LOS ANGELES -- As Egyptians mark the first anniversary of the revolution that toppled their last president, 82% believe that the military will relinquish power to a civilian government after they elect their next president.
Despite continued protests in Tahrir Square since former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's overthrow one year ago, 88% of Egyptians still express confidence in the military generally and 89% are confident in the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) specifically. Still, the majority (63%) think it would be bad for the military to remain involved in politics after the presidential election.
I missed this post on the raids on US NGOs in Egypt earlier this month, on Steve Cook's revamped blog:
So what is going on here? It is hard to tell exactly what strategy the military is pursuing. It has long been the case that Egypt has demanded American aid on its terms alone. The military sees its aid not as a function of the generosity of the American taxpayer, but as its own money. The officers argue—not in so many words—that the aid is a payoff for the peace treaty with Israel. They also claim that the assistance cements a strategic relationship from which Washington benefits on manifold levels. Yet there is nothing in the Camp David Accords or the Egypt-Israel peace treaty that enjoins Washington to fund the Egyptian armed forces. And while the officers may be on firmer (not firm) ground to argue that Washington benefits from strategic ties with Egypt those benefits have diminished in the decades since these relations were established.
As a result, it seems remarkably shortsighted for the SCAF to provoke the ire of the Obama administration and the Congress whom the officers lobby furiously to ensure their annual aid package. Then again, maybe it isn’t. Perhaps the military’s strategy is as simple as snuffing out the demands for democratic change through brute force and the officers have calculated that putting an end to a democratic transition before it even began is worth whatever price they will have to pay in Washington. Either way, in terms of U.S.-Egypt relations, going after the NGOs represents yet another step in the long goodbye between the two countries.
Some thoughts on this:
- The officers may be relying on having allies in the US, notably at CENTCOM and DoD, as well as the usual Congressional lobbyists who will defend them. Congress may huff and puff, but is the US foreign policy establisment really willing to engage with brinksmanship with Egypt over substantial issues? Or does it just want a face-saving out for continuing to engage with what increasingly seems to be a sham democratization process?
- The Israel lobby may also back the above, as long as it gets what it wants from Cairo.
- On the question of military aid to Egypt, it is also a subsidy to the defense industry. It will have strong defenders in Congress and elsewhere.
- The real question may be, will DC simply return to the old relationship that they had under Mubarak if Egypt continues on the downward slope it has gone on human rights? Thus far the US has been pretty quiet, with the transition as an excuse. What happens in a year if we see more of the same? Want to bet that they'll just go back to normal?
- If the above is to be avoided, then it has to be CONDITIONALITY CONDITIONALITY CONDITIONALITY. And not just for the military aid – for everything. And why not move to that right now?
On another issue Cook recently raised – the possibility of granting SCAF members immunity – I agree that it can be a good idea, as distasteful as it might first seem.
If Egypt’s officers were guaranteed immunity, allowed to keep whatever ill-gotten gains they have, and assured that civilianization of the political system is not tantamount to destroying the armed forces—a mistake the Turks seem to be making—the chances are better that the military will yield to civilian politicians and a more democratic order. If the experience of Latin America can be any kind of guide, these guarantees and the traces of the previous authoritarian system that go with them will fade away as democratic practices and processes become institutionalized.
It is hardly perfect, but “democracy with guarantees” provides a potential way for improving the conditions for the emergence of a democratic Egypt. The immunity issue is no doubt sensitive and upsetting to many Egyptians and I certainly sympathize, but there is a larger project at stake. It would be unfortunate for the perfect—in this case prosecuting the officers responsible for the deaths of demonstrators—to be the enemy of the good.
But the other side of the bargain has to be that all SCAF members leave active service and go into retirement and that the next president gets to appoint the next heads of the various branches of the armed forces. Tantawi will probably go but in July the next defense minister should not be Sami Enan, who is complicit in all the crimes carried out since February 11 and over whom many questions hang (notably about his relationship with Gamal Mubarak over the last decade). This is the key thing to fight over: civilian control of the armed forces. That might be worth immunity.
