Coup Risks Rising


BMI View: Egypt is at risk of a military coup, if President Mohamed Morsi continues to lose control of the country, or is perceived as such. However, if the armed forces were to seize power, this would risk polarising the country further.

BMI sees the growing possibility of a military coup in Egypt, if violence continues unabated. The defence minister, General Abdel Fattah El-Sissi, warned on January 29 that the country faced the risk of ' collapse ' that could ' threaten future generations ' . His comments followed days of violence across Egypt, in which dozens of people were killed. On January 28, President Mohamed Morsi declared emergency rule in the cities of Port Said, Suez, and Ismaila, all of which are along the vital Suez C anal. In addition, Egypt has seen clashes between pro-Morsi Islamists and secularists opposed to the president coinciding with the second anniversary of the overthrow of former president Hosni Mubarak. Morsi ' s assumption of ever greater powers following his election as the country ' s first democratic and Islamist president in June 2012 have fuelled fears of creeping Islamist authoritarianism, as opposed to the liberal democracy that many demanded when Mubarak was deposed . There is also widespread disappointment that the post-Mubarak era has been so unstable and that the economy has deter iorated over the past two years, as evidenced by the Egyptian pound falling to record lows in January 2013.

Although the latest outbreak of violence was ostensibly sparked by a court ' s decision to sentence several people to death for the killing of dozens of football fans in Port Said in 2012, it is yet another indication of the deepening societal divisions and growing security vacuum that have characterised Egypt since the second half of 2012.

Military Will Remain Pillar Of The State

Egypt ' s armed forces have been the strongest pillar of the state since the revolution of 1952, and during the ensuing decades, the military also accrued vast business and commercial interests. When Mubarak was overthrown in 2011, the military effectively seized control of the country and steered it towards democratic elections. However, j ust prior to the second round of the 2012 presidential election, the military stripped the presidency of many of its powers, in anticipation of a victory by the Islamist candidate, Mohamed Morsi. Morsi subsequently dismissed the Egyptian military ' s top leaders in August 2012 and reclaimed executive and legislative powers, and in November he assumed new judicial powers ( see November 23, 2012, ' Morsi's New Powers Raise Risk Of Overreach ' ). This heighte ne d fears that Morsi was becoming increasingly autocratic, and led to widespread protests. Meanwhile, w ith Morsi having appointed his own leaders of the military - including General Sissi - it became clear that the armed forces and Islamists had formed a tentative alliance. More recently, d emonstrators also feared that Egypt ' s new constitution, which was approved by referendum in December 2012 (albeit with a l ow turnout of only 30 %), would have a distinctly Islamist character.

Military Coup Would Be Very Risky

Against this overall backdrop of deteriorating stability, we see growing risks of a military coup. We do not believe that the armed forces want to seize power per se. Rather, the military could come to believe that it has little choice but to step in to restore stability. Even though the top generals were mostly appointed by Morsi, their loyalty is to the state rather than the president. With violence on the streets spiralling out of control, and the economy teetering on the edge of a full-blown crisis, the military could claim justification for a coup in the name of restoring order.

That said, a coup would be enormously risky for the military. An outright seizure of power would mean that the military would have to take responsibility for the economy as well as public order. The experience of comparable countries that have experienced coups in recent years, such as Pakistan (1999), Thailand (2006), and Bangladesh (2007), has shown that while coups were initially welcomed by the public as a means of restoring stability, the armed forces lost support within six to twelve months, leading to calls for new elections.

In addition, a coup in Egypt would be very controversial, for it would mean that the secular ancien regime would be overthrowing the country ' s first democratically elected president. This could lead to heavy criticism from the US and European countries, despite their misgivings about Morsi. Furthermore, the fact that the military would be removing an Islamist president would invoke memories of the Algerian military ' s coup to pre-empt the election of an Islamist government in 1991, which led to a decade of civil war in that country .

This article is tagged to:
Sector: Country Risk
Geography: Egypt, Egypt