Monday, September 26, 2011

The Egyptian people's revolution is being hijacked by the army

Torture, emergency laws, mass arrests and delayed elections: this is what Egypt's generals mean by protecting democracy

Soumaya Ghannoushi, Monday 26 September 2011

"...Between 28 January and 29 August, almost 12,000 civilians were tried in military tribunals – far more than Mubarak managed in 30 years of dictatorship. Torture by police and military personnel remains widespread, with hundreds of reports of beatings, electrocution, and even sexual assault.

Days after assuming power, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf) began to talk tough, declaring that it would not tolerate strikes, pickets "or any action that disrupts the country's security", and imposing prison sentences on those who defied the ban. The army has since gone further, introducing a ban on public protest and curfews. This seems to have only strengthened activists' resolve, as the frequent demonstrations held in Tahrir Square testify.

Recently, exploiting the climate of tension heightened by the storming of the Israeli embassy, the army reactivated the state of emergency, announcing that it will remain in force until next June – dashing popular demands for a swift end to the draconian code that formed the constitutional underpinning for Mubarak's dictatorship, and served as his chief means of stifling dissent for three decades....

The backdrop for all the army's decisions over the past eight months is its concern over its position in the emerging political system. The generals realise that there can be no return to 1952, when the "Free Officers" seized power and controlled the political arena for more than two decades. But they seem unwilling to retreat to their barracks without first securing the upper hand in internal and foreign policy matters. It is not the day-to-day running of the country that the army is interested in. Rather, it wants to have a tight grip on key issues: strategic decisions, budgetary distribution, and above all keeping the military itself free from public scrutiny. That is the reason why the army has moved to lay down its "declaration of basic principles", which would grant it sweeping authority and enable it to intercede in civilian politics.

In a telling statement, Major General Mamdouh Shaheen, a council member, declared: "We want a model similar to that found in Turkey … Egypt, as a country, needs to protect democracy from the Islamists, because we know that these people do not think democratically" – the same justification used by Arab dictators to legitimise despotism for decades. What this top officer means by the "Turkish model" is not its latest version, but the model that crippled political life for most of the past century.

His statement may be greeted warmly in London, Washington, Paris or Tel Aviv, by those anxious to prevent any meaningful change from taking place. Whether in suits or uniforms, the interests of the region's autocrats seem destined to converge with those of the great western powers. And in this unholy marriage of internal and external obstructors of genuine reform lies the tragic plight of democracy and democrats in Arab lands."

No comments: