln, that a government for the people, by the people shall not perish. “What we see now is that the will of the people is being usurped by powerful people; we want President Obama who stands for democracy, to stand for the people of Egypt.”
Activist lawyer Sahar Aziz and D.C. based Egyptian American who writes for CNN’s online blog said to make protests a permanent substitute for fair and free elections, national dialogue, and professional advocacy is to place Egypt in a perpetual state of uncertainty instead of a sustainable democracy.
“As Americans we cannot be hypocrites – teaching the world values of democracy and then supporting military governments,” he says.
Ngem made a plea for the holy month of Ramadan. “Please pray with us for Egypt. Please pray that one day we can once more proudly display to our visitors the welcoming signs carrying the words from the Surah Yousuf in the Holy Quran. "Now proceed to the city. God willing, you will live in peace."