Thursday, 21 June 2012

Egypt's military council under scrutiny

Every military mission has as its cardinal principles: defining the objective, achieving the objective and securing an exit. No military mission should be attempted without an exit strategy. The alternative is mission creep.

The most benign interpretation of the military's actions over the past 18 months is that the army intervened to establish some kind of order with the intention of withdrawing to barracks once it could hand over to a duly-constituted civilian authority.

The army's actions over the past week put that interpretation under considerable strain. The catalyst for the army's change of tack was the rulings of the Supreme Constitutional Court to dissolve the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated parliament and to permit the man that the former regime had identified as a potential future president to stand against the Brotherhood's candidate. Critics were quick to point out that the judges in the court were Hosni Mubarak appointees. This is only partly true. All were appointed under Mubarak: what institution did not have its senior members appointed over the past 30 years that Mubarak ruled? But only the head of the court was actually appointed by him. Furthermore, the court has a reputation for quirkiness and had by no means always ruled in favour of the political powers that be.

The generous interpretation of the army's actions is that Constitutional Court rulings created a political vacuum which the army felt bound to fill.

Few support this view. They note that whatever the army might have said over the past 18 months, it has done little to re-assure citizens that it understands that the rules of the political game, the relationship between people and power, have fundamentally changed in Egypt as it has in other parts of the Arab world. They see an army, ostrich-like, reverting to default mode. It imposed limits on the media, sent 12,000 to military courts, was itself engaged in abuses, killed mainly Coptic demonstrators last October and held no one to account. The army has asked people to trust them. They have done little to earn that trust. The political transition has been a shambles, with its stentorian constitutional declarations and its swift appointment of an army general to guide whoever is elected president on economic matters. It is clear that whatever the army's original intentions, its most recent actions suggest an organisation unwilling or unable to delegate or to trust whoever might be elected by popular vote to rule.

Many felt that the Muslim Brotherhood was not politically mature enough to exercise power. Others that a time in power would expose the organisation to the compromises all those in that position have to make. But the army's actions have now left a Muslim Brotherhood bruised and resentful that the prize has been snatched from its grasp. The leadership has said it wants no violent confrontation with the army. Who knows what different approach some within the grassroots might take?

For more news and expert analysis about Egypt, please see Egypt Politics & Security.

© 2012 Menas Associates

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