by Daniel Martin Varisco, Middle East Muddle, Anthropology News, July, 2013

The removal of Mohammed Morsi as president of Egypt has generated a frenzy of talking head punditry that shows little sign of abeyance, at least until another Middle Eastern leader bites the dust. Was it a coup? Was it yet another people’s revolution? Was it a failure of democracy? Did the Obama administration support the ouster? Was Morsi trying to make himself into a modern day Pharaoh? Tut, tut, sings the chorus of pundits.

Beyond the rhetoric back and forth, here is a reality check. The military has always been in charge of Egypt since Nasser took power in a well-recognized coup in 1952 that toppled a puppet king. Sadat and Mubarak came from the military, no matter what the status of their election. The military owns Egypt, quite literally, and is its main economic player. Morsi was not elected over the objection of Egypt’s top brass, but his attempt to weaken the power of the military is probably the main reason for his downfall.

In one sense of course it is a coup. It was the military, not the protesters, who really stormed the Bastille. It is the military who is keeping charge of Morsi and pushing for legal action against him. But in another sense it can hardly be called a coup when the military never gave up its power. Morsi was given slack, perhaps to let him fail on his own, but he never had any real power. Despite the official rhetoric, the leaders of most, if not all, Western nations are quite happy to see Morsi out of the way. At least a bloody corpse was not posted on state television, as happened at times in old-style army coups in the region. No American or European policy makers wanted to work with the Muslim Brotherhood any more than they do with Hamas in Gaza or with the militants calling for a new caliphate in Syria.

But here is the dilemma for scholars who study Egypt and have lived there. Egypt’s history, ancient, post-Arab conquest and modern, is a gold mine for researchers in a number of disciplines…

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