Militarism in Egypt: The Best Way Out

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Hassan Ahmadian
Ph.D. Candidate, University of Tehran and Expert on Middle East Issues

Egypt’s Army chief, General Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi is another Gamal Abdel Nasser. This allegation has been repeated in the past two months by many people who support continuation of Sisi’s grasp on power, including Hoda Gamal Abdel Nasser, the daughter of Gamal Abdel Nasser and professor of political science at Cairo University. Writing an article, she has likened General Sisi to her late father. Furthermore, a host of other articles and analytical accounts have been also published in Egypt and elsewhere in the region about the necessity for Sisi to remain in power until security and political stability is restored in Egypt. In other words, the proponents of the continued rule of the military in the political scene of Egypt have mentioned the need to restore security and stability as the main ground behind their argument in favor of continued presence of the military in the politics of the North African country. All people and politicians who have given voice to this demand and shown interest in it are among those who were opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood taking power. Also, during the presidential election, they had also supported Ahmed Shafik, the archrival of the deposed Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi. Even after Morsi was elected president, they spared no effort to oppose him. Why?

There are many reasons behind such a political approach. The collection of Morsi's opponents can be divided into three major groups. Firstly, there are the supporters of the past political regime who seek a regression to the conditions which existed before the Egyptian revolution. They also want to reestablish the domestic order that existed under the country’s former dictator, Hosni Mubarak, while reproducing a replica of his government with minimal change. They believe that such a state of affairs will assure their interests. As a result, they have made major efforts following the overthrow of Mubarak on various media and bureaucratic levels in order to take Egypt back to where it stood before developments that resulted from the country’s popular revolution. The second group consists of revolutionary figures, who during the past two years that have passed since the fall of Mubarak, have been witnessing so many security and political problems in the wake of his overthrow. They, therefore, believe that the interests of Egypt can be met best through presence of the army in powerful posts, even temporarily, followed by gradual steps to be taken by the military in order to restore democracy after security and political stability has been restored in the country. The third group comprises the Egyptian army and the military personnel. After six decades of directly and indirectly ruling the country, they had officially lost the power following the election of Mohamed Morsi. At the same time, many of them maintain that having control over the political power apparatus is the best way to guarantee that their political, and more importantly, economic interests will be met.

In the meantime, some national Egyptian figures, whose nostalgia for Nasser is evoked by Sisi, argue that the only way to revive the regional and national power of Egypt is for Sisi to grab the power. In this way, the civilian government of Egypt was toppled after a year by a military that has a strong support base among various political, bureaucratic, and military sectors of the country. Nonetheless, all supporters of Sisi believe that he is just a temporary means of transition to the optimal situation in the country. Therefore, if they are currently supporting him in the face of the Muslim Brotherhood, they are actually choosing between bad and worse in order to pave the way for real democratization of Egypt in medium and long terms. However, can the military be really expected to reestablish democracy in the country? This cannot be totally ruled out as a possibility. However, it should not be forgotten that the coup d’état staged by the Egyptian army against the Muslim Brotherhood was a conservative coup. In other words, the coup was not basically aimed at supporting democracy or restoring the democratic order, but was merely aimed at protecting stability and security of the country. An army, which does not support any democratic ideology, is very unlikely to give up the power in favor of democracy once it has established its grip on power. This is especially true as the main goals of the army may rapidly shift from protecting security and restoration of political stability to sustenance of the army’s continued presence in power.

In the meantime, the secular political groups in Egypt – consisting of liberals, nationalists, and leftists – are also having a difficult time. On the one hand, these groups have been leading the uprising against the Muslim Brotherhood government under the unified flag of the National Salvation Front. On the other hand, they by no means sought a full-fledged military coup or continued presence of the armed forces in power. Even those secular groups that urged the army to move against the Muslim Brotherhood government were, in fact, trying to goad the army into action in order to support the secular groups. In this way, they aimed to rebalance the power in such a way as to reproduce democracy in the North African country. Their main goal was to guarantee their own share of the political power pie while heading off the threat which they believed such authoritarian groups as the Muslim Brotherhood were gradually posing to the nascent democracy in Egypt. However, this option, which was made under critical conditions, has practically brought the military and bureaucratic figures to power who are reminiscent of the past regime. It is under these conditions that Mohamed ElBaradei, the well-known figurehead of the Egyptian liberals, resigned his post as the vice president of the interim government after witnessing heavy-handed repression of the Muslim Brotherhood supporters on the streets by the Egyptian military. These developments have also confirmed and strengthened early doubts that the secular figures had about the consequences of a military government in Egypt. Therefore, the most important question now facing the secular figures in Egypt is what is the “way out” of the domination of a military government while also averting the resurge of the Muslim Brotherhood?

Now, the sole way ahead of the secular politicians is simply the same way that they exhorted the Muslim Brotherhood to choose and for which they blamed the Muslim Brotherhood as the latter group was not willing to consider it: to create a consensus among non-military elites of Egypt. The secular politicians missed no opportunity to blame the Muslim Brotherhood for having inclined toward authoritarianism after grabbing the power. Such accusations against the Muslim Brotherhood intensified after Morsi issued a decree to increase his powers in November 2012, and reached their peak following the formulation and approval of the new Egyptian Constitution in December 2012. Both of those developments took place without consulting with non-Muslim Brotherhood elites and were, as such, unilateral measures which caused the Muslim Brotherhood to come under severe fire from critics. At present, the military has grasped the power and has appointed to sensitive posts those bureaucratic figures, who have either shown no interest in democracy, or on the list of their political priorities democracy hits the bottom. As a result, if previous signs indicating that the Muslim Brotherhood had been inclined toward authoritarianism and exclusive power and had turned its back on democracy were nagging the seculars, those signs are now back and emitting more powerful pulses.

Under these conditions, the return of civilian politicians to the political scene of Egypt and going back of the armed forces to garrisons would be only possible through an agreement between non-military seculars and non-military Islamist leaders. Of course, it would be very difficult to reach such an agreement under the present conditions, but neither the Muslim Brotherhood, nor secular figures in Egypt will be able single-handedly to strip the army of the power it has grabbed. This would be especially the case if General Sisi decided to change attire and take part in the next presidential election in which case only through a consensus will the Islamist and secular politicians be able to withstand the election of a military figure, which would lead to capture of the Egyptian democracy in favor of the proponents of militaristic policies. At present, no promising sign of the possibility of such consensus can be seen anywhere on the horizon. However, as the transition period approaches its termination and new presidential election draws near, it would be logical to expect such agreement to take place – in its minimal or maximal forms – sometime in the future. There are two conceivable future courses for the politics in Egypt: militarism or democracy. The only way to ward off militarism is through agreement and cooperation among all non-military elites with different ways of thinking. Such an agreement should not only lead to the expulsion of the military from Egyptian politics, but also establish a firm foundation for the Egyptian democracy in a future which will not be governed by the armed forces.

Key Words: Militarism, Egypt, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Mohamed Morsi, Muslim Brotherhood, the Secular Political Groups, Ahmadian

More By Hassan Ahmadian:

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