On November 22nd, 2012, President Mohamad Morsi issued a decree giving himself broad, unquestionable legislative powers, and immunity from court action.
On that day, his government fell, though it would take months until it finally hit the ground.
On that day, Morsi proved that he did not believe in democracy, did not respect the rule of law, and he became a tyrant, an illegitimate leader.
On that day, mass protests began that injured thousands, killed nearly a hundred, and brought his country to the brink of civil war. On July 3rd, there were running street battles between Islamists and the secular opposition. The military stepped in to avert a certain descent into all out chaos.
Let's just go through the whole timeline of recent events in Egypt, shall we?
From June-November, Morsi installs Islamists in positions of power and purges the military of Mubarak-era leaders. He wrangles with people internally during a constitutional convention, and is frustrated by secular opposition to Islamist amendments. He respects the rule of law, and behaves as a democratic leader should.
At this point he appears to be nothing more that a severely conservative democratic leader, but one who has a dream of setting up an Iranian-style theocracy. He even proves for a moment that he has some diplomatic skill, brokering a peace deal between Israel and Islamists in Palestine, ending a week-long spate of violence that killed almost 200 people.
Corruption is rife in the nation, which leads to its own protests, but this is to be expected considering the corruption that existed under Mubarak, and the difficulties of putting the country back together after revolution.
Morsi brokered the Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire on November 21st, 2012.
On November 22nd, after the courts threatened to dissolve the islamist-led constitutional convention, Morsi issues a decree barring the courts from questioning his decisions. He rams through a draft constitution in defiance of the law and the rights of the minority. He declares that the draft constitution will be voted on in an immediate referendum.
This action is illegal.
Mass demonstrations begin immediately.
In December, Morsi reacts to the demonstrations by rescinding his decree, with the caveat that nothing he did while given extralegal powers could be questioned. So, while rescinding the decree, he refuses to undo the other illegal actions he has taken, most importantly forcing the constitution through the convention, and holding an illegitimate vote.
Despite mass protests, Morsi claims that his constitution was supported in a referendum by a landslide of 64%. Opposition figures claim that not only was the referendum itself illegal, but the vote was fraudulent, pointing out that a man willing to declare himself beyond the authority of the courts cannot be trusted.
In January, Morsi's government sentences 21 youths to death by hanging over a deadly spate of football hooliganism. Riots erupt in the cities from which the youths are from. Morsi issues a decree giving himself emergency powers to quell the riots. This politicizes football fans, bringing them into the streets to protest Morsi's actions.
Protesters begin disappearing. It is confirmed that at least 30 people were disappeared by Morsi's government in January, though civil rights activists claimed the numbers were much higher.
By February, football fans are thoroughly politicized, and have joined the opposition in protest of Morsi's leadership.
In march, the US provides Morsi's government with a small amount of aid contingent on democratic reforms. After recieving the aid, Morsi begins rounding up and arresting his political opponents, including democratic activists, and the Egyptian Jon Stewart, a man named Bassem Youssef. Bassem Youssef's crime is making fun of Morsi's hat and lack of English skills.
April sees continuing protests. In may, Morsi fires moderates from his cabinet, replacing them with hardline Islamists. On June 4th, 43 people, including nine Americans, are convicted of "illegal interference" within Egypt. All of them worked for charitable nonprofits. All of the NGOs were forced to close.
By June 30th, 2013 Egypt has deteriorated to the brink of civil war. Running street battles between supporters of the president, and members of the opposition, rage in most of the major cities. Over the past few months, hundreds have died, and thousands have been injured. The largest mass protest in Egypt's history occurs. Depending on the source reporting, somewhere between 14 and 20 million people took to the streets to demand Morsi's resignation. If true, this could make the anti-Morsi protest the largest ever recorded, not just in Egypt, but worldwide.
Disappearances, the jailing of comedians and activists, the closing of charitable NGOs, declaring oneself above the authority of the courts; these are not the acts of a legitimate democratic leader. His failures, his heavy handed leadership, and ultimately his disdain for democracy and the democratic process brought his country to the point that, as Mohamad ElBaradei said recently, it was either military intervention or civil war.
Such a war may still break out, and those who are speaking in support of the islamists are right to be concerned.
The military itself has been quite heavy handed in rounding up the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood, and suspending the constitution pending new elections.
Those who say that this is dangerous, that Islamists may refuse to participate in democracy are correct to be concerned. But Islamist ideals are not compatible with democracy.
To paraphrase Ed Husain, a former Islamist: to the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamists, democracy is haram, forbidden. Allah is the head of the government, and it is the will of Allah that must be done, not the will of the people. It can be no other way. A belief in such ideals, first set down by the founder of Islamist ideology, Egyptian Sayyid Qutb, may explain why Morsi was so quick to flout the rule of law and defy the courts.
Knowing that Islamists are ideologically and institutionally opposed to democracy should explain exactly why the opposition was not willing to trust the vote on the constitution.
If future Islamist governments refuse to respect the democratic process and the rule of law, as Morsi and his government did, it may not be possible for Islamists to ever find a place within a democratic government. In order to participate in Democracy, they must respect the rule of secular law and the fact that it must come before the Quran, they must respect the will of the people over their interpretation of the will of Allah.
