In many democracies, an internal process allows for populist intervention to overthrow a leader who has proven incompetent or, for whatever reason, has lost legitimacy in the eyes of the majority. Impeachment, a parliamentary vote of no confidence -- these types of mechanisms make the will of the people part of the political system of checks and balances that keep government, and individual elected leaders, from neglecting their responsibilities. These mechanisms are critical to keeping leaders accountable and legitimate. Egypt lacks such a process, a consequence of which is the high risk strategy now being implemented by the secular opposition.
This weekend's protests, marking the first anniversary of President Morsi's election, are an attempt by Egypt's liberals to mount a soft military coup against Morsi. What the individuals driving Egypt's fragmented opposition movement apparently fail to see is the potential for this soft coup to become a hard military overthrow that will set back Egyptian democracy for a decade.
Yes, Morsi has mismanaged his country's economy. Yes, he has failed spectacularly to inspire his people with either rhetoric or action. And yes, his choices around policy reform have been ill advised and have often exacerbated an already bad situation. Like so many democratically elected leaders, he took a fairly won opportunity to make his country better and squandered it.
But in calling for Morsi to step down, Egypt's still-leaderless opposition is playing a dangerous game. His removal, they (to the degree that a unified voice with a coherent strategy can be identified) argue, would clear the way for authority to be passed to a team of unspecified technocrats, which could then appoint a panel of constitutional experts to redo the disliked constitution. The military would temporarily assume control to facilitate this.
Well, quite frankly, the opposition is playing with fire. Replacing Morsi this way (bearing in mind that right now, the emergence of a clear liberal leader with majority backing seems extremely unlikely) would lead in all likelihood to a decade of military rule. Egypt would be condemned to repression and economic stagnation until its polarized parties' protests fizzle -- a tragic throwback to 1980s Latin America.
Instead of holding out for a few more years under Morsi to give Egypt's still inchoate democracy a chance, the opposition is gambling recklessly with the future of all Egyptians. Time that would have been well spent by the opposition to create a real plan for governing is being wasted on a strategy that promises a return to Mubarak-era repression. The Morsi anniversary protests are no short cut to real democracy. They are steps further down a long tunnel that ends in military dictatorship. Egyptians be warned.
This post initially appeared on the Canadian International Council's OpenCanada.org website.