This is a guest post by Rabab ElMahdi, co-editor with Philip Marfleet of Egypt: The Moment of Change.
Civilian-Military Relations in Egypt
By Rabab ElMahdi, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the American University in Cairo.
One of the clear demarcations of democratic polities is civilian control over the military. However, such control is neither automatic nor easy to attain even during periods of democratic transition. In certain cases, foundational constraints imposed by authoritarian legacies and the transition process have conferred upon the armed forces substantial influence over the nascent democratic governments. And in many cases indicators reinforce the view that there is greater continuity than discontinuity in military behavior between the pre- and post-authoritarian periods. If military have left office but not abandoned their centers of power, then the transfer of authority from military to civilian hands is more superficial than real. At worst, the formal departure of the military from power might represent, not the end of a political cycle, but rather its continuation. At best, democratic rule would be severely limited, subject to military supervision, moderation, or arbitration.
I have a new essay up at MERIP, looking at the recent clashes in central Cairo and looking into what many people have wondered over the last few months: is the Egyptian military really this out of control, or is something else going on? It's an attempt to piece together a puzzle without having all the elements, thinking through what SCAF is and what it isn't, what security agencies it depends on, and who are the power brokers of the new Egypt.
From testimony from an Egyptian military officer, published by Jack Shenker in the Guardian: Egyptian army officer's diary of military life in a revolution:
After Mubarak fell and the rule of Scaf (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) began, the top brass moved quickly to secure the loyalty of all mid-level and junior officers. Whenever a big Friday street demonstration or rally in Tahrir Square took place we would all receive a bonus of between 250 and 500 Egyptian pounds (£26-52), whether or not we had anything to do with policing the protests.
It's ridiculous; at the height of the unrest reserve officer salaries doubled and everyone was getting huge bonuses all the time (an average of 2,400 pounds – £254 – for me in January and February). Most full-time officers didn't really care what was happening politically on the streets, they were just happy with the extra money. Occasionally though you'd hear guilty jokes about how we were the only people who were benefiting from the revolution and the Egyptian people had been screwed over.
Read the whole thing, it's very enlightening although not altogether surprising. This is how it ends:
But as the months went on, despite this ignorance and the generous bonus system, dissent against [Egypt's commander-in-chief and current head of Scaf, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein] Tantawi has grown. Most of the mid-level officers now think of him as Mubarak's right-hand man, and they hate the fact that Scaf's violence has tarnished the army's image in the eyes of the public. Many still disapprove of the current protests because they feel it's not the right time, and also because they're resentful that others can go and demonstrate on the streets when they themselves do not have such freedom. But that attitude is beginning to change, especially as independent TV channels have been airing video clips of the recent violence and the brutality of the security forces is being openly discussed by people like [prominent media personalities] Yosri Fouda and Ibrahim Eissa. More and more mid-level officers are turning against Scaf, and against Tantawi."
From Hossam Bahgat, the director of the excellent NGO Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights:
I have good news (gasp). This morning the Court of Administrative Justice ruled in our favor in the case against army chief for subjecting female protesters to "virginity tests". Court admitted the case and issued an urgent injunction against any future "tests". We now continue the fight to get criminal accountability and compensation for the women.
The above pic is of Samira Ibrahim, a victim of the "virginity tests" last March who took the military to court.
Read more about the case in Daily News Egypt.
The Army and the Economy in Egypt, in Jaddaliya:
Any discussion of the relationship between the army and economy cannot ignore the military establishment’s near-absolute dominance of the local economy in various Egyptian governorates. It is well known to many that Egyptians outside of Cairo live under virtual military rule, wherein twenty-one of the twenty-nine appointed governors are retired army generals. This is in addition to dozens of posts in city and local governments that are reserved for retired officers. These individuals are responsible for managing wide-ranging economic sectors in each governorate. In other words, army generals—whose expertise does not go beyond operating armored tanks or fighter jets—are suddenly tasked with managing and overseeing significant economic activities, such as the critical tourism sectors of Luxor and Aswan, Qena’s sugar manufacturing enterprises, or Suez’s fishing and tucking industries.
