News / Middle East

Was the Military Ouster of Morsi a Coup... or Not?

Supporters of President Mohamed Morsi carry a banner with his pictures during a protest to counter anti-Morsi protests elsewhere in Alexandria, July 2, 2013.
Supporters of President Mohamed Morsi carry a banner with his pictures during a protest to counter anti-Morsi protests elsewhere in Alexandria, July 2, 2013.
— On July 3, the Egyptian military ousted the democratically elected president and senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Morsi. He was deposed after a year in power, and three days after millions of Egyptians took to the streets protesting the way he ran the country.

Mirette Mabrouk, with the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, said Morsi accumulated power to himself, refused to take any advice and wouldn’t work with anyone else - in short, said Mabrouk, he did a dreadful job.

“As a result, there were people who were politically opposed to the president,” she said. “There were people who were morally opposed to the president and there were people who were tired, hungry, had gotten sick and tired of consistent power shortages, petrol [gas] shortages, soaring inflation, soaring unemployment - and people had really just had enough.”

Morsi ignored economy

John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under former President George W. Bush said Morsi’s government completely ignored the economy.

“That’s the real reason so many millions of Egyptians came out into the streets to demonstrate against Morsi. They wanted the economy fixed first,” said Bolton. “They might have been willing to accept an Islamist government, but only after the economy was back on its feet. And that misperception of the average Egyptian’s priorities, I think, cost Morsi very dearly.”

But when the military moved in and deposed the democratically elected president, was it technically a coup?

Was It a coup?

Jeffrey Martini, an expert on Egypt with the RAND Corporation, said there is no doubt it was a military coup.

“The military could have intervened with a scalpel, but they intervened with a hammer. They deposed the president, took him into custody. They took a number of senior officials within the Muslim Brotherhood into custody,” said Martini. “They shuttered the Freedom and Justice Party’s Cairo headquarters which, of course, is the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood; suspended the constitution, dissolved the upper house of Parliament and took over the flagship newspaper. So I think taken together, it certainly looks like a coup to me.”

But the Obama administration has been hesitant in describing the military takeover as a coup.

US hesitates

White House spokesman Jay Carney said: “This is an incredibly complex and difficult situation. President Obama made clear our deep concern about the decision made by the Egyptian armed forces to remove President Morsi from power and to suspend the constitution. It is also important to acknowledge that tens of millions of Egyptians have legitimate grievances with President Morsi’s undemocratic form of governance and they do not believe that this was a coup.”

Carney also said that there are “significant consequences” that go along with determining that the military takeover in Egypt was a coup.

Experts say one such consequence has to do with aid. The Foreign Assistance Act stipulates the U.S. will shut off its military aid to “any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup.”

US provides substantial aid to Egypt

Jeffrey Martini said the United States provides Egypt with two types of aid.

“The biggest stream is what we call the Foreign Military Financing, the FMF. And that’s set at $1.3 billion. So Egypt receives $1.3 billion annually, which they invest in military platforms like the F-16, the M1-A1 Abrams tank, attack helicopters. And then, of course, the operations and maintenance that is required to operate them.”

That is the aid that will stop if the Obama administration decides what happened in Egypt is a military coup.

Martini said the second type of aid to Cairo is non-military, known as the “Economic Support Funds” worth $250 million in fiscal year 2012.

He said whether it is military or economic aid, the money makes its way back to the United States.

For example the $1.3 billion in military aid goes essentially to U.S. defense contractors, who provide the military hardware Egypt is acquiring.

“Let’s look at the Economic Support Funds. That had historically been used for economic development in Egypt,” said Martini. “But since the revolution, it has been used to pay down Egypt’s bilateral debt with the United States. So it’s essentially going to the U.S. Treasury. The U.S. is cutting a check to itself, in both instances - in the sense that for the FMF, for the Foreign Military Financing, it’s cutting a check to defense contractors, basically. And for the Economic Support Funds, it’s cutting a check to the U.S. Treasury.””

Martini said when U.S. lawmakers and experts are discussing cutting off military aid to Egypt, they are in essence talking about harming the U.S. defense industry as well.

Photo Gallery: Latest Images from Egypt

  • Supporters of Egypt's ousted President Mohamed Morsi perform weekly Friday prayers at the Rabaa Adawiya square in Cairo where they are camping, July 12, 2013.
  • A supporter of Morsi is doused with water on a hot day in Cairo, July 12, 2013.
  • Supporters of the ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi shout anti-army slogans during a sit-in protest in Cairo July 11, 2013.
  • Morsi Supporters pray after breaking their fast during Ramadan, in Nasr City, Cairo, Egypt, July 11, 2013.
  • An Egyptian boy stands among Morsi supporters who are offering the Tarawih prayer after the evening meal during Ramadan, in Nasr City, Cairo, July 10, 2013.
  • Supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi during a rally in Nasr City, Cairo, July 10, 2013.
  • Supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi protest at the Republican Guard building in Nasr City, Cairo, July 10, 2013.
  • A supporter of ousted President Mohamed Morsi joins in a protest at the Republican Guard building in Nasr City, Cairo, July 10, 2013.
  • A supporter of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi reads the Koran at the Rabaa Adawiya square, Cairo,  July 9, 2013.
  • Supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi at their camp in Rabaa Adawiy square, Cairo, July 9, 2013. 
  • A supporter of ousted President Mohamed Morsi with a national flag gestures to army soldiers guard at the Republican Guard building in Nasr City, Cairo, July 9, 2013.
  • Members of the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of Morsi at Republican Guard headquarters in Nasr City, Cairo, July 8, 2013. 
  • Supporters Morsi carry the body of a fellow supporter killed by violence outside the Republican Guard headquarters in Cairo, July 8, 2013.
  • Morsi supporters mourn protesters who died during clashes with army soldiers in Cairo, July 8, 2013.
  • Wounded supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi wait for treatment at a field hospital in Cairo, July 8, 2013. 

Andre de Nesnera

Andre de Nesnera is senior analyst at the Voice of America, where he has reported on international affairs for more than three decades. Now serving in Washington D.C., he was previously senior European correspondent based in London, established VOA’s Geneva bureau in 1984 and in 1989 was the first VOA correspondent permanently accredited in the Soviet Union.

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