The Arab revolutions may appear to be mere isolated events that toppled well-established regimes. However, in essence what happened was an earthquake, and with it came many discourses, axioms, ideas and connotations. It has escaped us that key elements in the political and cultural process of the Arab world have changed and become subject to a different way of reasoning.
It is important to be aware of this issue both linguistically and intellectually. Otherwise, we would end up explaining the new phenomena and acts that emerged following the revolution by resorting to outdated language that has little in common with the new reality the Arab revolutions have produced.
Of course, this article cannot be enough to explore many of these connotations and expressions. Thus, I want to tackle a word that has been repeated constantly since Egypt’s former president, Mohamed Mursi, was removed from office: “coup.”
There have been frequent assertions that the Egyptian military staged a “coup” against the Brotherhood-affiliated president, who is said to have had electoral legitimacy.
In fact, the use of the term “coup” by the Brotherhood, as well as by some media outlets, can be seen as a political and communicative tactic aimed more at the international community than at Egypt.
The Brotherhood tried to invest in the negative connotations of the word “coup.” They have also sought to capitalize on the negative connotations of the word—coups are, after all, rejected all over the world. Thus those who promote the term “coup” to describe what happened in Egypt are trying to hit a nerve. The Brotherhood has also realized the magical-yet-negative effect this term has on the international community.
So we understand why the statements issued by the EU and the US on the steps taken by the Egyptian military were bleary, reluctant, and more negative than positive. It can be said that the Brotherhood and the satellite channels that support them have relatively managed to use the word “coup” as a bait, causing a split in public opinion over the exact description of what happened.
Aside from the political and ideological connotations, we must specify a number of fallacies surrounding the term “coup” in order to preserve neutrality. “Coup” is a phenomenon whose form, features and objectives are known, and there is a consensus about what constitutes a coup. In its traditional meaning, a coup happens in a surprising manner. It is also a treacherous, conspiratorial, and deceptive act, and the failure of a coup means the death of the perpetrators. Furthermore, a coup d’état aims to seize power and remove the incumbent ruler.
However, the step the Egyptian military took showed none of these signs, which are common to every coup the world has known. I do not think our collective memory is too short to forget the messages and the ultimatums the military issued to the country’s political forces. This is not to mention that the former president refused to heal public division by holding a referendum. Most importantly, when Gen. Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi asked the Egyptian people to give him mandate, around 25 million people took to the streets.
Has the world known any coup based on a popular mandate?
By using the word “coup,” these people have adopted a radical, religious position based on ideological violence that robs the power of reasoning and excels at arousing religious emotions.
The Brotherhood rose to power in Egypt—a dream they have cherished for eight decades. When they failed to maintain their hold on Egypt and a large segment of the public expressed their desire for Mursi to step down, the Brotherhood blindly clung to power, causing the deaths of hundreds of Egyptians. By doing so, they inflicted a deep wound that will be hard to heal. This is how the Brotherhood rewarded the Egyptian people who voted for them.