There is no shortage of corruption stories involving army generals and their mismanagement of local economies. For example, in one such incident former Luxor Governor General Samir Farag—who previously served as director of morale affairs of the Armed Forces—sold land to a local businessman below market prices. The land was initially designated for building an Olympic games stadium. In fact, after hundreds of millions of Egyptian pounds were spent on the project, all of a sudden construction was suspended and all the spent funds went to waste, as the land was sold to a businessman that owned a hotel across the street. Similarly, the residents of Aswan allege that their governor General Mustafa al-Sayed was involved in corruption cases involving public lands and the tourism sector. Al-Sayed recently appointed at least ten retired army brigadier generals as managers of the quarries and river ports and offered them exorbitant salaries, even though they lack relevant qualifications and experience.
Given that those in charge of managing our local economies receive such jobs as a “retirement bonus,” it is unsurprising that local development throughout Egyptian governorates has remained stagnant for decades and lags behind other countries.
This story barely scratches at the details, but is well worth reading. A look at military conscripts who end up working (for no money) in military factories would be particularly enlightening. It's really hard to underscore how terrible this military regime has been for this country, in every possible way. One thing though: some estimates cited in others pieces for how much of the Egyptian economy is controlled by the military go as high as 40%. That is almost certainly an exaggeration, since the private sector is at least 50% by itself and there is a large official state sector outside the military's control.
This week’s translation comes from al-Tahrir, the newspaper edited by Ibrahim Eissa that is among the most critical publications of SCAF and the security services to come out since the January uprising. The writer of this column is Ezzedine Choukri-Fishere, a former high-level Egyptian diplomat who has woked on the Middle East peace process and in Sudan in various capacities, both for his country and the United Nations. He is also a novelist — his latest book has just been shortlisted for the Arabic Booker — and teaches International Relations at the American University in Cairo. His website is here. We previously feature Ezzedine (a friend of ours) in this hilarious video, in which he berates state television by introducing them to the concept of remote controls.
This column echoes a lot of my own thinking about recent events, notably hinting at a trend within the Egyptian deep state that is seeking to re-establish itself, manipulating politics (including the elections) and pushing SCAF towards confrontation and state media towards incitation against the revolutionary movement. This is a worrying development, even perhaps raising a question about whether one hand of the state knows what what the other is doing.
As always, we rely on the fantastic Arabic translation services of our partner, Industry Arabic. If you need anything translated from Arabic — a technical or legal document, a media article, a report — check them out.
Goodbye to Military Rule
By Ezzedine Choukri-Fishere, al-Tahrir, 20 December 2011
The coup-makers who dragged the Military Council into adopting the approach of the State Security Investigations Service (SSI) in the way it handles revolutionary forces have damaged the Military Council, the image of the army and the army’s status in the new political order.
This video is a prime example of the excruciating debates we're seeing on Egyptian TV recently. The guest on this show is insisting to the presenter that the army would never shoot at crowds, despite video evidence, claims Sheikh Emad Effat was shot at close range and then is challenged by a coroner's report saying he was shot at a distance and from a height (possibly indicating a sniper). Despite being contradicted with evidence at every turn, he keeps on rambling about the army as protector of the nation, etc., and that the allegations against it are therefore impossible.
It's rather typical, unfortunately, of the SCAF's worldview and that of some establishment figures: the army can do no wrong, therefore the army has not done anything wrong. What we're witnessing is an entire mental edifice of denial and excuses crumbling down. Great that this presenter gave him a tough time — on state TV, they often just nod along in agreement.
Previously: Egypt, still the land of denial
The article, entitled “Is Tantawi reading the public pulse correctly?”, said that Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, who leads Egypt’s ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), could share the same fate as former president Hosni Mubarak and find himself in jail as a result of popular discontent with his management of the revolution’s transition process.
