Can a military coup ever be a good thing? Well, until Wednesday, I didn’t think so. Now, I think that there is one and only one set of circumstances where a country’s armed forces ousting a democratically elected government is both positive and democratic change: when those forces are following the will of the people.

No one can tell what the future will bring in Egypt, so I’d like to clarify that my opinion is based on my current understanding of the situation. My perhaps oversimplified understanding breaks down like this:

1. Fed up with decades of oppression, the people of Egypt rise up and demand dictator Hosni Mubarak step down. The military eventually backs the protesters. Mubarak resigns.

2. The people vote in Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood in the country’s first democratic elections ever.

3. The people are unhappy with Morsi’s performance and even less so with his restrictions on their personal freedoms, despite promises that he wouldn’t restrict freedom of expression (best summation of this I’ve heard comes from The Daily Show).

4. They rise up en masse. Some call it the largest protest in human history, while others deny that claim, they all admit it was damn big.

5. The military backs the people and removes Morsi from office, temporarily putting Adly Mansour, the head of the Egyptian Supreme Constitutional Court, in charge until new elections can be held.

Basically, the people elect someone, they’re not happy with his performance, they want him removed and he gets removed and there will be new elections. I don’t have a problem with that.


Barack Obama has a problem with it, he says he is “deeply concerned.” So do some Republicans in Congress. Some are even urging him to withhold the aid the U.S. sends Egypt every year.

The American response is expected. They were already rattled when the people forced their close ally Mubarak out and now the new guy they also don’t mind working with is gone as well. No one knows who they’ll have to deal with next.

Their response is also quite hypocritical given the number of times they have looked the other way when democratically elected governments fell to armies. There’s also all those times the states engineered coups themselves through the CIA.

Rhetoric aside, this isn’t really about whether or not it’s okay for the military to take power, something that should never be acceptable. Egypt’s military didn’t seize control and install a dictator, they followed the wishes of the masses, removed a leader from office and made way for new elections.

True, Morsi hadn’t served his full term. But Egyptian democracy is still a work in progress, the details will come with time. We just got one procedure of democracy in Egypt.

In some countries, there are highly bureaucratic ways to remove an elected official who has broken the public trust and become autocratic before their term is up. In Egypt the process is simple: get enough people into the streets.

This is an experiment in instant democracy. It sets a precedent and that’s why western leaders are scared.

Say a politician in the west gets elected on the promise of more jobs, but neglects to mention that those jobs will all be prison guards ’cause he’s gonna build more jails and throw a bunch of people in them. Now imagine this is a parliamentary democracy like Canada and this leader has a majority government and can’t be removed for four years.

By then, the damage might be done. What if there was a way to call bullshit and force a new election?

You’d better believe that politicians would think twice about doing something that may cost them their job sooner rather than later. They’d also think twice about gerrymandering or caving to lobbyists, because they can be fired by their real bosses, the electorate, in an instant.

Stephen Harper isn’t afraid of a robocall scandal, Toronto can’t even get Rob Ford out of office. But if what just happened in Egypt inspires a form of instant democracy in the west, minus the military aspect (I don’t for a second believe our armies or police work for the people), then we could be in for some real change.

If political office ceases to be long term contract work and democracy can happen in an instant, politics will change forever. The most important democratic movement yet may have been made possible by a military coup.


In Washington and Ottawa, signs of political unwillingness and inaction for Syrian intervention are beginning to show. All signs suggest a concerted misleading effort to end Syria’s civil war are nothing more than empty rhetoric and political shadowboxing.

Following recent UN reports alleging use of chemical warfare in Syria, UN investigator Carla del Ponte claimed the Syrian opposition is likely behind the deadly use of sarin gas. The Obama administration sees it differently. Jay Carney, White House Press Secretary said:

“We are highly skeptical of suggestions that the opposition could have or did use chemical weapons,” he said. “We find it highly likely that any chemical weapon use that has taken place in Syria was done by the Assad regime. And that remains our position.”

