A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Egyptian Army's Tin Ear

Egypt's Supreme Military Council has urged media not to publish any opinion or discussion of Saturday's constitutional referendum beginning this morning and continuing through the close of the polls tomorrow evening, lest they influence voters one way or the other.

What part of "democracy," "free speech," and "free press" don't they understand? As The Arabist notes, young people have been waiting in long lines to attend lectures and debates about the referendum. They are hungry for debate.

The Army's role has been ambivalent lately: still insisting they are protectors of the Revolution, but sometimes using old regime tactics, as they did when breaking up the Tahrir encampment. Abolishing State Security, but letting it be known the new agency swill recruit many officers from the old. Generally they've been positive on the referendum — accepting the proposals of independent jurists, guaranteeing both judicial and civil society oversight, etc. — but also displaying some old reflexes: insisting the whole package must be accepted or rejected, rather than allowing votes on each amendment separately; and now this attempt to cut off debate on the eve of the vote. They may be sincere about democratization and handing over power, but at the very least they have a tin ear for opening up the public square.

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