Until these democratic and secular ideas become compatible with the philosophy and worldview of the Muslim Brotherhood, until they stop seeing democracy as a stepping stone to a theocracy, until they stop undermining democracy whenever they gain power through democratic means, peace may not be possible.
The time may come when only military defeat can force the Islamists to change their beliefs.
I do hope that peace can prevail in Egypt, and in the rest of the middle east, but for the left in North Africa, for the secularists, peace might only be achievable when a secular government has achieved a monopoly on violence.
It is a complicated, imperfect, and dangerous situation.
But on the whole, I do think that Egypt will be better off without a dictatorial tyrant like Morsi at the helm, ruling by decree, and dispensing with democracy whenever it stands in the way of his march towards theocracy.
There's a question being raised repeatedly (and very respectfully I want to add) about whether a military coup can actually benefit the people of Egypt. (There's wrangling about whether we should call this a coup.) I think the people raising those questions deserve a detailed response.
I do think calling it a coup is appropriate. If you look at the coup that led to Democracy, the Military made huge mistakes. The interim government ordered the protesters cleared, and it was a disaster. In a way, our revolution was itself a kind of military coup against the lawful constitutional monarchy. The will of the democratically elected leaders in London was thwarted by force of military arms.
In America, we have had our own history of violence. We had the whisky rebellion. We had the civil war. We cannot forget the lives that we lost establishing that democracy must have a monopoly of force.
We must not forget that while democratically elected, our first president was a military strong-man who crushed rebellions. We must not forget that the protection of our Democracy under Lincoln required martial law and a suspension of constitutional liberties. That is what it took to protect our nascent democracy. In Egypt, it seems to require a military intervention as well.
If you see what I did there, it's very easy to boil down a complicated situation, and make things look undemocratic. Like the ongoing American Revolution, the situation in Egypt is too complicated for a few paragraphs.
You are right to be concerned about the Egyptian Military. I do think, however, that they've learned their lesson about trying to hold on to power.
The following video went viral before the last elections. It is exceptionally graphic, and shows protesters being fired on and beaten to death. Trigger warning.
The video is titled "Violations of the Military Council." (Click here to watch if the video does not load.)
What grew out of this absolute disaster was Democracy. The ruling council pressed for elections. The military remembers what happened, and I really hope they won't repeat this mistake. They don't want to unite Islamists, Leftists, and Moderates against the military, which is exactly what would happen if the Military breaks their promise to work towards elections as quickly as possible. The neo-nassarists, who do exist, are a very small group. There will not be wide support for a return to Mubarak-style dictatorship.
The problem during the last elections is that the left and the moderates were divided. Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party were able to split the difference between the moderates and the left and sail to victory.
There are peaceful (for now) demonstrations by the FJP and the rest of Morsi's supporters today.
The Muslim Brotherhood's FJP may be allowed to participate in elections, but it is extremely unlikely that they will gain the support of the voters again. This is for two reasons. First, Morsi's leadership was a disaster. Second, the left and moderates have united into the National Salvation Party, under the leadership of Nobel-Laureate Mohamad ElBaradei. The secularist vote will not be split.
The Ex-Mubarak moderates and the left-wing opposition have agreed that in order to secure a secular constitution and a permanent democracy, they must unite against the far-right theocrats.
The center-left coalition, the ElBaradei's National Salvation Party, is likely to roll over the FJP in any elections to come.
There is a real risk of civil war. Just throw "Civil War Egypt" into google, and you'll get a lot of results. There have already been actions in Sinai, and at least one soldier has died, but it is unclear if this is a reaction to Morsi's ouster or part of the ongoing tribal conflict that has existed in Sinai since the Egyptians invented written language.
People rightly point out the Islamist insurgency in Algeria, which claimed 200,000 lives.
The question we have to ask ourselves is whether democracy is worth fighting for.
I do not understand how one can look to the government of Egypt after November 22nd, 2012, and call autocratic rule by decree "democracy" with a straight face. Neither should we call the British Rule of the colonies democratic, or Cromwell, or Napoleon, or any other leader who was elected only to become a dictator.
In the US, if a President from any party announced that he was going to ignore the supreme court, there would (i hope) be open revolt right across the political spectrum.
All of that being said, no government can be effective until they have successfully established a monopoly of force. All government is built on the power of gun and sword, good or bad.
We must continue to fight to guarantee that those who wield the power of the government, who control the monopoly of violence, always answer to the people.
We must be ever vigilant here in our fight to protect ourselves from militarization of the police, from government overreach, and from violation of our civil liberties. This is one of the reasons why we are so concerned when we hear about military interventions. At our stage of Democracy, we must prevent the development of a police-state.
Our fights are not the fights that the people of Egypt face. They must first establish the government's monopoly on force, and enforce the rule of law. The disassembling of the police state and the expansion of civil liberties will ultimately be part of Egyptian democracy, but they are not there yet. They must first establish a constitution, a secular state, and the rule of law.
Those who are worried are very right to be worried. But Egypt is not America. Their democratic revolution and ours are at different stages. They have to figure this out on their own.
And from all the reading I've done, and all that I've already seen, I trust the youth of Egypt to secure for themselves a democratic, secular state.
The kids are alright. Here, and there. Trust them, and they'll make you proud.