A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, June 14, 2012

1954 and All That: SCAF Now Has More Power Than the Army Has Had Since the 1950s

You might have thought that Al-Tahrir newspaper would have thought to put the Chief Justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court on the cover, given the bombshell rulings today. But then, there are reports that Field Marshal Tantawi has already replaced him. So they chose well.

It is possible that Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces will go back to the barracks at the end f the month, as frequently promised, but since SCAF seems to have been given the powers of both Parliament and the Constitutional Assembly, I wouldn't hold my breath.

In fact, right now, SCAF seems to have more power than the Egyptian military has held at any time since the 1950s. Nasser, and after him Sadat and Mubarak, always kept a balanee between the Army and the Interior Ministry with its police, State Security, Central Security, and other forces, so each counterbalanced the other. Now Mubarak's Interior Minister, Habib al-Adly, is in prison, and Mubarak's Defense Minister, Field Marshal Tantawi, is in charge. In fact, with SCAF appointing the judges and controlling the Interior Ministry by naming the Minister, and with Parliament dissolved, SCAF seems to be in charge of virtually all the instruments of the state, at least for the moment. And yesterday's ruling allowing Military Police to arrest civilians — by an astonishing coincidence introduced the day before today's court rulings — seems to have re-introduced the recently ended State of Emergency through the back door.

The last time the Egyptian Army wielded this much power was probably in 1954, when Nasser pushed Muhammad Naguib out of the Prime Ministry and then the Presidency, crushed the Communist Party and then, when a Muslim Brother fired shots at him, crushed the Brotherhood for a generation. I saw someone tweet that a military coup against a revolution was unheard of. Even if you quibble about 1954 (1952 was also a coup though it called itself a revolution), the words "Napoleon Bonaparte" are sufficient answer, though many Latin American instances can also be cited.

That doesn't mean 1954 is about to repeat itself — watch a video of Nasser giving a speech, and then one of Tantawi doing so, and you'll see little in common except the uniform, which Nasser soon after abandoned. But right now SCAF seems to be calling all the shots.

On the other hand, SCAF has often flinched and reversed position when violently challenged. But the Muslim  Brotherhood has now indicated that it will go through with this weekend's election, so the confrontation may not erupt right away. But a Shafiq win (which now seems likely) could produce an explosion.

1 comment:

David Mack said...

It would be smarter for SCAF to make sure that Mursi wins the Presidency. That way, the Muslim Brothers would have to share responsibility with the army when the coming bread revolution brings the hungry and jobless to the streets with nothing to lose. They will make last year's demonstrations of social media savvy young intellectuals look like parades of harmless dilettantes. Then Mursi and Tantawi would have to order the use of force to prevent the mob from burning down the center of Cairo.