I am not a big fan of conspiracy theories. Rather the opposite, I tend to be quite dismissive of them. However, one is chasing me since last Friday. Suddenly, that day I remembered an interview I conducted on February 9th with Abdullah Kamal, the architect of Shafiq’s presidential campaign and former leader of the NDP (Mubarak’s political party). Kamal made a bizarre prediction: Morsi would fall in a few months forced by the army and the mobilization of people in the street. At the time, I did not take that seriously. But I remember being struck on his smile and his confidence while describing such an unlikely scenario. Six months later, those words have another value. Was it just a matter of coincidence?
The official version argues that the army took the decision to remove Morsi after seeing the big demonstrations of June 30th, and fearing a descend into a civil war. I suspect that this narrative is not complete. Here it is the list of things that make me feel suspicious that there is something more:
-The sudden talk of “civil war”: In the first two weeks of June, Egypt experienced some clashes between supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and the opposition. The toll was not very high. However, on June 21st the army warned about the possibilities of a “dark tunnel of conflict”, and gave a one-week ultimatum to the “politicians” in order to solve their differences. Otherwise, the army would step in. Few days later, Al Azhar went a step further, and issued a communique speaking of “civil war”. At the time, all this gloomy warnings seemed an exaggeration. They still do. Not even now Egypt is heading to a civil war. Those warnings, were just extreme caution or was there anyone interested in creating a sense of alarm?
-The street violence: The organizers of the June 30th protests, were very careful to prevent any kind of violence in their marches. Ahmed Maher, the leader of the April 6 Movement, told me that they had convinced the “Black Block” movement to avoid carrying any “direct action” that day. And indeed, the demonstrations were peaceful. However, at night, a group of people tried to storm the central headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood. It was a very nasty battle. They were a lot, well armed, and seemed organized. That evening, other offices of the Brotherhood were torched in several cities in the north. Was all this violence really spontaneous? Were they really “revolutionaries” or “baltaguiya” (Egyptian word for paid thugs)? One thing we know for sure is that the police was not there to protect the headquarters, or to prevent any of the clashes between alleged pro and anti-Morsi supporters that took place those days. Who was interested in those days being violent and chaotic?
-The success of “tamarrud”: The founders of “tamarrud” are a group of idealist young revolutionaries, who claim to have gathered 22 million signatures against Morsi, which is almost half of the adult population in Egypt. We knew that secular parties like Doustour had helped them. However, they are almost absent from rural Egypt. Did NDP patronage networks also provide some help?
Mubarak-era businessmen were not specially happy with the new regime. Thanks to the NYT, we know that Naguib Sawiris -the richest Egyptian tycoon- gave “tamarrud” publicity through his TV networks. They also got some help from the army. With its statements on June 21st and July 1st , the armed forces created a sense of expectation that pushed many people to the streets. Unlike previous unsuccessful demonstrations, people felt this time that Morsi could really fall. And they took the streets. Was all this spontaneous?
-The oil and electricity crisis: The weeks before June 30th Egypt went through a serious oil and electricity crisis. The lack of oil provoked big lines of cars and trucks in front of gas stations, while power cuts were acute all over the country. Both problems disappeared suddenly after the coup d’etat. It is possible that a sense of paranoia before June 30th increased the demand of oil. And it is also possible that the energy-saving measures launched in May explains the end of power outages … Or maybe there is something else to this sudden and notable improvement? It is well-known that the state bureaucracy was hostile to the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood, a group that less than two years before the government was fighting.
-The role of al-Sissi: Thanks to excellent reports by AP and the NYT, we can have an idea of Morsi’s last hours in office. One of the most intriguing aspects of these pieces is the role played by the minister of Defence, Abdelfattah al-Sissi. Both agree on the defiant attitude that Morsi adopted when dealing with the protests. However, he seemed ready for a compromise the last day. Then, al-Sissi said it was too late. We also know that al-Sissi tried to reassure Morsi about some decisions that suggested a coup may be coming. In fact, until he was arrested, the president did not think the man he appointed in August would turn against him. We also know that the intelligence services withheld information to Morsi about army deployments before the coup. Did al-Sissi lead Morsi on? When did he really decide to overthrow Morsi, before or after June 30th ? Were the intelligence services on board?
The essence of the notion of conspiracy is the existence of a secret plan designed by a set of actors with a shared purpose. We will never probably know if there was a conspiracy in Egypt to overthrow Morsi, since those involved would have no incentives to reveal it. In fact, the events of Egypt’s “Revolution 2.0” could have perfectly unfolded as they did without any planning and cooperation. There were many actors who were interested in his downfall and they could have acted on their own to undermine the presidency: the police, the intelligence services, media tycoons, state bureaucracy, the Grand sheikh of Al Azhar, businessmen with links to the former regime … even the Gulf countries, which released billions of dollars to Egypt as soon as the Brotherhood left. The big question is whether there was some sort of coordination among them, which would not be very difficult since most of them are linked through personal connections.
Having said al this, I don’t think of Morsi as a victim. As I wrote in a recent post, he was the main responsible for his fall. Had he governed with a little wisdom, the conspiracy, if there ever was one, would not have succeeded.