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Egypt: into the unknown and beyond the bounds of history

Egypt’s current problem is that it is moving beyond the bounds of history and it is feared that the Arab world will follow suit. Those who read Egyptian newspapers and the statements made by the country’s politicians, which flatter the military establishment and do their bidding, may not have realised that the nature of comments made by politicians are practically a mirror image of those that were made in Turkey nearly half a century ago.


Any student of the militarisation of Turkish society and its history will know that calls for military intervention to save the country from chaos and collapse were made reluctantly.

Due to the fragility of the political situation in Turkey at the time, many looked to the army as their saviour and thought that its officers were sincere. They believed that the army had political “credit” which allowed it to intervene in times of chaos. After all, it was the army that saved the country from foreign occupation during World War I, established the Republic and implemented reforms that led to the modernisation of the state. This narrative has been employed to justify the militarisation of society since the Republic of Turkey was founded during the 1920s and it continues to be used eighty years later.

This scenario has several well-known chapters: weak parties fail to manage the state; the people call on the army to be their saviour; the army provides the government with an ultimatum to take care of their responsibilities; the army warns the government; the military announces a military coup; the military takes over the country and implement unrestrained policies.

This rarely last more than ten years before the same voices rise up again and the military repeats its warnings and justifies its continued control of the state. Army officers view themselves as worthy of intervention because they are the only disciplined and coherent institution in the country which also possesses force of arms on the ground. This process was repeated several times in Turkey where there was a series of successive coups in 1960, 1971 and 1980; a so-called “soft” or “postmodern” coup took place in 1997.

The justification for all these coups was that the Turkish army felt that it was responsible for the protection of the values and safety of the Turkish Republic. By virtue of that responsibility, the army imposed itself as the guardian of society. In 1982, the army codified a constitution that reflected this guardianship initiated by the National Security Council. It established offices for the country’s military, political, security, economic, cultural and media affairs.

Mobilisation of the military continued until the 1995 elections that led to the victory of the Welfare Party, which has an Islamic background. The results of the election eventually led to the formation of a coalition government with the True Path Party led by Welfare leader Necmettin Erbakan. Yet, the military had its hands in all of the decision-making instruments of the state and, eventually, their control over the government forced Erbakan to resign in 1997.

The storm blowing over Egypt since the isolation of President Mohamed Morsi is leading the country in the same direction, one that places it out of historical bounds. The isolation of the elected president put an end to hopes that the democratisation programme would be accelerated in Egypt. The army froze the constitution and disbanded the Shura Council, among other institutions. It became clear that all bets were placed on the military establishment and it worked towards strengthening the power of the state in society.

It is in this atmosphere that a new constitution was formed based on selection by the military and not by an election. The military establishment has become the de facto governing institution that possesses all the power to make decisions in this new situation.

A military source published a statement saying that the situation in Egypt does not allow for the army to hand power over to a president it does not know. The only logical thing to do, claimed the source, is to protect the only weapon that the Egyptian people possess; that is, the Egyptian army. “We do not want to face the possibility that someone disguised as a civilian will take over the presidency. Furthermore, we cannot risk letting this individual appoint whomever he wishes to fill the post of defence minister.”

In this way, the military did not force itself onto society; it managed to rally support for its presence from various directions and institutions. In the words of Noam Chomsky, the military succeeded in “manufacturing consent” by using liberal, nationalist and leftist forces, not to mention the media, which succeeded in planting seeds of doubt in the public mind about Morsi’s presidency. They succeeded in mobilising and inciting the masses against his regime, thus placing all the power on the military’s side.

In light of the new situation, General Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, Minister of Defence and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, has become the candidate for the presidency with the most support from civilians. The armed forces now have an important role in the Committee on the Status of the Constitution, which has aroused suspicions about the possibility of the minister of defence possessing total immunity, placing him in a position of higher authority than the president or head of state. In an attempt to meet on middle ground, there was a proposal that this would be the case during a transitional period that would last ten to twelve years, in addition to the idea of trying civilians in military courts, which are subject to the orders of the minister of defence.

An item in As-Shurouq newspaper cited another source claiming that the events of recent years have proved to everyone that the Egyptian military is the only force possessing power on the ground now and in the future due to the weakness of popular political parties. “Thus, it is inevitable that the military uses its power to save the country from any individuals and parties seeking to change Egypt’s identity.”

As-Shurouq failed to mention that the source was speaking on behalf of the armed forces. At the very least it presented the idea that the army is the only force with supreme power in the Egyptian political arena and that it opposed President Morsi and will do everything it can to avoid repeating this experience at all costs. By claiming that this could affect the identity of the armed forces, the nation’s identity and interests are clearly secondary in their eyes.

The dream of achieving a democratic state, which was born as a result of the January 25 Revolution, now seems further away and more intangible than ever. It does not seem to be a distinct possibility in the foreseeable future.

Attempts to build a new Egypt are currently being corrupted by a severe imbalance of power arising from the dominance of the military establishment. All power is now concentrated in a group of select organisations that are unified by nothing except for their opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters. These political groups posses no electoral legitimacy of their own and rely on the military for what influence they have.

That is the current political crisis in Egypt. This great country cannot be built on liberal alliances with the military. The army cannot continue with its project on the basis of excluding the Muslim Brotherhood and waging a “war on terrorism”. The western perspective on Egypt suggests that the country is experiencing a severe political decline and will no longer be involved in regional issues. Furthermore, Egypt now finds itself resigned to cooperating with Israel on matters of security, one of the pillars of the Camp David Peace Treaty. The crisis may well have been fuelled by Egypt’s reconciliation with Israel, with which the army appears to be comfortable. President Morsi was rather wary of any interaction with Israel.

The current alliance in charge of Egypt opposes the outcome of the Arab Spring. The constituent parties and individuals have goals and loyalties which are inconsistent with the desires and ambitions of the uprisings across the Arab world. The Middle East is the subject of a re-mapping exercise that will be disastrous for the region. This is the price that Arabs will have to pay for the tragedy that has befallen Egypt.

The current situation is not completely lost, though, as the Arab Spring retains a spark of vitality sufficient to shock. I believe that, in reality, the Arab Spring is a transitional period in Arab history, which now seeks change in its rejection of the social and political injustices imposed by various institutions. This was expressed in a report published by the New York Times on October 18th, which discussed the silent mass demonstrations in the Gulf States, especially the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. The report was “The End of Chiefdom” written by Professor Christian Davidson of Britain’s Durham University.

If Egypt continues to lose in this way, it will eventually bring the rest of the Arab world down with it. Although it stands outside the course of history, it will not be able to stop the wheels of history from turning nor will the coup leaders be able to stop the will of God as embodied in this Qur’anic verse: “If you abandon the words and will of Allah, He will replace you with another group and they will not be like you.” (Surah Muhammad, verse 38)

This is a translation of the Arabic text published by Al Jazeera net on 22 October, 2013

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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