“Many in the military resent the reputation of their institution being abused by the Field Marshal and his 19 colleagues on the SCAF … the present rumblings of discontent among junior officers, Chief of Staff General Sami Anan’s greater popularity than the Field Marshal in the military and among Egyptians as a whole, and intensified pressure from the US could all result in the Field Marshal sharing President Mubarak’s fate,” Dr Springborg wrote in the
original version of the article.
Dr Springborg concluded by saying that “discontented officers not in the SCAF might decide that a coup within the coup would be the best way to save the honour of the country and their institution.”
Via the Atlantic Council's Egypt's page, a Brookings poll carried in October showed that 43% of Egyptians believe the military was working to reverse the goals of the revolution. This suggests that the supposed silent majority that backs SCAF is much smaller than we think — just think how much those numbers must have changed in the last month alone, even before the current crisis. This suggests that the time is ripe for a major push against SCAF — and that it's been the political leaders, not the people, who have been trailing behind.
This is a major taboo being broken, with the call of for the indictment of the head of the Central Command, General Ruweini (considered third most powerful person on SCAF) and the head of the military police:
Five human rights organizations said today that the past three days' brutal attacks on demonstrators, carried out by the Interior Ministry's security forces and military police forces under the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces in Cairo, Alexandria, Suez, Ismailiya, Assyut, and other cities, constitute criminal offences. These offences are without a statute of limitations and the perpetrators and instigators must be brought before criminal trials.
The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, Hisham Mubarak Law Centre, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, El-Nadim Centre for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, and the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information pledged to continue to identify the civilian and military officials involved in killing demonstrators, bursting their eyes and breaking their bones and skulls. These crimes have been extensively documented by these organizations and by the media over the past few days.
The signatory organizations stated that the list of officials it plans to prosecute so far includes: General Mansour al-Essawi, Minister of the Interior; General Sami Sidhom, Assistant Interior Minister for the Security Sector; General Emad al-Din al-Wakil, Assistant Interior Minister for the Central Security Forces; General Hamdy Badeen, head of the military police; and General Hasan al-Ruwaini, commander of the central military district. This is in addition to other civilian and military officials in a number of other cities which have seen similar criminal offences against demonstrators.
Here's the full press release.
With the Maspero massacre, the widespread use of military tribunals, high-profile detentions like that of Alaa Abdel Fattah and Mikael Nabil, and its apparent attempts to rig the next constitution, Egypt's current military junta isw not looking good to anyone, inside Egypt or outside. But to both, it also looks like the only choice, the devil you have to deal with. This ambivalence has now revived that old problem of US-Egypt relations in the Mubarak era, Washington's acute clientitis problem: you're stuck with a client regime you don't like, but have little alternative but to continue because of a set of related policy questions.
This was the reason that for years aid continued to flow to Egypt, despite some congressional opposition, even at the nadir of the relationship between the Bush administration and the Mubarak regime. Oddly, both the criticism of aid to Egypt in Congress and support for it in the administration has largely been about Israel. On the one hand, congresspeople wanted to pressure Egypt to do more on the Gaza/Hamas issue, and on the other the administration did not want to sever military aid it views as underwriting the trilateral relationship created by Camp David. A secondary concern was the late Mubarak regime's autocratic turn and, now, SCAF's increasingly autocratic and incompetent leadership.
This is a guest post by Paul Mutter.
U.S.-Saudi military cooperation in Yemen (which I reported on for The Arabist a few months ago) have not been without controversy. While the U.S. conducts it own drone strikes in Yemen against suspected al Qaeda targets and provides extensive funding, intelligence and training to government forces, it also provides satellite imagery to the Saudis, who conduct airstrikes and ground offensives against suspected al Qaeda targets and anti-government Shia militias. Given that much of the U.S.-Saudi joint effort has come in the form of airstrikes, many of the same objections regarding civilian casualties in Afghanistan and Pakistan have been raised over the air campaigns in Yemen. In February 2010, according to diplomatic cables from the U.S. embassy in Riyadh recently released by Wikileaks, the U.S. raised such objections with the Saudi Ministry of Defense, but was satisfied with their response to the matter and has continued supplying them with satellite data.