Idol images of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad

It would seem unlikely that del Ponte, a former Chief Prosecutor of the UN War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, would cast serious warrantless accusations against the free Syrian army. While moderate opposition factions reject committing atrocities Al-Qaeda operatives in arms with the rebels are  more willingly capable.

Moreover, the situation on the ground is overly exaggerated. Assad is not universally unpopular in Syria as certain secular groups, Alawite and Christians minorities support Assad’s regime, which has protected them from the Suuni majority.

The consternation is that reversing the tide in Syria without a strongman to hold factions together would unleash the floodgate of religious sectarian violence, like in Iraq. Many fear brutal persecution and repression under the Muslim Brotherhood like in Egypt.

Despite contending intelligence, the US remains unwavering in its support for the Syrian rebels. US interests necessitate greater regional alliance following the Arab Spring and decades of US backed dictatorships. Syria, among others, continues to be a US proxy between China, Russia and Iran that are supporting Assad’s regime.

Tehran represents a second Mecca for Shiite Muslims and rising Shiite regional hegemon. Iran’s strategic alliance with Assad, Lebanon, Iraq and other states consolidates an adversarial Shiite Crescent against the Brotherhood’s predominately Sunni centre.

It is unlikely Israel’s air strikes on Syrian targets will bring their American allies into a four-front war to curtail Shiite regional hegemony.

Syrian rebels with a captured Army tank. Image via Freedom House.

Proponents for intervention should err on the side of caution and not expect substantial US involvement. Provided Obama’s past Syrian effort has proven feeble. Particularly last year’s inactivity after discovering mass graves in Aleppo. The atrocity alone constitutes a crime against humanity and justified outside intervention.

Nevertheless, after Obama’s statements, Canada’s Parliament convened yesterday in an emergency session to debate Syria’s situation. In subdued atmosphere, MPs shared few consensus on courses of action. Deepak Obhrai, Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Secretary called for exercising caution and waiting for the civil war to stop before rushing into building Syrian civil society.

NDP Foreign Affairs critic Ève Péclet warned that inaction and undefined action is dangerous for Syrians and blamed Harper’s Government of not renewing support for the UN mission after voting for it. She also remarked that Harper’s failure to secure a seat in the Security Council does not help the situation nor does cutting Canada’s funding to rights and democratic development organizations. She continued to accuse Harper of emphasizing trade with China and Russia over pressuring them to end the Syrian conflict.

Paul Dewar, NDP Foreign Affairs critic, reported that in addition to town-to-town torture, women are being systematically gang raped by a Syrian militia that “insert[s] a live mouse into the woman to destroy any sense of dignity that might have been left for this woman.”

Péclet further explained that rape is used to demoralize Syria’s community and prevent Syrians from speaking out.

Syrian children inherit this trauma. UNICEF now reports 2 million displaced Syrian child refugees. According to Dewar, Damascus has targeted bombs at schools containing children.

Such reports to Ottawa would likely have also been received in Washington. All signs indicate a concerted effort from the Obama-Harper governments to mislead the public into believing that they intend to help end Syria’s civil war.

Péclet words perhaps best summed up last night and two years of political inactivity in Syria: “It is absurd to talk here about Syria without actually doing anything.”

Whatever Washington and Ottawa’s intentions for Syria one should not expect the cat to weep for the dead mice.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. It looks like people in Egypt plan to deal with their new boss Mohammed Morsi the same way they dealt with his predecessor Hosni Mubarak a few years ago. They’re taking to the streets in mass numbers and Morsi has declared a state of emergency. Unfortunately, there has also been considerable violence, injuries and even a few deaths. There were last time, too. It’s clear why this is happening again. Mubarak was a despot and Morsi has started acting like one, too. The spark for these recent protests seems to be public hangings ordered for people who took part in a soccer riot. Mubarak was an autocrat closely tied to the west. Morsi is a theocrat closely tied to Islam. Mubarak’s friends and Morsi’s religion are simply window dressing. It seems like the Egyptian people get it. They didn’t rebel against Mubarak because of his ties to the west or lack of devotion to Islam, they rebelled because he acted like a dick for over three decades.

