by Zafar Bangash (Opinion, Crescent International Vol. 42, No. 8, Dhu al-Qa'dah, 1434)
As early as July 2012, Crescent International had warned about the evil plans of the Egyptian military. Sadly, every one of our warnings came true a year later.
This editorial was first published in the July 2012 edition of Crescent International. Fears expressed 15 months ago have unfortunately turned out to be true. We reproduce the editorial here to emphasize that the leaders of the Islamic movement must develop a better understanding of the reality they face so that they can deal with it more effectively.
It was unrealistic to expect that the military in Egypt would simply roll over and hand power to the elected representatives of the people. The latest coup against the people was carried out in two steps: first through the “Supreme” Constitutional Court stacked with Hosni Mubarak cronies that disqualified more than 100 members of the People’s Assembly (Egyptian parliament) on June 14; and then through an amended Constitutional document issued by the military on June 17. It dissolved parliament and assumed wide ranging powers through the amended constitutional document. It was the second day of polling in the presidential race and the men in uniform signaled that they intended to remain in full control regardless of the election result. The coup also had the blessings of the US despite tepid criticism from the State Department. Saudi Arabia and the Zionist regime in occupied Palestine also welcomed the move. They all felt the people of Egypt were taking democracy too seriously.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which became the governing body after the former dictator Hosni Mubarak was ousted in February 2011, amended the constitutional document that was first issued in March 2011. The original document had stipulated the temporary nature of the military’s involvement in political affairs and was agreed upon after discussions with numerous political players representing a broad range of opinion in the country.
Under the amended constitutional document, no election for a new parliament can be held until a permanent constitution is written. The body that will draft the constitution will be appointed by the military; the previous one appointed by the elected parliament, was disbanded through an earlier judicial plot. Despite this, the generals still have veto power over the text of any new constitution. With the parliament dissolved — so much for the generals’ respect for people’s wishes — they have also stripped the president of any executive authority. He has been reduced to an administrative functionary whose job will be to carry out the orders of the military without any say in decision making. Thus, the president will be held accountable for failing to show results if the policies do not work but he will have no input in formulating those policies. The president has also been stripped of the title of commander in chief of the armed forces. After all, what do civilians know about military affairs? These weighty matters are best left to the bright stars of the military. The president will also have no say in the appointment of senior commanders. Similarly, the military’s budget will not be subject to civilian oversight. It must be nice to be a general in Egypt, or indeed in any other Muslim country.
Like their counterparts in Pakistan and Turkey, for instance — and with an equally dismal record of defending the country’s borders against external enemies — the military in Egypt is more like a business enterprise. It owns factories, businesses and other commercial interests. Nearly 80% percent of all provincial governors are also from the military as are a number of judges. Talent clearly is the monopoly of the military top brass. Those that don’t get it will never get it but the musclemen have made clear that civilians had better get used to the fact that the revolution is over and that it is back to business as usual even if Mubarak is no longer in power. His horrible legacy continues. It would be unrealistic to assume that the military, which has been at the helm of affairs for more than 60 years, would meekly return to its barracks.
What is astonishing and depressing is that seasoned members of al-Ikhwan al-Muslimoon, the most organized political party in the country, also fell for the military’s charm offensive after Mubarak’s ouster. What they overlooked — or deliberately ignored — was that the military has its own institutional interests. If the military did not come out with guns blazing when millions of Egyptians were packing Tahrir Square, it was not because they had any regard for civilian lives. The military top brass knew that any misadventure — fighting an enraged public — would have sparked a total revolution in which the military would be defeated and their wings clipped permanently, as happened in Iran in 1978–1979. Instead, they decided to sacrifice the hated figure of Mubarak hoping this would pacify most if not all the people and over time, the military will resume business as usual. That is exactly what has happened.
Events in Egypt once again show the pitfalls of working through colonial imposed systems in Muslim societies. Regardless of how peacefully members of the Islamic movement work and abide by the most unjust laws, beneficiaries of the old system will not give up power voluntarily. Instead, they will resort to every trick and outright criminal behavior — what better illustrates this than the Egyptian military dissolving the first freely elected parliament? — to stay firmly in control of all decision-making processes and monopolize state resources. The military refuses to countenance any oversight of its activities or its budget; they act as a state within a state.
So what should the Ikhwan do in such circumstances? While they have rejected the military’s power grab and brought hundreds of thousands of people into Tahrir Square to express their displeasure saying the gains of the revolution are at risk and “dangerous days” lie ahead, they must take much bolder steps. Merely staying in Tahrir will not make the military lose any sleep. The Ikhwan have strong links with professional syndicates and workers groups; they are also now armed with a popular mandate both in parliament (even if dissolved illegally) and in the presidential polls. They should launch a civil disobedience campaign without resorting to violence to bring the state machinery to a halt. True, the military will use brutal tactics and might also unleash its thugs — the baltajiyah — as they did during the three week campaign last year to oust Mubarak — but the Ikhwan leadership will have to remain vigilant. They must not get provoked.
The military must be exposed as a bunch of greedy, power-hungry thugs who should get the boot and be sent back to their barracks. Do the Ikhwan have what it takes to bring about a genuine revolution in Egypt?