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In the Officers' Republic of Egypt, only generals are honoured when they die

A man holds a poster of the late former Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi during a protest in New York, US on 2 March 2019 [Atılgan Özdil/Anadolu Agency]
A man holds a poster of the late former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi during a protest in New York, US on 2 March 2019 [Atılgan Özdil/Anadolu Agency]

In June 2019, Egypt's first democratically elected civilian president, Mohamed Morsi, died in a cage in an open court session. He had been detained in solitary confinement for almost six years after he was forced from power in a bloody coup in 2013. Morsi ruled Egypt just for one year and he was sentenced to more than 45 years in prison. In detention, Morsi suffered from two diabetic comas and did not receive proper treatment. Although he demanded to be moved to a private hospital at his own expense, his calls were unheeded.

On Tuesday, Hosni Mubarak died in a military hospital; he was Egypt's president for almost 30 years until the popular revolution in 2011. Mubarak had been sentenced to life in prison in 2012 for conspiring to murder 239 demonstrators during the 18-day uprising which ousted him. An appeals court ordered a retrial and the case against Mubarak and his senior officials was dropped. He was finally acquitted in 2017.

The current presidency in Egypt mourned Mubarak as a "military patriot and war hero" and has offered its condolences to his family. Mubarak, the former air force officer, will have a military funeral. Morsi, the civilian president, wasn't given a decent funeral; just a few members of his family attended the burial.

READ: Egypt's January Revolution is not just a memory

The Egyptian military establishment blatantly considers itself to be an autonomous entity, utterly detached from the executive power of the state which has, ironically, been headed by ex-generals for all but one of the past sixty years. The military establishment has adopted the same binary rhetoric throughout those decades: "It's either us or tumult and external intervention." The generals have been echoing the same claim that people should choose stability under an able guarantor — the army — or chaos, terrorism and sectarianism that would, it is alleged, follow if "immature" political parties govern the country. The formulaic pretext is that society is not ready for democracy.

Even during the 2011 revolution, the Egyptian army cunningly managed to preserve its legitimacy and superiority. It succeeded in enhancing its power grab by disseminating a narrative depicting itself as the custodian and guardian of the popular uprising, as if it had forced the then-President Mubarak to step down. When he did eventually go, it was the Military High Council that took over government institutions until Morsi's inauguration in June 2012.

Unsurprisingly, the military establishment couldn't live with a democratically-elected civilian President like Morsi in power. It couldn't stand the idea that an elected parliament would be monitoring, inspecting and questioning its budgets and plans.

That's why the army ousted Morsi in July 2013 after building on popular resentment which arose after exaggerated claims about the inefficiency of the civilian president's government that had not only been in control for just a year, but also had to contend with deep state officials simply not cooperating with the presidency. The generals took control from behind the scenes through their media outlets, business lobbies and regional powers that were ready to do whatever was necessary to block the rise of democracy in the Arab World.

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Until the very last days of his rule, Mubarak refused to name a vice president. His son, Gamal Mubarak had been seen as his likely heir in later years, but that arrangement was never formally cemented. In a pilot study by the Arab Barometer after his ousting, Egyptian citizens were asked to name three primary motives for what is known as the "Arab Spring". The most frequently quoted were corruption, the economy and social injustice. However, the main reason for the revolution, at least among the organisers of the protests, was Mubarak's plan to bring in his son as president to succeed him. Interestingly, the military establishment put fuel on the fire of this popular resentment against Mubarak's scheming, not because it was against nepotism and a dynastic move by the ailing president, but because the generals didn't welcome Gamal Mubarak as an "outsider" Chief of Staff.

Former President of Egypt Hosni Mubarak on 23 March 2007 [Zekeriya Albayrak/Anadolu Agency]

Former President of Egypt Hosni Mubarak on 23 March 2007 [Zekeriya Albayrak/Anadolu Agency]

As the uprising spread, Mubarak turned to his intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, and named him as vice president on 29 January, 2011. On 10 February, with the protests growing by the day, he announced that he was delegating much of his authority to his deputy but vowed to remain in power. The arrangement lasted barely a day. On 11 February, Suleiman announced Mubarak's resignation in a one-minute televised address, and promptly turned over power to the armed forces. On 19 July 2012, Suleiman mysteriously died in a hospital in Ohio, USA, while undergoing medical tests for an unknown problem.

In simple terms, in post-monarchy Egypt the military establishment had enjoyed many privileges. The generals were able to work with almost no oversight from civil society or the government. In the Officers' Republic of Egypt, the military establishment's role has come into even sharper focus since the 2013 coup that saw the reinstatement of the generals and the Interior Ministry in positions of dominance and power.

READ: Mubarak dies at 91 but his legacy lives on: Corruption, impunity, brutality

In the Qur'an, the Egyptian Pharaoh is quoted as saying that, "I do not show you except what I see, and I do not guide you except to the way of right conduct." Successive military presidents in Egypt make the same bogus claim, and present themselves as Egypt's sole protector against militancy and sectarianism. This is as true of Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi, himself a former general, is it was for Hosni Mubarak; their style is the same.

Al-Sisi took control of the country following the bloody 2013 coup against the first democratically-elected president, and has grown progressively more totalitarian, imprisoning or excluding any potential political opponents and suppressing even whispers of public dissent. By honouring Mubarak and paying tribute upon his death this week, the latest Egyptian general to run the country was avenging the people's decision to rebel against the military establishment and send an ancient Pharaonic message to those who once dreamt of rising up against tyranny and dictatorship: "O my people, does not the kingdom of Egypt belong to me, and these rivers flowing beneath? Can you not then discern?"

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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