Understanding the Egyptian predicament
By Ahmed IDREES
In many articles on Egypt published on this website last year and this year, I talked about the quandary the army or the SCAF (Supreme Council of Armed Forces) has fallen in now. (See some of these articles on the links below) However, the situation has become clear and SCAF’s intention to stick to power has turned into unambiguous demand.
What happened between January 25 and March 11 was incomplete revolution or a “spasm” as a result of decades of political, economic and social repression. This spasm if continued longer could have taken a more serious shape hence, a military interference, instigated by USA or not, was necessary to freeze the situation and prevent Egypt from becoming another Iran. The SCAF announced its support to the revolution and the “inexperienced” young revolutionaries entrusted it with the responsibility of achieving objectives of the revolution. The SCAF took over and Mubarak was replaced by a council of “Mubaraks”!
The revolutionaries who had, and still have, no leadership and ideology, thought that by removing Mubarak they had toppled the regime and that the army could be their trustworthy “rescuer” in the absence of revolutionary leadership. Not only that but they also picked up a man who served for years as a member of committee of policies of the deposed Mubarak ruling party and made him head of the new government. He served as the SCAF’s employee until he was asked to quit during the current clashes.
Clash of agendas:
In this situation there were two conflicting agendas: one for the revolution and the other for what I called in one of my articles “the unconventional coup”. The revolutionaries were demanding change of the whole regime, putting a ban on those who had corrupted the political life and looted the country for three decades, establishing a civilian regime and government, real democracy, social justice etc. while the army wanted to safeguard and protect the old regime, imprison some of its main figures who caused problems to the army itself under Mubarak and bring about some army-tailored political and constitutional changes. Later on the SCAF succumbed to popular pressure and organized a theatrical trial of Mubarak and some of his corrupt men. The SCAF relied on the time factor and succeeded in dividing the nation. Now we see 92 alliances and coalitions founded by the revolutionaries, 22 new and 8 old political parties. Consequently confusion prevailed and common citizens became tired because of impact of the stalemate on economic and social life.
The inexperienced revolutionaries could have achieved their agenda successfully had they continued in Tahrir Square two more weeks after the fall of Mubarak but they dispersed immediately to find themselves in a precarious situation and realize that the SCAF is not an honest partner and that their revolution has been hijacked.
From bad to worse:
During the past ten months of rule SCAF generals proved themselves to be the most inefficient rulers in the modern history of Egypt. They stepped into different legal, constitutional, administrative and even media swamps. Their performance created a consensus, at home and abroad, on their malfunctioning and crisis mismanagement. When things did not move on, the revolutionaries had to go back to Tahrir square. Military police and security forces used extreme violence to eject them from the place that has become integral part of their revolution. We all have seen on TV screens the appalling barbaric scenes of shooting and killing the peaceful protesters, dragging their dead bodies on the streets to throw them in garbage bins, shooting protesters in their eyes and inflecting all kinds of brutalities that used to be practiced at a may be lower level under Mubarak regime. Seeing army brutalities against peaceful protesters, Professor Ahmed Al-Tayyeb, the grand Imam of Al-Azhar, which is the highest religious authority for Sunni Muslims in the world, had to support the protesters and send a representative to read out his speech in Tahrir crowds. Professor Tayyeb studied theology in France and this is the first time Al-Azhar interferes in politics since 1952. Killing at least 42 demonstrators and injuring hundreds was the result of the clashes that erupted a few days before the elections scheduled for November 28. Revolutionaries came up with additional demands including demanding the SCAF should go back to barracks and bringing to justice the savage perpetrators of these carnages.
The main differences that emerged during the ten months of junta rule can be summed up as follows:
· Revolutionaries demand the army budget be scrutinized by the parliament to know in particular details of the annual $ 1.5 billion US aid to the army while the SCAF refuses this demand apparently to conceal corruption and secret deals with foreign arms companies especially the Americans.
· The SCAF wants a role in domestic politics to remain in control of the whole regime while revolutionaries insist on having a civilian state. Through this, the army wants to continue to protect US and Israeli interests, the task it is paid for, away from being influenced by government policies or parliament authority.
· Revolutionaries want the army to be subject to the government but the SCAF generals want it to be above all authorities. They say “the army is a red line“.
· Revolutionaries demand lifting of emergency law and stopping trials of civilians in military courts. These are two tools the SCAF is using against its opponents. According to Amnesty International report, SCAF admitted sending 1200 civilian protesters until October to military courts and sentencing at least 13 to death.
· Revolutionaries demand trial of those responsible for the current killings but the SCAF has already refused and sufficed by a televised statement of apology.
· There are also differences over who writes the new constitution, when and how it should be written. The time of presidential election and writing the new constitution and whether Egypt should discard the presidential system and adopt the parliamentary one are some of the many other thorny issues.
The first three differences cannot be settled in favor of the revolutionaries thus blocking any real change of the regime.
Options before SCAF:
As the battle continues in Cairo and other cities of Egypt, the SCAF seems to have limited options including:
1. Changing the government or even resignation of SCAF’s head Marshal Tantawi and transferring his powers to Chief of Army Staff general Annan. Both options are palliative measures.
2. Conducting the first phase of elections on November 28 to improve its image and show it is moving forward towards democracy. These elections will be held under an army-designed complicated and lengthy system that is spread over several months. They are also held amid the ongoing clashes, unpreparedness, chaos, confusing and inadequate voting system, logistic problems, absence of international monitoring, emergency law, military courts etc. Mubarak’s corrupt men are also allowed to contest. Experts raise questions in this regard: Can the result of any elections held under these circumstances be credible? Will the domestic and foreign partners accept it? Can this be called transparent democratic transition? In fact, the SCAF’s biased and opaque position has put the generals in a dilemma. If they postpone the elections, their allies, mainly Muslim Brotherhood, will turn against their plan and if they hold them, liberals and other political forces opposing army agenda will continue their protest. With this in mind, we can foresee the elections result.
3. If the revolutionaries insist on their demands, the clashes will continue and more blood will be shed on the path to democracy until one of the two camps gives up in a country that is now ruled by three A’s: Army, America and Allah.