Egypt is starting its republican history with the left foot by setting a terrible precedent: that democratically elected presidents can be ousted by military intervention. This shows that Egypt’s political system is still profoundly corrupt and thinly civilian. The consequences of this political paradigm are still to be seen.
I can’t help but compare the overthrow of Mohammed Morsi to the overthrow of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez back in 2002. They have striking similarities. On April 11, 2002, after days of massive protests and more than 20 deaths in clashes between opposition protesters and government supporters, the military chain of command ceased following President Chavez’ orders. A coup followed. Next morning a civilian government backed by the military and headed by businessman Pedro Carmona was installed in Venezuela. Carmona decreed that Chávez’ newly drafted constitution was dismissed, and all other public authorities were dissolved.
Chavez was imprisoned on the island of La Orchila. But in the meantime thousands of his followers came out to the streets clamoring for his return. Again violence followed and the newly installed military-backed civilian government didn’t have the chance to fight back. On April 13 a palace plot between elements of the military and Chávez regime members, backed by the street chaos caused by Chávez' militant followers, took the upper hand and ousted the newly appointed civilian government. He returned more powerful than ever, justified by the failed attempt to overthrow his democratically elected regime.
As Bay of Pigs was for Cuba’s Fidel Castro in 1961, the 2002 attempt to overthrow Chávez actually made him stronger. His followers were more convinced than ever of the legitimacy of his cause. After all, a conspiracy of the powerful and wealthy proved that Chávez was the man of the people. This narrative became common rhetoric even when hundreds of thousands of discontented bourgeoisie-minded marched against him, demanding his renunciation or a coup just days before.
Is this the case of Egypt? We can’t know yet. But the truth remains that Morsi was democratically elected and now is being ousted by a military coup, even when the coup was called by a multitude of discontented civilians. Whatever comes after this action will cast a shadow of doubt on any civilian government backed by the military. The Muslim Brotherhood is still a wide-reaching political machine, as Chávez party was in Venezuela. Unless Morsi is killed, he still has leverage to fight back. Egypt’s counterrevolutions are just beginning.