There doesn't seem to be much debate anymore about whether the Egyptian military pulled off a coup when they deposed President Mohammed Morsi last week, but now there are differing opinions about whether it was actually just the last phase of a much larger plot. Things have changed so drastically in Egypt since the overthrow that some are wondering if the worst problems of Morsi's reign might have been manufactured by others just to make him look bad. And it's not just conspiracy theorists who think that way, as the idea his getting a full hearing on the pages of The New York Times today.
There's no question that in the weeks and days leading up to the June 30 demonstrations (which also happened to be the one-year anniversary of Morsi's inauguration), life in Egypt appeared to be unravelling. Most noticeably, a gas shortage had snarled traffic on a daily basis and trapped drivers in miles-long lines for fuel. Crime was also on the rise as police officers seemed to be disappearing from the streets and homes everywhere were routinely experiencing blackouts due to power shortages. All the anger over the lack of basic service helped spur the size and force of the marches against the president.
However, in the days since Morsi was ousted by the nation's military, people say those frustrations have magically disappeared. One gas station owner told the Times, "We went to sleep one night, woke up the next day, and the crisis was gone." There are plenty of people, particularly Morsi supporters, who think that's not coincidental.
Was Morsi such a bad leader that his very presence in office was ruining the country? Or were these problems intensified by other powerful interests in an attempt to undermine his authority?The belief is that even though Hosni Mubarak was overthrown two years ago and his government replaced by democratic election, many of the people in charge of actually running the country remained loyal to him. Or the very least, they remained opposed to the Islamic parties that took control of the country and were throwing up roadblocks at every opportunity.
We're talking about lower-level bureaucrats, rich business people, judges, and generals. Many of the police and security forces in particular, had spent decades cracking down on the Muslim Brotherhood (at Mubarak's order) and were now expected to defend them from public anger. The idea that they could be trying to create instability instead is not a new theory either.
There's also the fact that over $12 billion in aid came pouring into the country from neighboring Arab states immediately after the coup, which suggests those funds were the "reward" for dumping their hated leader. And don't forget the persistent belief that the U.S. endorsed, if not outright planned, the overthrow themselves. There are plenty of people benefiting from regime change who aren't the ones camped out in Tahrir Square.
On the other hand, there are plenty of people who think this is all just fantasy and things aren't really any better than they were before. This blog post makes a pretty convincing case that the gas crisis isn't even over yet, and maybe wasn't Morsi's fault anyway. All these rosy stories are just a fantasy of Morsi hater. When the protesters eventually return home they'll see many of the same problems as before.
Even if things are better, there are plenty of alternate theories for what caused the gas crisis and other problems or why they might have ended so abruptly. But with so many powerful people at all levels of government aligned against Morsi, it's not out of the realm of possibility that they orchestrated some of these issues knowing that he would be blamed. Even if you don't accept that they were capable of such a nefarious plot, it's still possible that anti-Morsi folks didn't cause the problems, but weren't exactly eager to solve them either. The belief that you have to hit rock bottom before any change can happen is a powerful one — and one that a lot of Egyptians probably believe a lot more strongly today.