This is not a military coup d'etat. It is simply a peaceful revolution."
-Joseph Mobutu, September 1960
Defenders of the July 2013 Egyptian coup will point the thousands protesting, the dozens of deaths, and President Morsi's creeping authoritarianism as justification for the maneuver. Indeed, the situation was precarious. Such were the conditions in the newly independent Republic of Congo when Joseph Mobutu used political chaos to justify his "neutralization" of President Kasa-Vubu and Prime Minister Lumumba. I posted the above quote from Mobutu on my rarely used (and even more rarely visited) twitter account upon reading about the Egyptian military's ultimatum to President Morsi. The statements just seemed so similar.
But Egypt isn't the Congo, of course.
To be fair, coups have more popular support than many might think. We can't get much objective data since surveys are rarely conducted in countries that are prone to military coups, but the World Values Survey's efforts in Pakistan in 1997 and 2001 happen to bookend Musharraf's 1999 coup and gives us a glance at how a polity might view military intervention. Included in the survey was a question about how respondents would feel about different entities running the government, including the military. The results are quite revealing:
E116.- I'm going to describe various types of political systems and ask what you think about each as a way of governing this country. For each one, would you say it is a very good, fairly good, fairly bad or very bad way of governing this country?
Political system: Having the army rule
Response 1997 2001
Very Good 25.2% 1.7%
Fairly Good 16.3% 2.5%
Fairly Bad 58.5% 44.3%
Very Bad ---- 51.5%
"... most Pakistanis are eager to give General Musharraf the benefit of the doubt, agreeing with him that their wobbly and troubled democracy needed to be demolished so it could be rebuilt on a surer foundation."
Egypt, of course, is not Pakistan.
To be fair, history does have examples of coups promoting democratization, perhaps more than people realize. Democracy's "third wave," for example, began following the Portuguese military's toppling of the Novo Estado regime, described as "Europe's oldest dictatorship." More recently, Niger saw its polity score (a common resource for measuring democracy for quantitative scholars which ranges from -10=least democratic to +10=most democratic) decline from +6 to -3 under Mamadou Tandja. His continued authoritarian entrenchment drew the ire of the Economic Community of West African States and got the west African nation suspended. After his ouster the new government undid the increase in presidential powers, Niger returned to its previous +6, and international relations were normalized. A would-be strongman was ousted, democracy strengthened.
But Egypt isn't Niger.
The Egyptian military is not simply ousting a leader that may have been overstepping his mandate as Tandja did. They have targeted an entire political movement in the Muslim Brotherhood. This might remind some of the Algerian crackdown on the Islamic Salvation Front. For those that don't recall, the FIS dominated the first multi-party election in Algerian history, only to see the military step in and veto the results "to preserve the security of the nation and its citizens" (New York Times). The following months witnessed thousands (perhaps even tens of thousands) of FIS supporters imprisoned and a full transition from electoral politics to guerrilla warfare. As many as 150,000 were killed and massacres were too common to count.
Let's hope Egypt isn't Algeria.