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The Deposing of the Egyptian President, as Seen on Social Media

BY Lisa Goldman | Wednesday, July 3 2013

Anti-Morsi demonstrators in Cairo (flickr/Zeinab Mohamed)

One year after he became Egypt's first democratically elected leader, Mohammed Morsi has been booted from power. The army has placed the now-former president under house arrest. The ouster came following four days of mass demonstrations, with protestors shouting many of the same chants that were heard during the 18 days leading up to Mubarak's resignation in February 2011. Two days into the demonstrations, the army issued an ultimatum to the government: It was ordered to resolve the political crisis within 48 hours. Or else.

The "or else" turned out to be what many are calling a military coup. Others reject the term, often angrily, pointing out that Morsi badly mismanaged the economy, instituted anti-democratic / authoritarian rule, failed to respond to the protestors' concerns and refused to call early elections despite widespread and vocal discontent with his government. The army, they say, is merely carrying out the wishes of the people — i.e., the deposing of Morsi.

Morsi's Freedom and Justice party won both parliamentary and presidential elections over the past 18 months, but then alienated many supporters with its mismanagement of the country, particularly of the ever-deepening economic crisis. Low salaries, unemployment, gasoline and water shortages and rising prices for basic commodities all contributed to the erosion of the Islamist president's popularity.

The fiscal tailspin has been exacerbated by the government's failure to bring security and stability, which has seriously undermined the crucial tourism industry.

The government's authoritarian attitude also infuriated many; it was most infamously illustrated by Morsi's statement that he was above the law, but perhaps first came to the attention of American readers when Jon Stewart rose to the defense of Bassem Youssef, an Egyptian comedian who hosts the wildly popular Al Bernameg (The Program) — a weekly satire show inspired by Stewart's The Daily Show. Youssef, who regularly mocked Morsi on his show, was charged by the Egyptian general prosecutor with insulting the president and Islam.

The revolution was tweeted (and Facebooked)

One of the most salient aspects of the events that unfolded from June 30-July 3 is the role played by social media, mostly YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, in providing a platform for both reporting and direct communication from the government, the army, the government's supporters and the opposition. Even the New York Times, which usually eschews the practice of quoting social media in its news reports, referred to government statements that were issued on Facebook.

In the weeks leading up to the anti-Morsi demonstrations that started on June 30, which many journalists described as larger than those that led up to the resignation of Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, a secular opposition group initiated a campaign called Tamarod (Rebel). The organizers of the campaign's website, which is in Arabic, French, English and German, claimed they collected over 22 million signatures to their online petition calling upon Morsi to schedule early elections. Egypt watchers tweeting about the anti-Morsi demonstrations scheduled for June 30 used the hashtag #tamarod.

Mahmoud Badr, one of the founders of Tamarod, explains the goals and methods of the movement

Over the four days of demonstrations, there were some extraordinary social media moments.

  • The administrator of the President Morsi's official Twitter account tweeted in Arabic that he confirmed his constitutional legitimacy to remain in power, and called upon the army to rescind its 48-hour ultimatum.
  • Khaled Fahmy, head of the history department at the American University of Cairo (AUC), wrote a long Facebook post titled The Seven Deadly Sins of the Muslim Brotherhood, in which he predicted that the 85 year-old Islamist movement was "finished." The post was shared over 1,000 times and widely tweeted.
  • A grassroots organization called @OpAntiSH (Operation Anti Sexual Harrassment) formed groups with distinctive T-shirts to protect women from sexual harrassment at Tahrir Square, where at least 46 assauts were reported between June 30 and July 3. The organization's Twitter account collected nearly 20,000 followers. The organizers also posted accounts of sexual assaults on Facebook.
  • Essam el-Haddad, Morsi's senior advisor on foreign affairs, wrote a Facebook status on his official page that opens with, "As I write these lines I am fully aware that these may be the last lines I get to post on this page."

A few hours later, el-Haddad's lugubrious prediction came to pass. In a statement delivered on state television, military commander-in-chief Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi announced that the High Constitutional Court would rule Egypt during an interim period pending early presidential elections.

Army seizes control

But even as El-Sisi claimed in his statement that the army's roadmap going into elections included "national reconciliation," security forces moved to detain at least 38 Muslim Brotherhood leaders. They also placed Morsi under house arrest, shut down Muslim Brotherhood media outlets such as the television station Misr 25 and took control of state television.

Egyptian security forces also raided and shut down Al Jazeera's Arabic broadcasting service in Cairo, just as the Doha-based television station was showing live images of masses of Egyptians cheering the ouster of Morsi at Tahrir Square. Al Jazeera Arabic is widely perceived to have a pro-Brotherhood bias.

The moment Egyptian security forces stormed Al Jazeera Arabic's Cairo studio and abruptly shut down the broadcast.

One of the defining elements of a coup d'etat is seizure of the ruling party's communications media. The military's rush to shut down the Muslim Brotherhood-aligned media elicited mixed responses from those who oppose both military rule and Morsi. But on the streets of Cairo the celebrations continued, as seen in these videos, even as Morsi's opponents reacted with rage and disbelief.

Morsi supporters reacting to El-Sisi's speech announcing the military's overthrow of the government.

Meanwhile, on Twitter, Yale political science professor Stathis Kalyvas wrote, "What happened today in Egypt is terrible and will only benefit radical Islamists everywhere." With Morsi and his supporters emphasizing that their government's legitimacy is derived from a democratic election, the fact that they have been driven from power by force after only one year of governing, no matter how badly they bungled things, is likely to feed into a simmering rage fueled by their sense of being persecuted. The question is whether the rage will explode or not.

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