In Egypt, a coup is a coup

Lieutenant General Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi addresses the nation on Egyptian State Television.
Lieutenant General Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi addresses the nation on Egyptian State Television.

A coup is a coup is a coup. But the big surprise in the Egyptian mess is that it took so long to come to this, because the road from the Arab Spring to the ouster of the Morsi government was littered with obstacles.

As this post-revolutionary phase was born, the influential voices in the world that might have helped sustain it stood back, hoping that the old guard might hang on - think Hillary Clinton and her assurance that the old regime kept Egypt stable.

And in the instability that followed, the old guard had a lock on the courts and the military, and the Islamists were so hungry for power that they did a deal with the devil: allowing the military to retain much of its power and its economic base.

None of the armchair critics ever explained how a new government, however naive or brilliant, might succeed when all its key decisions were being second-guessed by judges appointed by the old regime.

Backed into a corner, Morsi did the undemocratic thing, emulating his predecessors: he decreed new powers for himself, which is not a good look when you're claiming to hear the voice of the people.

Morsi might have been more inclusive, but there was a problem with the numbers - the Islamists did too well in the elections and in a part of the world where the winner takes all, it was too hard to share power.

Overlaying all this was the parlous state of the economy. Such were the soaring expectations of the Egyptian masses for jobs and fairer, more realistic prices, that no one - let alone a new, inexperienced government - could deliver.

Morsi's men were locked in a struggle with the International Monetary Fund over the terms of a $US4.8 billion loan that, once squared away, might have been a green light for more generous foreign aid.

But even that was a double-edged sword - getting the IMF funds probably would have required a reduction in state subsidies, which would have caused price rises, which would have caused great unrest - and even louder calls for the overthrow of the government.

There is a silver lining in this cloud. When Egyptians finally were allowed to vote, the Islamists defeated the secular forces that were the backbone of the revolution, because in their years being suppressed by Mubarak and his predecessors, the Muslim Brotherhood and the other parties needed to learn how to organise.

The footage that we are watching of the Tahrir Square crowds this week tells us that the rest have learnt how to organise.

Bring on the next election, then?

Don't hold your breath - given the history of the Egyptian military, why would you believe a Cairo general when he tells you that he's merely expediting plans for an election and - oops! - he forgot to mention there was a time limit to his planning.

Sydney Morning Herald