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What's in a Name?

US government in a quandary over how to define Morsi's ouster by military junta due to academic, political and financial considerations.
By Gil Ronen
First Publish: 7/9/2013, 10:06 AM

Military on Cairo streets
Military on Cairo streets
Reuters

The United States government has not yet decided whether the regime change that took place in Egypt at week's end qualifies as a revolution or as a coup.

The decision is crucial, because defining the event as a coup would require the Obama administration to to cut off about $1.3 billion in annual aid to Egypt, most of which goes to the military.

The White House said at week's end that the Egyptian military would not be punished with a cutoff of its annual aid for toppling Morsi.

But if the Administration makes a legal determination that the removal was done through a coup d’etat, U.S. law would require ending all non-humanitarian aid to Egypt. Administration officials said lawyers were still reviewing developments in Egypt, in order to make that decision.

Hi tech news website Geekosystem points out that the battle over the right way to name the events is also being waged on the pages of online encyclopedia Wikipedia, where editors are debating between themselves what term to use.

"While the events of the last week do seem to constitute an according to Hoyle coup,” writes Geekosystem, “some Wikipedians feel it’s hypocrisy to refer to the first round of protests that removed Hosni Mubarak from power — in which the military also played a key role — as a revolution and [to] the latest removal of President Morsi following mass demonstrations [as] a coup.”

Here are some highlights from the debate:

Editor “Bless Sins” says that “Reliable sources have called the move a coup d'etat. This includes Paul Sullivan, an expert in international relations at Georgetown University in Washington, and Abdallah Schleifer, a journalism professor at The American University in Cairo.”

Editor coinmanj adds his two cents: “This is part of an ongoing change in Egyptian politics. If anything, it should be another part of the '2011 Egyptian Revolution'. The ultimate fate of Egypt has yet to be resolved and given the chain of events I find it hard to conclude this is a second revolution.”

Editor Tocino notes, “All successful coups have varying degrees of public support, otherwise, they would inevitably fail. The fact remains here is that the army has forcibly removed and appears to have arrested a democratically-elected president who was just one year into his first four-year term. Not to mention they have also thrown out a constitution that was passed through a referendum just last year. It might be politically inconvenient for Western governments to label what happened in Egypt as a 'coup', but Wikipedia shouldn't succumb to these same pressures.”

Another commenter quotes a dictionary definition of the term “coup d'état”: "[a] coup consists of the infiltration of a small, but critical, segment of the state apparatus, which is then used to displace the government from its control of the remainder." In this case, he notes, “The government was not displaced by a small segment of the state apparatus. The people were the primary drivers.”

"How is what happened in 2011 a revolution and not a coup, but what happened now a coup and not a revolution?,” asks another editor.

“All non-violent revolutions happen with the army yielding to revolutionaries,” notes Petri Krohn. “The same happened in Eastern Europe in 1989. As to the legitimacy of the revolution? Morsi may have his supporters in the countryside and only people in Cairo took part in the protest. But then again, how many people had a say in the French Revolution of 1789–1799? Power always changes hand in the capital.”