Opposition figures have been flirting with the possibility of various kinds of coups against an incompetent, unpopular -- though democratically elected --
president. Some, like April 6th's Tarek al-Khouli and human rights activist Dalia Ziada, have
explicitly called for military intervention. Others, like Mohamed ElBaradei and Ahmed el-Borai have taken to issuing what the journalist Evan Hill calls "non-request
requests" for the army to step in. Still others, including leaders of Tamarod, have called for the
judiciary to intervene and "annul" Morsi's presidency.
According to Article 174 of Egypt's (admittedly outdated) penal code, "incitement to overthrow the government" is a
punishable offense. In most established democracies, there are similar clauses prohibiting
"advocating overthrow of government," as I pointed out here
in The Atlantic last August. But, as revolutionaries themselves will be the first to point out, revolutions are, by definition, illegal. Something
illegal can, at the same time, be right or legitimate, particularly if one is operating according to revolutionary rather than democratic legitimacy.
Opting for a revolutionary course this late in the game -- after more than two years of transition and five elections -- means starting from scratch with
little guarantee that the second time will be much better. At some point, the past cannot be undone, except perhaps through mass violence on an
unprecedented scale. If the first elected Islamist president is toppled, then what will keep others from trying to topple a future liberal president? If
one looks at Tamarod's justifications for seeking Morsi's overthrow, the entire list consists of
problems that will almost certainly plague his successor. They have little to do with a flawed transition process and a rushed constitution that ran
roughshod over opposition objections and everything to do with performance ("Morsi was a total failure in achieving every single goal, no security has been
reestablished and no social security realized, [giving] clear proof that he is not fit for the governance of such a country as Egypt," reads the Tamarod statement of principles). Legitimacy cannot depend solely or even primarily on effectiveness or
competence. If it did, revolution could be justified anywhere at any time, including in at least several European democracies.
That said, there is little doubt that Morsi suffers, perhaps more than anything else, from a legitimacy deficit, which, in an un-virtuous cycle, undermines
governance, and so on. The key, then, is finding a way to bring disaffected Egyptians back into the political process -- a process from which they believe,
with good reason, they have been excluded. This will require major concessions on Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood's part, including guaranteeing a fair
electoral law with robust international monitoring, revising the most controversial articles of the constitution, and the formation of a caretaker national
unity government until parliamentary elections are held later this year. Some in the opposition, of course, see the continuation of Brotherhood rule in
near-apocalyptic terms and are unlikely to be satisfied with such concessions. The hope, though, is that enough concessions will be enough.