Their threshold for dictatorial seems to have diminished considerably. Morsi better shape up quick or it looks like he will be shipped out, too. Activists and progressives in the west could learn from Egyptian protesters. I’m not talking about violence, but rather maintaining focus on what we’re really fighting for and against. Too often we let a new leader that we helped bring to power get away with the same things we hated about their predecessor. Why? Because they bring up new issues that we also may support and deal with those, thus distracting us. They change the discourse.

rossanneIn the US, it turns to social issues. Obama has no problem with two dudes marrying and neither do I. What really should be a no-brainer human rights issue gets clouded when the challenger starts talking like it’s the 50s and his associates make a bunch of really stupid and scary comments about rape. All of a sudden, people forget that Obama hired all the bankers who screwed up the economy instead of arresting them and really has a thing for predator drones. People vote for him because the other choice is just plain ridiculous. If I was American, I probably would have voted for him, unless I lived in a safe blue state, then I would have voted Roseanne. I’m not, I’m Canadian. In Canada, we’re still in our Mubarak stage. Harper is the clear enemy of anyone who is remotely progressive, we all know we need to fight him at every turn and get rid of him when his term is up (democratically, of course).

maroisI only hope that those whoever virulently opposes Harper now won’t accept any Harper-esque tactics, ideas or policies from whomever takes his place (assuming someone does, of course). An all-out prick is so much easier to mobilize against than a wolf in sheep’s clothing. In Quebec we recently overthrew our Mubarak, so to speak. The Maple Spring lead to the political demise of Jean Charest. The question now is whether Pauline Marois will go the Morsi route. Will she focus on her religion of Quebec sovereignty and la langue francaise while ignoring the rejection of austerity (tuition increase) and authoritarianism (Bill 78) that brought her to power? If she does, will people see through the distraction and take to the streets again? Only time will tell. Egypt has raised the bar. If the new boss is truly the same as the old boss where it counts, then the reaction of the people should be the same, too.

There’s reason to believe that the fledgling democracy in the largest Arabic country in the world is in grave peril. Sadly, more than a year after the Egyptian people rose up in revolt and overthrew the kleptocratic regime of Hosni Mubarak, in a relatively peaceful revolution, the remnants of the old deeply corrupt establishment are coming back to haunt them.

In a highly suspect decision last week, the Constitutional Court of Egypt, packed with cronies of the former dictator, found that the current election law to be unconstitutional (based on which constitution?), ipso facto, making the entire election invalid and dissolving parliament. In a double whammy for the Muslim Brotherhood, who had previously held the majority, the court also ruled that Ahmed Shafiq, presidential candidate who had served as Prime Minister, among other things, under the Mubarak administration, was eligible for the office of president. As a result, new elections for the parliament will have to be organized.

Most troubling of all, amidst all this uncertainty, on Sunday Egyptians went to the polls yet again to elect their first president democratically. The dissolution of Parliament so hastily means that he could take office without any checks on his executive power. He would presumably still wield the tyrannical powers afforded the President under the old Republican constitution and have no independent and legitimate judiciary or functioning parliament to challenge his authority. As one respected elder statesman and dissident Mohamed El Baradei was quoted as saying: “The election of a president in the absence of a constitution and a parliament is the election of a president with powers that not even the most entrenched dictatorships have known.”

The provisional constitution (if it can be called that?) imposed by SCAF (the name of the military junta) basically gives the junta complete control over the institutions of government as well as power to nominate the Constituent Assembly tasked with writing the new democratic constitution and veto power over any provisions that it deems unconstitutional.

Why the architects of the revolution didn’t look to the South African model for making the transition democracy with a strong set of checks and balances, is beyond me. That country had no tradition of democracy either, and was forced to create all of its institutions from scratch, after the collapse of Apartheid in South Africa. The first lesson of South Africa is this: the framing of a democratic constitution should come first. And that this document will, in turn, serve as the basis for regulating all the other institutions that come afterward (i.e. parliament, judiciary, etc.).

In South Africa’s case, after the racist Apartheid regime was declared dead by the ruling government of the day, a bunch of political parties, including those that participated in the maintenance of the apartheid system, were invited to a constitutional negotiation in which they hammered out a temporary compromise constitution which would be binding on all parties until a permanent constitution could be enacted.

