Alaa Aswany: The overthrow of President Morsi was not a coup, it was the third wave of Egypt's revolution

Robert Fisk shares a coffee with the Egyptian author, who explains why he trusts General al-Sissi more than he ever did the ousted leader

An hour of Iftar coffee in the old Garden City Club, and Alaa Aswany almost – almost, I repeat – has me believing that General al-Sissi is the best military leader since Dwight D. Eisenhower, that the Egyptian army can do no wrong and that Mohamed Morsi was the worst – if not the most boring – political leader in the Arab world.

Perhaps because he is a dentist as well one of Egypt’s finest living writers – millions have read The Yacoubian Building – Aswany has an unerring eye for rotten arguments.

He is a big man and has by chance met both Al-Sissi and Morsi, the first for a friendly ticking-off after an unflattering article, the second to warn the president that he was heading for disaster. The coup was not a coup, according to Aswany. It was the third wave of the revolution of January 2011 which got rid of Moubarak. And he is a happy man.

“I believe in the people and I think there are many details missing in the West,” Aswany says, and here he casts a cold eye in my direction. “You must not forget that this guy (Morsi) did not win at the first round of elections.  Eight million Egyptians did not make him their first choice. They were voting in the end to stop Ahmed Shafiq (widely seen as a Moubarak leftover). Two weeks before the election this guy was unknown. I met him first on the second day after the election in a room with a broad spectrum of people. There were Trostkyists, Salafists. Everyone, including me, was saying that this was a Muslim Brotherhood with which we disagreed on about everything but I said that he was our first elected president and he must succeed in advancing the goals of the revolution. I told him ‘you can lose the old regime and the Muslim Brotherhood but you will be supported by the people’.”

A large Aswany hand moves into the air at this point,  “But I also told him he could try to do a deal with the old regime in order to achieve the aims of the Muslim Brotherhood.  ‘If you choose this path, Mr President,’ I said, ‘you will lose sympathy because you will lose the people.’  His answer?  ‘Of course I will achieve the goals of the revolution.’  But he didn’t choose this path.  He chose the second.  You know, you should look again at Shafiq’s complaints at the original polling;  he claimed that many Copts were prevented from going to the polling stations and this appears now to be true. It was to have been investigated but on the day of the announcement, the judge said he was ‘not competent’ to announce the result. What do you make of that?”

It was at Aswany’s second meeting with Morsi that he realised he did not trust him. “I realised for the first time what kind of a person he was. I realised he listens to you — and anything you said to him, he would smile and say ‘Thank you for this good idea’.  He would say ‘this is our Egypt, we can live and die for Egypt,’ that sort of stuff he found very effective. I told him he had not kept his promise to release young revolutionaries who had been arrested by the army but that he had released some terrorists. Of the terrorists, he said ‘I know them.’ Of the students, he replied: ‘I wanted to have them released — but I couldn’t.’  To me, a promise is a commitment, not a choice. I said to him, ‘But how can you promise something and not do it?’  He did not reply."

Aswany refused to join Morsi’s  Committee of the Constitution and Committee of Human Rights. The author touches his chest. “Those people all the time needed a ‘jacket’ so they could say ‘We have Aswany with us.’  There was a similar case in Peru where they had a president called Fujimori who put his decisions above the law after elections. The international community was absolutely against this and the US cut all diplomatic relations. Morsi did the same as Fujimori, he staged a presidential coup d’etat’.  You know I was a big critic of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces after the 2011 revolution but I can’t be against what they did on 30th June this year. We didn’t have a parliament and if you don’t have a parliament, authority goes back to the people.”

Al-Sissi was clearly more Aswany’s cup of tea.  “I met him after 2011 when I was ‘invited’ to the Military Service building in Cairo. I had written an article against Tantawi (at the time commander of the Egyptian army) which Al-Sissi didn’t like. I said to him that I had the right to write what I thought and told him he could arrest me if he wanted. He told me he wouldn’t arrest me and was very friendly. I had the impression he didn’t necessarily agree with the decisions of Tantawi. I had a good impression about Al-Sissi. I thought I could trust this man.”

Morsi, Aswany believes, was not interested in real democracy or, for that matter, Egypt. “He may have been the president but he was only Number Six in the Muslim Brotherhood and he kept in his place when he was elected. A hundred and thirty people were killed in six months, there were 3,400 detainees under Mr Morsi. Most of the people killed had voted for Morsi. People started reaching the conclusion that Morsi was another Mubarak, but with a beard. But when we learned that 20 prison inmates had been raped! Even that didn’t happen under Mubarak.” Alas, Alaa Aswany is wrong. Under Mubarak, prisoners were forced to rape each other in the Tora prison complex and given female names by the warders.

But Aswany is off now against the Brotherhood.  “The Muslim Brotherhood is a religion. They care more about themselves. Political Islam is different from Islam – it was a religion to get to power. Political Islam as an idea is falling apart. You had a scene where millions of protesters against the Brotherhood were praying in squares all over Egypt. They were saying: ‘We are going to keep our religion.  Your religion is not a religion – it is about power.’  That is what they were saying.”

Aswany is an energetic man.  He drinks through a second coffee and bounds down the stairs of the ancient club. A few hours later, General al-Sissi, the man he says he trusts, called on Egyptians to go onto the streets and allow the army to fight “violence” and “terrorism”. And Al-Sissi abused Morsi in the same speech, which several Egyptians likened – in a rather frightened way – to a Nasser tirade. I only hope Aswany is as good in his judgement as he is in his prose.  Otherwise, he and other authors could receive another friendly ‘invitation’ to visit the army.

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
Arts and Entertainment
tv

Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife
film

Matt Smith is set to join cast of Jane Austen classic - with a twist

News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmWhat makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes hobby look 'dysfunctional'
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior IT Support Engineer - Education Sector - Shepherd's Bush

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior IT Support Engineer - Educati...

KS2 Teacher required

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: KS2 teacher required ...

LSA

£15000 - £16000 per annum: Randstad Education Group: To work as part of the Le...

KS1 Float Teacher needed in the Vale

£100 - £110 per day + Travel scheme plus free professional trainnig: Randstad ...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week