A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Sisi and the Army Since the Coup

This Washington Post story emphasizes the role of Sinai in the Egyptian Army's decision to move against Muhammad Morsi; indeed Morsi's failure to support the Armed Forces' plans to clean up the armed jihadi problem in Sinai may well have been the tipping point. Others have suggested that Muslim Brotherhood rhetoric (used in Morsi's presence without him objecting) about waging jihad in Syria also triggered the Army's decision.

In a speech to the Army some days ago, General Sisi defended the Army's move as having been taken at the people's insistence; though blogger "Baheyya" found a disturbing subtext in the speech:
The speech is the intellectual gloss on the July 3 coup. Its point is that Egypt is too important to be ruled by its people. Too many regional and world powers are vested in the direction this country takes and how it gets there. Its population will be corralled to the side and left to practice their charming folkloric political rituals, with parliamentary elections and even presidential elections and what have you. An arena of electoral democracy will be constructed, but many matters of grave national import will be outside its purview. And anyway, its outcomes can always be reversed.
What about protests in Tahrir, you ask? Certainly, the generals will generously provide the paraphernalia of protest and drop flags on the cheering throngs (while dropping leaflets on those other people), then beam with paternal pride about how their cute people “impress the world.” Keeping the public in a condition of permanent political infantilism; walling off the state from democratic control; and above all, terminating the necessary political struggles that societies must engage in to build their institutions and control their destinies. This is the military’s roadmap.
Some defenders of the deposition of Morsi note that Westerners lamenting the need for a military coup fail to note that the SCAF intervention of  February 2011, which deposed Husni Mubarak, was neither more nor less of a coup than the July 3 action. (Except that unlike Morsi, Mubarak was not freely elected.) What's perhaps interesting to note, though, that it's not just Western observers: Egyptians have consistently referred to the "January 25 revolution" and avoided focusing on the February 11 military intervention, but that's what removed the intransigent Mubarak. Arguably, the Egyptian Armed Forces never really went away; when SCAF yielded power to Morsi, they did so by first issuing a Constitutional Declaration that further limited Presidential powers; the 2012 Constitution, though widely considered a Brotherhood product, gave the military remarkable power and independence.

Sisi, who like many other younger officers (born 1954: not that young but too young to have served in the 1973 war) had been stuck in the second echelon in the Tantawi years, is just now coming into focus. It's pretty clear the Brotherhood got him wrong. He may well have Islamist leanings, but he's an officer first, and security issues such as Sinai clearly soured him on Morsi. Some in the Brotherhood (and some in the West) initially thought him a Brotherhood sympathizer. They were apparently misinformed. While Sisi's speech uses rhetoric about the Army as the servant of the people, Baheyya's comments are also relevant; there's a definite portrayal as the Army as savior, and of the Army as guardian and guarantor of the security of the state.

Yes, that Turkish model, not the other one,

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