Last week, we started by considering the nature of the military coup in Egypt. Although seen as a condemnable act in politics and international law, we identified some of the justifications for the general support by the international community for the coup. However, we did show reasons why we need to thread softly to avoid setting a dangerous precedent, taking a brief look at the military interregnums Nigeria’s political history. You can read the posthere.

As promised last week, we will be closely discussing the different theories that have been developed to justify the “democratic coup” in Egypt. The three theories are: “the safeguard theory”, “the democratic coup”, and lastly, the “guardian coup” theory. 
In politics and government, coup d’etat is widely unacceptable and highly condemnable as a means to gain power.[1]Also worrisome are some of the condemnable acts the military have been perpetuating in power. Apart from placing the overthrown president under house arrest, they have also been shutting down opposition television stations. If these acts are seen as being reasonably acceptable in a military regime, can we also justify the military firing live ammunition on demonstrators? Can such an act be equally justified?
Are these not similar to the kinds of action meted out to other African rulers like Patrice Lumumba in Congo, and Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana, backed by CIA forces? Without any support whatsoever for the increasingly despotic actions of Morsi, should we in the name of a “democratic coup” watch the Egyptian military treat Morsi and the Brotherhood in the same way, backed by the United States and the United Nations?
There are genuine concerns and fears that the precedent for military overthrow of democratically elected governments has been set. We must be cautious in finding certain justifications for the military takeover in Egypt.
Perhaps, it is for the purpose of ensuring that these justifications are well-founded that different theories have been developed to excuse the “democratic coup” in Egypt. In other words, these theories are attempts to show why the bloodless coup d’etat in Egypt may be healthy for the north African country’s democracy.
In an article by Fisher,[2]three theories were identified:

Coup as safeguard against the real threat to democracy (the Safeguard theory):
This is believed to be the most common theory of the three currently held by most people. It is the safeguard principle which holds that the military was merely enforcing the will of the people against Morsi who is seen as the real threat to the country’s democracy. No one argues that Morsi’s government was not a democratic regime since he was elected to office by the people.
However, true democracy is not all about the means alone, but the end as well. Morsi had increasingly turned a “democratic despot” against his electorates. According to Fisher, the Morsi government “appeared to be rapidly accumulating its own power; many critics saw it as becoming authoritarian.”
As with every theory, apart from the merits above, there are certain demerits as well. One big issue is the appropriateness of the authority involved in determining whether the Morsi government had actually crossed the line. One would have expected that in a democratic society, the institutions of government such as the judiciary, are better placed to determine this, and not subjected to the “whims or machinations of unelected generals” (5). Having the military who are constitutionally in charge of the internal and external security of Egypt, assume such responsibility is too dangerous to embrace. In the words of Fisher:
“This implicitly leaves the military as the ultimate authority, not the rule of law or democratic ideals. It’s true that Egypt’s court system is far from robust – and often viewed as loyal to former President Hosni Mubarak’s old order – but if the military believes that it has to step in because no other institution has the capacity to enforce rule of law, it could have at least delineated clear standards for what merits intervention. While the defense minister did list complaints against Morsi’s government when announcing the coup, future presidents have little clarity on what will or will not spur their own ouster.”[3]
The Military only carried out the wish of the people (the ‘Democratic Coup’):
Millions of protesters had filled the public squares and streets in the week-long massive demonstrations against Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood-led government. The military did not intervene until the expiration of the 48 hours’ notice it gave to the Morsi administration to attend to the demonstrators. Eventually, SCAF leader Abdul Fatah Khalil al-Sisi announced on television that the Constitution is being suspended and a government will be installed led by the chief justice of the Supreme Court.
Joshua Keating, a associate editor, explored the theory of the “democratic coup d’etat”,[4]from the point of view of Ozan Varol:
“Varol cites three case studies: the 1960 Turkish Coup in which the military overthrew the ruling Democratic Party, which had gradually consolidated political power and cracked down on political opposition and the press; the 1974 Portuguese Coup, also known as the Carnation Revolution, in which the authoritarian “Estado Novo” was overthrown by the military after tanking the country’s economy and embroiling it in a series of unpopular wars in its African colonies; and — interesting in this context — the 2011 ouster of Hosni Mubarak.”[5]


Join me next week to complete this discourse on the “democratic coup” in Egypt. Believe me, you don’t want to miss it. Catch ya!

[1] Jean d’Aspremont, Responsibility for Coups d’Etat in International Law, Tulane Journal of International and Comparative Law, Spring, 2010 18 Tul. J. Int’l & Comp. L. 451
[2] Max Fisher, “The ‘guardian coup’ theory: Was Egypt’s coup actually good for democracy?
[3] Max Fisher, “The ‘guardian coup’ theory: Was Egypt’s coup actually good for democracy?
[4] The theory of the “democratic coup d’etat” was first put forward by Law professor, Ozan Varol, now a professor at Lewis & Clark Law School, in the Harvard International Law Journal.

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Nigerian Law Today

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