Joel Brinkley: Egypt's elaborate production

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From the start, it was a world-class piece of political theater.

The recent massive demonstrations involving millions of Egyptians are said to have persuaded the Egyptian military to throw President Mohammed Morsi out of office. Actually, however, military and opposition leaders along with government and business officials appear to have planned all of it in advance.

What better evidence could there be than the sudden, overnight resolution of several major problems that infuriated millions of Egyptians, prompting them to demonstrate? Massive gasoline shortages that led to hours-long lines at filling stations. Long, daily electricity blackouts. And a near-total absence of police on the streets, causing a sharp spike in crime and massive traffic problems. Morsi incompetence, right?

Well, in the few days after Morsi was thrown out of office, all of these and other problems just magically solved themselves. Electricity and gasoline were suddenly abundant again. No gas station lines, no blackouts. And police miraculously reappeared and took up their beats again.

Was this simply a grand performance designed to prompt an uprising against Morsi?

A year ago, Egyptians elected Morsi, a former Muslim Brotherhood officer, in the nation's first truly democratic election. But don't forget that the Brotherhood had been the military's number one internal threat for decades. Extreme Islam was the enemy. The Muslim Brotherhood was outlawed, its leaders constantly harassed by the military and police.

Another important factor also played into this great con: Egypt's military controls a large portion of the nation's economy. The generals own manufacturing plants, for-profit hospitals and other major businesses. They also hold a large stake in the oil and gas business. They are the guarantors of its supply. After all, Egypt controls the key oil-transit points on the Suez Canal and the Sumed oil pipeline that runs from the Red Sea to Alexandria on the Mediterranean coast. So the military can regulate fuel and electricity supplies with no trouble at all.

But it wasn't just the military that staged this theatrical revolution. Morsi never won the loyalty of what Egyptologists called the "deep state" -- all those people who have long controlled the courts, government agencies, business and politics. They didn't vote for Morsi. They appear to be the ones who conspired to bring him down.

Remember, just over half of Egypt's 85 million people live outside the cities. There, for decades, the Muslim Brotherhood worked as a charitable organization, giving food, clothing and other assistance to poor people, winning their allegiance. These are the people who elected Morsi.

If all of this theatrical coincidence is not enough to convince you, a few days ago Wall Street Journal reporters in Cairo interviewed military officials and opposition leaders who said they'd been meeting at the Naval Officers Club to plan the demonstrations and the military's response. These people said the military agreed to step in if the opposition put enough people on the streets.

A military spokesman, Col. Ahmed Ali, acknowledged that "there was a process of getting to know people that previously the military had little dealings with."

Before Morsi took office, the generals had little respect for the liberal opposition. But then suddenly they became useful. And sure enough, shortly after the demonstrations began, the military issued its ultimatum: Tell the people how you're going to resolve their problems (including those the military and police had actually created) or we will depose you.

And so it went. Morsi and many of his Muslim Brotherhood fellows were sent to prison. The military killed more than 50 others as they demonstrated in the streets.

All of that, reporting from the region reveals, has been disquieting for many Egyptians, even those who never supported Morsi. They appear to believe the military took its informal agreement with the opposition too far, carried out a coup and is now running roughshod over anyone who opposes what it's doing.

Some of these people are joining Muslim Brotherhood supporters in the continuing daily demonstrations against the coup.

At the same time, though, Egyptian newspapers are reporting that government officials and political activists, denizens of the "deep state," are preparing lawsuits against Morsi on charges of treason and conspiracy to murder.

Meanwhile, Al Ahram, the state newspaper, quoted Suez Canal University political scientist Gamal Zahran as saying: "The Muslim Brotherhood is presenting Egypt with two gruesome scenarios: Either Morsi returns to office and Egypt becomes a militant Islamist state, or the Brotherhood will do its best to drag Egypt into a bloody civil war."

These theatrical performances promise to play on for many weeks to come.

(Joel Brinkley is the Hearst professional in residence at Stanford University and a Pulitzer Prize-winning former correspondent for The New York Times.)

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