A man flashes the victory sign during a battle with security forces. / Khalil Hamra, AP
What's in a name? When it comes to geopolitics, quite a lot. Although Webster's gives a simple definition for "coup d'etat," to politicians it's anything but simple when $1.3 billion is in the balance. Here's an explanation of how the situation in Egypt is labeled and why it matters:
Did a coup happen in Egypt?
The way President Mohammed Morsi was forced out of power by Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi on July 3 fits the general definition of a coup as the sudden overthrow of a ruler. But the term also has political and legal implications. The United States says the action does not fit the legal definition of a coup because the military acted not to take over the nation but to restore democracy. If the Obama administration labeled the action a coup, it would be forced to withhold $1.3 billion in foreign aid that the United States gives the Egyptian military annually. Egyptians who have risen up against the Muslim Brotherhood also reject the "coup" label.
Sen. John McCain has called it a coup.
Washington's lack of clarity frustrates many of Morsi's supporters.
"I'm confused," Ahmed Badr, 35, told USA TODAY. "Mr. Obama always said, 'We support democracy.' He should be clear: This is a coup."
Is Egypt in civil war?
Egypt fits the dictionary definition of a civil war, or a war between two geographical or political factions of the same nation. But "civil war" has a political meaning as well: an internal conflict in which the United States generally would not intervene. The term was used by those who wanted the United States to pull out of the Iraq War, and by those who opposed U.S. participation in the no-fly zone in Libya in 2011.
Michael W. Hanna, an expert on Egypt from the New York-based Century Foundation, told the AP that "civil war is a possibility."
''It will be bad, with suicide bombings and assassinations but not necessarily another Syria or Iraq," he said.
Generally, a civil war is occurring nationwide, with two clear opposing sides, as has been the case in Syria. That's not the case in Egypt. The vast majority of the country is waiting for the violence to end. Even among the protesters, many are unarmed.
"You wouldn't have a civil war unless there were people who were really willing to fight the army with arms," Elliott Abrams, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, told NBC News.
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Read the original story: The Egypt semantics debate: Is it a coup? A civil war?