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Egyptian Army and the Second Republic

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Hassan Ahmadian, PhD Candidate
Department of Regional Studies, University of Tehran

The sound of marching military men in the days immediately following the downfall of Egypt’s former dictator, Hosni Mubarak, on February 11, 2011, was as pleasing as Abdel Wahab’s songs or Abdel Halim’s musical voice. The army had turned its back on Mubarak to support the revolution and revolutionaries. Soldiers were welcomed with flowers and bouquets both at the iconic Liberation Square and all other squares where revolution was going on with people showing their respect for the country’s “zealot” and “patriot” army one way or another. The slogan “the army and the nation are united,” symbolized the climax of the revolutionaries’ trust in the army. But had the army really entered the scene in order to support the revolution?

During early days after the Egyptian army took over the power reins, the voice of those opposing the military rule was easily lost in the loud cries of people’s joy. Those voices, however, gained more strength as time went by and were heard more clearly. The army, which had apparently entered the scene only to instill order in the chaotic situation that prevailed in the country following the fall of Mubarak, came up with a hastily engineered plan for the transfer of the political power over to a civilian government elected by the people and put that plan to plebiscite. However, despite 77 percent of voters took up that plan by voting in its favor, the plan never entered into force. The army, which was supposed to recede from the power positions up to six months after the fall of Mubarak, has issued a presidential edict one and a half years after the ouster of Mubarak in order to increase its share of the power pie. As a result, it have stripped the elected president of a large part of his constitutional powers just on the same day that voting for the country’s first post-revolution president closed to its end.

No military in any country is interested in revolution and runaway political upheavals and they will stand against such developments as long as there is a possibility to control them. The Egyptian army pretended to be in line with the country’s protests in order to introduce itself as supporter of the Egypt’s revolution at a time that the situation had got completely out of control. In fact, the original plan worked out by the army included delegating the president’s powers to his vice president, Omar Suleiman, with Mubarak expected to step down in September 2011. In the meantime, the ruling regime was supposed to reach an agreement with protesters over how to get out of that critical conditions and manage the country’s period of transition. Escalation of protests, however, as a result of several attacks by pro-government camel riders on protesters in the Liberation Square, which was later known as “Battle of the Camel,” practically obliterated any chance of such agreement. It was then that the army entered the political scene with full force. During the transition period, all measures taken by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) were based on two principles: firstly, to maintain stability and security in the country, and secondly, to protect the economic interests of the army. These two principles were also the army’s main motives for the deposition of Mubarak from power.

Maintaining stability and security should be considered the main motive underlying all measures taken by the Egyptian army. During the whole transition period, the army continued to consider all developments from the standpoint of security and stability and acted in line with that attitude. When Mubarak’s security and police forces were torn to pieces and it was clear that he is not able to restore security, he was easily set aside by the army. After it became clear that remaining silent toward people’s demand for trial of Mubarak and his close aides may exacerbate the unrest, the SCAF ordered his trial to be commenced. In addition, the army tolerated repeated bouts of protests in the liberation Square as long as such protests were not considered by the army officials to pose any threat to security and stability of the country. As a result, the army only took steps to suppress demonstrations on certain occasions. The army’s lack of tolerance for Christian’s demands in Maspero Crisis also emanated from fears about expansion of sectarian strife in Egypt. Arresting members of the April 6 Youth Movement occurred due to their axial role in most popular demonstrations. Under present circumstances, the army’s faceoff with the Muslim Brotherhood emanates from the SCAF’s fears of possible confrontation between the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of the past regime as well as opponents of a religious government. The role of the army’s interests, however, should not be ignored in this regard.

Protecting economic and financial interests of the army is important in that the army is actually the biggest client of economic projects in Egypt. The economic wing of the Egyptian army reached an agreement with the former president, Hosni Mubarak, and the former defense minister, General Abu Ghazala, back in the 1980s on the important role that the army can play in the economic development of Egypt, especially after the country signed the peace accord with Israel. Following that agreement, the army’s economic might started to grow. At present, the Egyptian army is playing an essential role in four major economic areas: military industries, civilian industries, agriculture, and Egypt’s infrastructure. The Egyptian economy will be, therefore, facing problems in all sectors in the absence of the army. As a result, when discussing necessity of demilitarization and civilianization in the Egyptian politics, there is one question which should be answered first: even if the army gave up its military and political position, will it be able to also pass over its economic interests as well? In reality, the Egyptian army’s economic interests are too extensive to allow analysts consider “protecting stability and security” or “supporting the revolution” as the sole motivations for the Egyptian army’s intervention in the course of revolution or even the downfall of Mubarak.

Therefore, even maintaining stability and security, which was the main reason for ousting Mubarak from power and the main goal of transitional period rulers, should be evaluated from the viewpoint of the army’s economic and financial interests. The confrontation with the Muslim Brotherhood, which reached its climax in the months which preceded parliamentary and presidential elections, was mostly an outcome of fears that the army had about its interests and the possible threat posed to them as the result of the empowerment of the Muslim Brotherhood. In addition, the Egyptian army is concerned that if the Muslim Brotherhood gains more power, it can cause problems for the army’s financial and military relations with the United States.

The Egyptian army, riding the tide of popular protests, has managed to master people’s revolution in 2011 as it had already done in 1952. Of course, the army’s intervention in political developments of 2011 was less remarkable than its intervention through an outright coup d’état in 1952. Now, instead of entering the scene as substitute to a civilian rule, it has made way for an apparently elected government. The army’s power, however, has greatly increased compared to 30 years ago. When trying to depict future outlook of the army’s role in the country, one has to look back. In hindsight, the country’s history will tells us that during the past two centuries, the Egyptian military has never loosened its control over power in a sudden way. Rather, they have always done that through a gradual process over many years and after taking a lot of concessions. The question is to what extent the new civilian government of Egypt, which is topped by the Islamist figures, will be ready to get along with the army’s demands and what concessions the military will be given to withdraw from the political scene. The future perspective of Egypt will be certainly determined through the interaction between Islamist politicians and the country’s military commanders.

Key Words: Egyptian Army, Second Republic, Civilian Government, Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, Financial Interests, Islamist Politicians, Ahmadian

More By Hassan Ahmadian:

*The Truth Behind Saudi Arabia’s Fear of a Nuclear Iran: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/The_Truth_behind_Saudi_Arabia’s_Fear_of_a_Nuclear_Iran.htm

*The Onset of Regional Faceoff between Egypt and Saudi Arabia: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/The_Onset_of_Regional_Faceoff_between_Egypt_and_Saudi_Arabia.htm

*The Persian Gulf Union: Motivations and Consequences: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/The_Persian_Gulf_Union_Motivations_and_Consequences.htm

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