The Saudi military, never ones to pass up an opportunity to expand their capabilities, used the opportunity of a meeting with the U.S. Ambassador to suggest that "if we had the Predator, maybe we would not have this problem [of killing Yemeni civilians].”
“Obviously, some civilians died, though we wish that this did not happen," Saudi Defense Minister Prince Khaled concluded, when the U.S. presented him with evidence that Saudi airstrikes were inaccurate and caused collateral damage to civilian facilities, such as medical clinics.
Of all places, in the New York Times. Steven Erlanger does a magnificent job of raising many important points. In order of appearance:
Libya has been a war in which some of the Atlantic alliance’s mightiest members did not participate, or did not participate with combat aircraft, like Spain, Turkey and Sweden. It has been a war where the Danes and Norwegians did an extraordinary number of the combat sorties, given their size. Their planes and pilots became exhausted, as the French finally pulled back their sole nuclear-powered aircraft carrier for overdue repairs and Italy withdrew its aircraft carrier to save money.
My academic friends Josh Stacher and Jason Brownlee, both noted students of contemporary Egypt and its authoritarianism, have a new piece in Comparative Democratization, a journal of the American Political Science Association. It's available as a PDF here. They set out the case that Egypt's prospects for a democratic transition are poor because there has not really been a split in the country's elite. (It's a lot more complicated than that, but it's difficult to pull out a representative passage as it's an academic piece — so best to read it all.)
I am much more optimistic than they are — and I suspect they might have been a bit more optimistic too had they had written their paper a month or so later (it looks like it was filed in April). They described the referendum as an endorsement of the SCAF but that narrative is now being reconsidered and debated, notably on the question of the SCAF's disingenuous use of the referendum as an endorsement of its transition plan (rather than, strictly speaking, nine amendments to the constitution). The fight regarding security officials and leading party members is also continuing, receiving an important boost as far as the NDP is concerned after April 8. Everything about the current moment is in flux, and while one should not have unrealistic expectations, there is a real desire for an improvement.
To say, as they do, that the current interim regime is just as authoritarian eludes the fact that this is a necessarily extraordinary transitional moment in Egyptian politics. I just don't see how it can be compared to the Mubarak era, even if it's still far from democratic. Still, it's a piece well worth reading.
The #May 27 "Second Revolution" came and went this weekend without the drama that many had expected. Turnout was pretty good — good enough to show that the ranks of those unsatisfied with the current state of affairs is plenty big, and big enough to show that the Muslim Brothers' participation is not essential to getting a decent number of people protesting. Impressive also was that the protests took place across the country, as Zeinobia points out with her gallery of videos. Get more videos and an account at Jadaliyya. It may not be a second revolution but it's enough to keep the SCAF on its toes and give media traction to multiple grievances: high-ranking corruption, insecurity, slow justice, heavy-handedness of the military, etc.
Although many of these grievances are indeed worthwhile, this opposition movement should start coalescing over one or two core demands with regards to the transition. It has already been a tragedy of Egypt's revolution that the revolutionaries did not have a clear aim beyond the removal of Mubarak and that the post-Mubarak transition has been handled poorly, to say the least, by a SCAF that is guilty of bumbling incompetence perhaps more than malice. In particular, the transition process could have been more along the lines of Tunisia's, with an elected constituent assembly rather than one appointed by parliament and independent commissions to investigate corruption as well as violence. The real drama, it seems to me, is that right now transitional justice consists of immediately going after certain persons (those close to Gamal Mubarak) yet only going after older apparatchiks (NDP apparatchiks, etc.) after popular pressure forced the SCAF to. And, most of all, a piecemeal approach to trying former officials: consider that Hosni Mubarak has just been fined for cutting off the internet, and may only be tried for the violence during the revolution, while not being held accountable for 30 years of autocracy.