Egypt analysis: Collapsing economy could force generals to negotiating table

Few Egyptians want to see return of military-led regime

Egyptian soldiers stand guard as they close one of the entrances to Tahrir Square in Cairo on Friday. Photograph: Muhammad Hamed/Reuters

Egyptian soldiers stand guard as they close one of the entrances to Tahrir Square in Cairo on Friday. Photograph: Muhammad Hamed/Reuters

Sat, Aug 24, 2013, 06:41

From the time of the pharaohs, the military has been an influential factor in Egyptian politics. Since the revolution mounted by the Free Officers movement in 1952, military men have either ruled or, in the case of the Muslim Brotherhood’s brief reign, partnered the country’s rulers.

Some regard the overthrow of the Brotherhood – which held power through parliament and presidency from early 2012 until July 3rd last – as the return of the “deep state,” a combination of the armed forces, security apparatus, the oligarchs who dominate the economy, and the feloul, remnants of the 30-year regime of Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted in 2011.

The fact that Mubarak’s exit from Tora prison on Thursday was greeted only by a handful of supporters demonstrated clearly that he and his entourage are “history” and few Egyptians are eager for the return of a military-led regime.

Although the “deep state” was supposed to lose power along with Mubarak, Amnesty International’s Diana Eltahawy, now in Cairo, told The Irish Times that “it has never gone away. There has been no reform or restructuring.”

Senior security officials charged with killing protesters during the 2011 uprising remain at their posts while those responsible for evidence- gathering to mount prosecutions were “responsible for the killings”, she said. Police continued to rely on “unwarranted use of force” to deal with demonstrators.

Mubarak’s successors
Neither of Mubarak’s successors, unelected Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), nor elected president Mohamed Morsi, a Brotherhood stalwart, had any intention of reining in the security forces or imposing civilian control over the military command. The security forces were used by both Tantawi and Morsi to deal with protesters and the Brotherhood-drafted constitution courted the mili- tary by granting it full autonomy and authority over its budgets and economic empire.

Nevertheless, Egypt has progressed on the road to civilian governance since the uprising. Former Masri al- Yaoum editor Hisham Kassem made the point that now there were “no generals in the ministries” overseeing the ministers’ work as there were during Tantawi’s rule.

“There is not a single minister who served under Morsi is in prison,” he added. (During Morsi’s year in office, generals were replaced by Bro- therhood loyaists who have also been turfed out.)

Socialist Party founder Mamdouh Habashi agreed. “There is a big difference between the time SCAF was in power” and the period under the current military chief, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.

Under the SCAF, there was “no independent civilian government. So many mistakes were made that there was a second revolution in November 2011,” when anti-military protesters took to the streets.

“During the time of Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood was given complete power. Reservations [over policies] were submitted in writing” by the military.

Before Morsi was toppled, “all parties were given a chance to reach a compromise. The Brotherhood refused.”

After he was deposed, “the army put forward a roadmap to pave the way to democracy,” Habashi added.

New constitution
This roadmap conforms to the agenda of the 2011 revolutionaries who had argued that a new constitution must be put in place so that the rules of governance would be laid down before parliamentary and presidential elections.

Tantawi put the constitution last, provoking the third uprising against the Brotherhood which imposed a constitution with a fundamentalist bias.

While analyst Youssef Zaki said “remnants of the deep state, formed over 60 years, will never give up” trying to exercise power, he believed the collapsing economy would force the generals to “come to the table of negotiations. All factions, including the Brotherhood, and all colours of political thought will be included.

“The military cannot rule [openly] any more. It needs civilians, but the political scene is empty of serious, efficient civilian politicians who can find a platform from which they can propagate their ideas. This will delay the process of achieving political consensus.”

Subsequently, Dina Samak of Ahram Online suggested that even “if Sisi does not have political ambitions, he may be persuaded” to cultivate them.

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