Saturday, June 23, 2012
The west can, and must, use its influence to curb Egypt's generals
The Observer, Saturday 23 June 2012
"Whatever the final results of Egypt's presidential elections, due to be announced today, it is fair to say that one thing has not changed since the advent of the Arab Spring – the grip of the country's generals on the country's post-Hosni Mubarak politics.
Egypt's "deep state" – represented by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces backed by powerful former regime interests in both business and the media – has moved at every turn to undermine the transition to democracy.
It has dissolved the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated parliament which was elected in January in what were largely regarded as free and fair elections. The military, too, has pursued young revolutionaries through the courts and with live ammunition when they have dared to protest, leading to more than 1,000 deaths since the revolution. The remnants of the old regime – known as the felool – have prosecuted foreign NGOs, attempted to portray foreigners as spies and agents provocateurs, while doing their best to undermine the writing of a new constitution that the "deep state" fears might introduce civilian oversight into its murky dealings, not least its monopolisation of large parts of Egypt's economy.
The reason for these tactics is clear. They are designed not only to protect the military's own interests but also to encourage a state of chaos and thereby persuade the Egyptian electorate that stability at any cost is better than the present situation. On Friday the military, in an act of astonishing chutzpah, attempted to blame the Muslim Brotherhood for the confusion it has itself been instrumental in sowing, through the party's allegedly premature claims to have won the election. At the same time the ruling council unashamedly defended its constitutional decree limiting the power of the new president.
Many are fearful that the generals are planning to hand power – whatever the real result in a close and not very clean election – to Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak's last prime minister and embodiment of the old regime.
The decree also gives the generals power to enact legislation in the absence of a parliament while allowing it a key role in any future constitutional negotiations. Rejecting demands that they reverse their dissolution of parliament and their grasp on power, the generals defended their move instead, saying it was for the good of the country "during this critical period".
The tone of the televised statement from the ruling military council was a blunt warning to Egyptians about where real power lay – an instruction to behave or face the consequences. The reality is that even if – after what appear to be behind-the-scenes negotiations between the generals and the Brotherhood – the Brotherhood's candidate Mohamed Morsi is declared the victor, the result may be meaningless. For its part the Brotherhood, aware of the escalating nature of the crisis, has attempted to forge a belated front with other parties and revolutionary groups in a bid to resist the army's latest manoeuvres.
In all of this the international community has acted as willing collaborators with the generals, refusing to speak out even in the midst of what appears to many to be a slow-moving and soft coup d'etat. The United States, which provides the military with $1.3bn in aid, is most guilty in this respect, but the British Foreign Office and other European capitals have hardly been better. There are, however, signs that even the US may be running out of patience with the generals' unwillingness to hand over power to civilian rule. Warnings have issued from the State Department that aid is contingent on political transition.
The outcome of the struggle under way in Egypt is critical, too, not just for that country's weary inhabitants but for the wider region which has witnessed the promise of the Arab Spring transformed increasingly into a bitter competition between different players.
Failure of the revolution and transition in Egypt would have far-reaching consequences. For now, at least, the junta remains susceptible to external pressure."