Thursday, July 18, 2013

Coup in Egypt or Not? The Implications Under International Law

The Egyptian election commission announced on 24 June 2012 that Mohammed Morsi won the presidential election with 51.7 percent of the vote, exceeding the 48.3 percent of his contender Ahmed Shafik and effectively becoming Egypt’s first democratically-elected president. Yet since he assumed office in 2012, many questions have arisen as to the legitimacy of Morsi’s acts. He has been accused of governing in a totalitarian manner reminiscent of the Mubarak era. Hundreds of thousands took to the streets after Morsi temporarily granted himself unlimited powers to “protect the nation” and legislate without judicial review. Various opposition groups questioned the legitimacy of the assembly tasked with drafting the new Islamist-backed constitution. Many protested the purging of hundreds of Mubarak-era officials from government institutions. Some accuse Morsi’s policies of crushing Egypt’s tourism industry and the wider Egyptian economy.Morsi-Arrest

On 30 June 2013, marking Morsi’s one-year anniversary in office, mass protests erupted across Egypt calling for the Morsi’s resignation. On 1 July, the Egyptian Army warned that it would intervene if the protesters’ demands were not met within 48 hours. On 3 July, defence minister Abdul Fatah al-Sisi, with the support of opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei, the Grand Imam of Al Azhar Ahmed el-Tayeb and Coptic Pope Tawadros II, declared that Morsi was dismissed from office. Morsi was arrested and taken to an undisclosed location.

On the same day, the Office of the Assistant to the President on Foreign Relations & International Cooperation issued a press release stating: “For the sake of Egypt and for historical accuracy, let’s call what is happening by its real name: Military coup.”

Is this press release correct in characterizing the 3 July events as a military coup? If so, what implications would a coup have on the legitimacy of the new Egyptian government? My essay on the dismissal of Morsi from power, published by the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation and available at this link, examines these questions in light of international law and state practice.