Subsequently, elections were held and the Constitutional Assembly that came to power were called upon to draw up another constitution that would respect and expand on the principles enshrined in the provisional constitution. As yet another precaution against dictatorship, the new constitution would have to be ratified by both the legislature and the constitutional court before coming into force. In 1996, it did just that, and then President Nelson Mandela signed the bill into law thus marking the beginning of a new era in South African politics based on the rule of law. The rest, as they say, is now history.

With democracy hanging in the balance, we’ve entered a critical phase of Egypt’s post-Mubarak history. It now seem all but certain that Muhammad Mursi, the moderate Islamist, will be declared the winner of Sundays presidential elections, despite his rival Shafiq’s claims to the contrary. But will he have the legal tools he needs to take on the power of the junta? It’s a pity that Egyptians put the cart before the horse, by electing an assembly before establishing the constitutional parameters of their new government.

Nelson Mandela photo courtesy South Africa The Good News, via Flickr

As I clicked on yet another internet petition, this time designed to stop the reckless destruction of Oceanic Eco-systems ( AAVAZ.ORG “24 hours to end Ocean clear-cuts”), I realized that I was participating in what has become an increasingly alarming or encouraging trend, depending on how you look at it, in political activism: the internet social network driven protest. In a 2007 interview with CNN, Canadian celebrity lefty and best-selling author Naomi Klein made the following observation about this novel form of registering one’s anger over alleged injustices: “It’s safer to mouth off in a blog than put your body on the line. The Internet is an amazing organizing tool but it also acts as a release, with the ability to rant and get instant catharsis. It’s taken that sense of urgency away.”

Despite her quasi-celebrity status, Ms. Klein has no time for what she calls “Bono-ization” of the protest movement. A phenomenon whereby celebrities take on popular cause célèbre (i.e. developing world debt) and lobby governments (I.e. Paul Martin) to take action. This may alleviate some of our guilt in the developed world over the seemingly horrible social and economic inequities that have been caused, in part, by the globalization of the economy, but it is, in her view, a kind of vicarious protest, at best, and very unlikely to put serious pressure on politicians or cause any substantive changes at the policy level.

In the interview, Ms. No Logo goes on to urge us to take our protest to the next level by leaving the comfort of our homes and getting involved in confrontational, and indeed, potentially dangerous direct action type protests. “We have had mass social movements that are messy — and that leads to some kind of negotiation and some kind of representation. What I see from the Bono camp is that they dismiss street protest as a bunch of gripers, whereas they (Bono) are being constructive because they are engaging with power”

While I would concede that online petitions lack the drama of street protests and direct action, I’m also skeptical about the possibility of finding causes that will truly bring people out on to the streets in an effort to change the hearts & minds of our leadership and the general public. The cynicism with which most people view mass demonstrations is unfortunate but understandable, and is related to the inability of recent movements to reverse the course of governments in certain highly controversial cases. Take the anti Iraq war protests, for instance. Massive protests were held all over the world, including Canada, against this war (over a million turned up in London alone!). The result of this: In Britain, at least, absolutely nothing. The Blair government had already crossed the Rubicon, and decided to join the US on its inexorable path to war. In the face of such appalling disregard for the voices of protesters, can anyone really blame people for being less and less likely to take to the streets? Bono may look ridiculous sometimes, mugging for the international press in the company of war criminal and buffoons like former president George W. Bush, but there is little doubt that his heart is in the right place as he attempts to persuade world leaders to address the issues of poverty and the growing disparity between haves & have nots.

But the greatest rebuttal to this plea for less internet activism and more traditional forms of protests must surely be the recent examples of internet activism that led to actual revolutions in places such as Egypt and Tunisia. Let’s never forget that so many of these protesters were able to co-ordinate their actions through the social networks (i.e. Twitter). Not to mention, disseminate the latest news from the street to the whole world using internet activism, giving us all the vicarious thrill of participating in a bona-fide old school revolutionary movement! The likes of which hasn’t been seen since the end of the cold war.