Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The plot to topple the state

Sharif Abdel Kouddous
Al-Masry Al-Youm

"As the first anniversary of the Egyptian revolution approaches, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) is continuing to issue shrill warnings of a plot to topple the state. The most direct came from Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi himself, when he said last week, "Egypt is facing grave dangers it has not seen before." He added, "The armed forces are the backbone that protects Egypt. These schemes are aimed at targeting that backbone."

Tantawi is right. There is a plot to topple the state. Egypt's revolution has evolved from an uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak into a deeper struggle aimed at uprooting the military regime that has ruled the country for the past 60 years and served as the backbone of its modern autocracy. Since 1952, the army has enjoyed a special autonomy in Egypt, both political and economic, above any civilian control or oversight. It is this very autonomy and privilege that the revolution is now targeting and has the military council talking of a threat to destabilize the country.

Over the past few decades, the army has burrowed itself ever deeper into Egypt's economy, building a sprawling business empire that utilizes a mass conscripted labor force and includes vast real estate holdings in the north and on the Red Sea coast. Army divisions make everything from television sets and off-road vehicles to olive oil, bottled water and fertilizer. Estimates of the military's share of the economy vary widely, ranging from 15 to 40 percent of gross domestic product, a testament to the cloak of secrecy that conceals their financial affairs. Meanwhile, senior army officers live a life apart in self-contained military cities, complete with their own housing, sports teams and supermarkets selling foreign goods at a discount.....

But the afterglow has since faded away. Over the past year, the military has killed, wounded, imprisoned and tortured protesters. The single bloodiest day since Mubarak's ouster came at the hands of the army — not Interior Ministry forces —when soldiers fired live ammunition and drove armored personnel carriers into a crowd of Coptic protesters and their supporters, killing 27 people. The December clashes centered on Qasr al-Aini Street marked the longest sustained battle between protesters and the army since the revolution began and will be forever remembered by the notorious image of three soldiers dragging and stomping on an unarmed woman.

Meanwhile, erratic and confusing decision making by the SCAF throughout the transitional period combined with its complete denial of any wrongdoing and high-handed attitude toward any criticism has done serious harm to its legitimacy. Namely, the military leaders have seemed unwilling to govern and unwilling to let anyone else do so....
While the revolution may have brought the SCAF to the helm of political power, over the past 12 months it has grown to challenge the military's dominance within the state. Despite increasing levels of state-backed violence, the protest movement has continued its resistance, helping to bring the political elite and the greater body politic out of paralysis to begin confronting issues that were formerly taboo. Transparency and oversight of the military budget are now openly discussed, the army's annual receipt of US$1.3 billion in annual military aid from the US is being questioned, and even notions of a civilian defense minister are being cautiously whispered......"

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