A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Who's in SCAF Anyway?

Yesterday's demonstrations in Tahrir Square, as has become customary, included many calls for the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to step down. Readers of this blog will be familiar with SCAF's total lack of transparency, and its tendency to speak collectively, except on the still-rare occasions when Field Marshal Tantawi himself makes a public address. Sometimes SCAF seems to contradict itself. At one point in December it issued three communiques in a row (I think an unprecedented frequency); the first was hardline, the second conciliatory, the third hardline again — in three days. Is its counsel divided? Who knows, since no one knows how it takes decisions?

But there's another issue lurking here that only rarely gets addressed. There is considerable confusion about its exact membership. It consists of the General Staff, the Defense Minister and his Deputy Ministers, the Commanders of the Military Districts, and at least some Deputy Commanders and Assistant Ministers, but the exact tally is a bit vague. Oh, there are lists, even official lists, but they don't always agree, not only on the exact names, but on the whole number of members.

Wikipedia, for example, says there are 20 members, citing as its source a State Information Service site which, however, as recently as December, said there were 18. (Archived copy: the SIS site is being updated.) One enterprising website has surveyed the various lists, comparing names, and has come up with lists ranging generally between 15 and 20. but with a total of 22 distinct names. Most lists tend towards either 18 or 20 names, but initially only 15 were published.

What's going on here? Is the membership a state secret? If so, why did the State Information Service publish a list? And why doesn't that list agree with other lists? Has membership increased over the past year?

Some of this may come from confusing reports that cite any senior general who speaks publicly as  a a member of SCAF, often incorrectly. In December there were two flaps when a retired general named Abdel Moneim Kato made two successive controversial statements, in the first of which he said the protesters deserved to be "burned in Hitler's ovens" and in the second, he claimed that "international law" gave the Army the right to use live ammunition to fire on civilians. (Since SCAF has always denied live ammunition was used, it promptly distanced itself from Kato.), But a great many overseas reports, and one or two Egyptian ones, quoted KATO as a "member of SCAF," though he is a retired officer in the Morale (!!) Department, and all the members of SCAF are active duty. His proper title seems to have been an "Adviser to SCAF," and such confusion may account for at least some of the uncertainty about which officers are actual members.

Obviously it is the Field Marshal and the top brass who, presumably, are calling the shots in SCAF, but the fact that nearly a year after "Communique Number One," the precise names and even precise number of the members of Egypt's executive authority is still a little gray around the edges is indicative of the remarkably opaque methods of SCAF.

No comments: