France Cautiously Watches as Egyptian Turmoil Deepens

An anti-Morsi protest breaks out in downtown Cairo, capital city of a politically troubled nation. Photo: Gigi Ibrahim for flickr.

An anti-Morsi protest breaks out in downtown Cairo, the capital city of a politically troubled nation. Photo: Gigi Ibrahim for flickr.

Speaking from a state visit to Tunisia, French President François Hollande addressed the populist military coup that has ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi.

While President Hollande refrained from directly condemning the coup, he urged the Egyptian military to respect the democratic process, and expressed his hope for a return to civilian rule in the country. He expressed disappointment that Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, had been unable to reach a deal with the military.

“We must do everything to make sure that [the democratic process] can be resumed on a pluralistic, inclusive basis,” he said.

“It is a failure when a democratically elected president is deposed. It is a failure when a population rises up, bringing millions of people to demand the end of a president’s mandate.”

“The democratic process has stopped, and it must return,” he said.

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius also voiced his concern over Egypt’s future, saying that the situation had “worsened seriously,” and expressing his hope that “the Egyptian people can freely choose their leaders and their future.”

Hollande also addressed the political situation in Tunisia, where the Arab Spring began two and a half years ago with the ouster of strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

“France is committed to helping you succeed in the revolution that you started,” he told his hosts. “Clearly, you also have an obligation to succeed because you are an example, a reference point, for many of the Arab peoples.”

In the modern Islamic world, Tunisia is an example of a relatively peaceful balance of power between political Islam and secularism. As the recent anti-Erdoğan protests in Turkey underscored, such balances are hard to find and difficult to maintain. Morsi’s failed presidency stands as the most recent testament to this fact.

France appears to be putting all of its hope for Arab democracy in Tunisia. According to Fabius, if one Arab state has “the best chance of succeeding with democracy, it’s probably Tunisia.”

“It’s not a very big country, but it is quite developed, there’s a tradition of respect for women, and it has economic resources but needs aid,” Fabius said.

Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki, a left wing secularist, denounced Morsi’s ouster and urged Egyptian authorities to ensure that the deposed president is “physically protected.”

The ruling Islamist party Ennahda joined Marzouki, accusing the Egyptian military of carrying out “a coup against legitimacy.”

Tunisia’s democratic transition has met its own hurdles, however. Earlier this year, opposition leader Chokri Belaid was assassinated, prompting fears of possible Lebanese-style instability. French Interior Minister Manuel Valls made remarks about “Islamic fascism” after the murder, upsetting Ennahda.

During its time as the sole arbiter of power in Tunisia, Ennahda was accused of seeking to take over the entire country despite its limited mandate—precisely the charges that are being leveled against Morsi in Egypt.

As part of a political compromise, Ennahda appointed nonpartisan ministers to key government posts. It now shares power with two secular parties. Since then, Tunisia has enjoyed relative, if somewhat tense, stability.

Tunisia also made headlines in France earlier this year when it jailed three Femen activists for publicly baring their breasts. The trio walked free last week on appeal.

In Egypt, meanwhile, observers fear that the Arab world’s cultural and intellectual heart may collapse into violence. Clashes across the country yesterday left at least 17 dead and 200 injured. Three people were reportedly killed when soldiers allegedly fired live rounds into a crowd of Morsi supporters. More died in mob violence on Qasr el-Nil bridge in the heart of Cairo. Sexual violence has been a particular nightmare for female protesters, at least 80 of whom were raped in Tahrir Square alone yesterday.

The Muslim Brotherhood has offered to hold peace talks with the army and the opposition, but has said that it will accept no deal that does not restore Morsi to the presidency.

Acting President Adli Mansour has dissolved the Islamist-dominated upper house of parliament. Morsi, however, has refused to acknowledge his removal as valid, and continues to call himself the legitimate president of Egypt.

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  1. […] from a state visit to Tunisia, French President François Hollande addressed the populist military coup that has ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi. While President Hollande refrained from directly […]

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