According to news reports — especially those of the New York Times‘ estimable David Kirkpatrick — the secular liberals in Egypt are brooking no opposition to the military overthrow of President Morsi as they embrace the very powers-that-be that, two short years ago, they considered the essence of oppression. Assuming that their memories are not short, it is important to try to understand their point of view.
The best I can do is to hark back to the words of the eminent Moroccan philosopher Abdou Filali-Ansary, who I had the pleasure of hearing speak at Oxford when the Arab Spring was still green. In his view, at the heart of the revolutions was a commitment to “ultimate values shared universally” regarding governance, civil society, and accountability. That commitment could, he said, be summed up in the Arabic phrase dawlat al-haqq wa’l-qanun–the rule of law, or, more precisely, a state bound by law that respects rights.
In 2011, this secular principle was to be found everywhere in Arab discourse, and was “more effective than the slogans of the Islamists.” It motivated the protests in the streets.
What the liberals saw in the Morsi regime this year was not a new Egyptian state bound by law and respectful of rights but a power grab of, by, and for the Muslim Brotherhood. I’d say that they have staked their future on the Egyptian military as the only force capable of preventing that from happening — and one more amenable to dawlat al-haqq wa’l-qanun than Morsi and the brothers ever would have been.
Their bet may be a long shot. But, I’m guessing, their calculation is that the alternative was an even longer one.