I was away from Egypt for the last few days and I missed yesterday's big event: a SCAF representative invited nine foreign correspondents in what clearly was an attempt to send a message (to the US in particular) that the incoming parliament would not get to ride roughshod over the rest of the transition period, including the writing of the next constitution.
One might note several things at this juncture:
- The oddness of making this important statement — the drawing of a red line — to foreigners rather than Egyptian politicians or even the Egyptian public;
- That the SCAF has chosen to make this statement indirectly suggests it does not feel confident for a direct confrontation (as over the "supra-constitutional principles") and prefers sending signals at this state;
- That this is happening as the new government and its "council of advisors" is being composed, with this council being given powers to guide the appointment of the members of the constituent assembly (a further distancing of SCAF from direct implication in this issue after the failure of the "principles")
- The nonsensical nature of what was said — particularly the idea that the elected parliament does not represent Egyptian society, with the implication that the unelected SCAF does represent that society;
- The dueling constitutional challenges of the next few months: on the one hand, parliament seems to have the right to appoint the constituent assembly, but SCAF wants to guide the process; and on the other, SCAF seems to have the right to appoint the government, but the incoming parliament (and Tahrir) want to have a voice in that.
I've been thinking of what the larger meaning of these elections and the recent unrest in Tahrir is, and I would venture that together these mean the beginning of an end for the 1952 regime and a transformation of Egyptian politics that will be deep and meaningful:
- The Tahrir (and elsewhere) protests and Tantawi's speech showed for the umpteenth time that SCAF will capitulate to public pressure and that they lack self-confidence. It also showed that there is widespread dissatisfaction with the SCAF's management of the transition, whether or not most people want Tantawi out or not.
- The elections showed that the military's political class (what was the tanzim tali3i) has collapsed and the generals no longer have an interface to manage the country, as they did through the NDP and before it the ASU. The failure of the felool, in particular, is telling of this.
To me, whether or not the Muslim Brothers, as many fear, decide to collaborate with the SCAF for a few years is irrelevant: the military regime is over, its legitimacy spent (even if there is still much respect for the institution) and the generals' power will decline as civilian rule returns. It might take time, but I would venture that short of a new coup led by charismatic officers, the era of the generals is over. They simply don't have the competence, leadership or the "will to power" to rejuvenate and relaunch the Free Officers' regime.
Below are excerpts from several pieces reporting on the meeting, or touching on the wider issue of the SCAF-parliament relationship and the military's role in politics.