Egypt’s Military Coup: Take Two

It was March 2011 and the Egyptian military had assumed executive power in what was dubbed a democratic transition. As I stood next to a military tank, I saw slogans such as “the people and the army are one hand” and believed that military rule was the best alternative to Mubarak. The tanks indicated the military’s role as protector during the transition to democracy, but the military’s actions since have amounted to a public claiming of the strong political role that it has always held behind the scenes.

Over the past fourteen months, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has gradually shown that it is not “for the people”. Its initial decision not to shoot peaceful protestors enabled the removal of Mubarak from power, but has been followed by a prolonged false showing of democratic transition that is gradually becoming impossible to reclaim.

Skewed Court Decisions

Judicial personnel are unabashedly biased against an Islamist-led government. On June 14, the Constitutional Court released two verdicts that greatly altered the track of the democratic transition: the first deemed the parliament that was democratically elected in January unconstitutional, on the basis that candidates were allowed to run under both a party name and as an individual, thus giving some an unfair advantage over independents. Furthermore, the Political Isolation Law, passed by a Muslim Brotherhood majority parliament in April, that banned former senior members of the Mubarak regime from seeking political positions was deemed unconstitutional. Thus Ahmed Shafiq, a retired general and former air force commander, remained in the runoff with Morsi.

The military has issued its own interim constitution and extended its command beyond the initial deadline of June 21 for the transition to civilian rule. The decision of the Constitutional Court on Thursday has set the revolution back fourteen months to the days of Mubarak. The great disadvantage is that the prolonged transition period has temperered the aspirations of those who had sought a smooth transition after the fall of Mubarak.

Hossam Bahgat, of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, puts it best. He notes that “Egypt just witnessed the smoothest military coup. We'd be outraged if we weren't so exhausted”. While Egyptians for the most part had believed in the feasibility of a democratic transition, the military remained in power with its interests at the forefront.

Egypt’s President: Once a military man, always a military man?

There is no denying that the military’s refusal to shoot peaceful protestors during the eighteen days of uprising was one step in their removal of the “regime”. It is also true, however, that the removal of Mubarak was in the military’s interest. Mubarak was preparing his son, Gamal, to succeed him. Gamal, who lacked military training, would jeopardize the military’s strong grasp on power that it has held since Nasser’s 1952 military coup and violate the precedent of the president’s military service that Nasser, Sadat, and Hosni Mubarak had fulfilled. With the great economic and political influence that it holds behind the scenes, the military needed a man to keep their best interests in mind. Thus SCAF clearly prefers the election of Shafiq over Morsi.

Official results of the election will be issued tomorrow, though Morsi has already claimed victory based on reports of his four-percent lead. Morsi publicly announced his gratitude for people’s support. My prediction is that with such a close turnout between Morsi and Shafiq, the SCAF-appointed Elections Committee might grant a recount or investigate alleged acts of bribery by the Freedom and Justice Party in an effort to delegitimize the results. But in the event that Morsi is indeed deemed the victor in these farcical democratic elections, the SCAF which now holds legislative power in the absence of a parliament will limit the powers of the incoming president. This is another problem that the Egyptian legal system faces – a constitution that designates the president’s role after his election.

Lessons Learned From the “Democratic Transition”

The sequence of transitional steps has undermined the establishment of a fair legal standard for Egypt. The fact that a constitution has not been issued over the past fourteen months leaves room for political forces such as the SCAF to tailor the duties and responsibilities of the president based off their own whims.

 The events of the past weeks have only weakened the position of the revolution and elevated the political will of the SCAF and even the Muslim Brotherhood. And it has exhausted revolutionary forces.

Had the court’s June 14 verdicts been made in 2011, there would have been more zeal to fix the transition turned coup. The mass mobilization of peaceful protesters achieved success in its removal of Mubarak from power. But as clear remnants of the regime remain, the best method for revolutionary forces is to politically organize rather than be reactive to the decisions made by the monopoly of power by the SCAF. This will come with time. Revolutionary forces must recognize that the military has been in power since 1952, and the decisions of the SCAF over the year and a half “transitional” period have only tried to preserve the old order. The sad truth is that alliance between the people and the army was only a means for the SCAF to pursue its own agenda.