A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Week After the Army Moved, the Army Speaks Softly, But Uses its Big Stick

This morning's Washington Post headlines emphasized the appointment of a Prime Minister and a Vice President in Egypt; other headlines around the world are emphasizing how the Public Prosecutor is going after senior Brotherhood figures, including the Supreme Guide. The emphasis seems to be on the civilian sector: President names a Prime Minister, Public Prosecutor (not the Army) charges the Supreme Guide. While General Sisi has not been completely invisible, but he's not exactly been at center stage, either.

Pay some attention to the uniformed men behind the curtain. The Egyptian Armed Forces may not have fought a war in nearly 40 years (except for a division-sized contribution to Desert Storm), but it is large and wields enormous influence in Egyptian society. Laura Dean at The New Republic scoffs at the idea of civil war, given the strength of the Army.

I agree that a full-scale civil war would be dampened down quickly by the Army and the equally potent Interior Ministry forces. But the profound polarization so many are noting, with the secularists acting as if the Brotherhood will now simply go away, is likely to mean that the Army will have to play a major role.

The irony is that the same secular liberals who were denouncing the battles at Mohammed Mahmoud Street and Maspero in 2011-2012, demanding the fall of SCAF, are again proclaiming that "the Army and the people are one hand." Maybe, but occasionally that hand turns into a fist, The fact that the transitional government is seeking to amend the 2012 constitution rather than replace it is  testimony to the fact that the Army (and the judiciary) plan to hold on to the perks they were given by the Brotherhood in that Constitution.  The Army is going to protect its own interests, first of all.

The efforts to dismantle the Brotherhood, despite initial rhetoric about working with all elements, suggest the Army may play rough at times. Besides closing the Brotherhood's TV stations and seeking to arrest its leaders (and Morsi's "preventive detention" by the Republican Guard, whose mission was to protect the President), raise some concerns, though again the Brotherhood's call for an uprising provides plenty of excuse. The Shura Council-appointed editors of Al-Ahram have now been replaced.

The Brotherhood proved arrogant and authoritarian. They have been replaced by the Army, which is sometimes arrogant and by nature authoritarian. The Army may, indeed, entrust power to a civilian government and oversee early elections. I hope so. But as Omar Robert Hamilton notes in the suitably titled "Selective Memories," many liberals seem to have already forgotten the events of less than two years ago.

Abdel Fattah Sisi is no Gamal Abdel Nasser, though he seems slightly more comfortable with public speaking than Field Marshal Tantawi did.

I hope that the insistence that this was a revolution, not a coup is borne out over time. But the next President should remember what the Caesars learned the hard way in Rome: if you rely on the Praetorian Guard to gain power, remember that they may tire of you in time.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The removal of a freely elected president by the army isn't a revolution. It's a coup. Plain and simple.

If logic wasn't enough evidence, then one only has to look at the evidence. The Army without consultation with the protestors has "given" the new president wide spread powers and has appointed Mubarak fulul to write the new constitution, to key positions within the judiciary, etc.

If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it's not Thomas Jefferson.