Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Egypt: Fancy Explanations and Safe Exits

Some have offered an ingenious account of what really happened when Morsi 'retired' Tantawi.  Some admire the account and say it explains everything.   I'm not quite sure I understand it, but here goes.   Tantawi, increasingly unpopular, was planning a coup.   His replacements, Sisi and Annan, plotted with Morsi to oust Tantawi, because those officers thought Tantawi's planned coup would fail.   The coup pre-empting a coup sealed the cozy arrangement between SCAF and Morsi, and guaranteed a safe exit for the torturers and murderers within the armed forces.   Or something like that.

The account is worth some attention.

For one thing, we don't want an account that explains everything, we want the best explanation.   Many accounts explain everything:  the reader might enjoy making up such an account using Israeli agents, or space aliens, or  the CIA.    If these were the only alternatives, we might prefer an account which didn't quite explain everything, but which had fewer assumptions.   And more, oh, evidence.   It's not even clear the double-coup account does explain everything:  I don't get how it explains why Morsi tore up all the constitutional revisions that provided a basis for SCAF's authority, including, of course, the authority of Tantawi's replacements.  But suppose it does.

If it does, another matter  needs addressing.   How does this double-coup account change the political significance of the events?  Given the constitutional changes, Tantawi's replacements have just as thoroughly lost the basis of their authority as Tantawi himself.   So the equilibrium between Morsi and SCAF is just a memory.   That this was done with the connivance of some apparently dim-witted generals makes no difference to the outcome.   All it does is tell a story more complicated than the obvious one:  that Morsi got pissed, or saw what he judged was his chance, and at least tried to dump SCAF.  Normally, the simplest explanation is preferred.

Finally, what about the safe-exit component of any explanation offered?   Here we get beyond explanatory shenanigans.   Those who cannot stop demanding justice for the military's disgusting crimes should take heart.   There is no safe exit.   The closest thing to it would be an insecure life in exile, with INTERPOL, international tribunals, or similar bodies going after the culprit's money and freedom.    The recent history of Latin America demonstrates why safe exists are virtually impossible.

In Argentina - only one example - the military criminals left power with every conceivable legal and legislative guarantee of impunity.   After a while, when civilian government was established, all these guarantees were swept away and, contrary to pretty much everyone's expectations, a good many torturers and murderers landed up in jail.   Of course there are still fugitives and of course some many never be brought to justice, just as is the case where ordinary civilian crimes are concerned.   But a safe exit?   It doesn't matter what promises Morsi makes - and it is bizarre that the same people who accuse Morsi and the Moslem Brotherhood of breaking promises even worry about this.    It doesn't matter what pompous assurances are written into the constitution or endorsed by some legislative body.   It cannot matter.

If you have an exit, if the military actually loses or voluntarily surrenders power, someone or some other institution is sovereign.    A sovereign can't be bound by past words, past pieces of paper.   These can always be undone - otherwise the person or institution isn't sovereign after all.   There can certainly be an exit, even an exit in style. but it cannot be safe.   The only way SCAF's criminals can find safety is by remaining in power for the rest of their lives.

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