NEW YORK – Putting an end to Egypt’s deepening polarization and rising bloodshed requires one urgent first step: the reinstatement of Mohamed Morsi as Egypt’s duly elected president. His removal by military coup was unjustified. While it is true that millions of demonstrators opposed Morsi’s rule, even massive street protests do not constitute a valid case for a military coup in the name of the “people” when election results repeatedly say otherwise.
There is no doubt that Egyptian society is deeply divided along sectarian, ideological, class, and regional lines. Yet the country has gone to the polls several times since the February 2011 overthrow of Mubarak’s 30-year rule. The results have demonstrated strong popular support for Islamist parties and positions, though they also make clear the country’s schisms.
In late 2011 and early 2012, Egypt held parliamentary elections. Morsi’s Freedom and Justice Party, created by the Muslim Brotherhood, secured a plurality, and the two major Islamist blocs together received roughly two-thirds of the vote. In June 2012, Morsi defeated his rival Ahmed Shafik, Mubarak’s final prime minister, by a margin of 52-48% to win the presidency. In a national referendum in December 2012, a 64% majority of those voting approved a draft constitution backed by the Muslim Brotherhood (though turnout was low).
The secular argument that Morsi’s lust for power jeopardized Egypt’s nascent democracy does not bear scrutiny. Secular, military, and Mubarak-era foes of the Muslim Brotherhood have used every lever at their disposal, democratic or not, to block the Islamist parties’ democratic exercise of power. This is consistent with a decades-old pattern in Egyptian history, in which the Brothers – and Islamist political forces in general – were outlawed, and their members imprisoned, tortured, and exiled.