THE NEW ENDGAME IN EGYPT: A COMMENT
" Today, Egypt's constitutional court delivered the coup de grace by refusing to disqualify Mubarak's former prime minister Ahmed Shafik from the race and effectively dissolving the elected parliament by declaring the individual election of one-third of its members illegal. The former decision was probably the right one, to be frank, though it was a missed opportunity for a "hail Mary" political reset. But the latter was absurd, destructive, and essentially voids Egypt's last year of politics of meaning. Weeks before the SCAF's scheduled handover of power, Egypt now finds itself with no parliament, no constitution (or even a process for drafting one), and a divisive presidential election with no hope of producing a legitimate, consensus-elected leadership. Its judiciary has become a bad joke, with any pretence of political independence from the military shattered beyond repair. The SCAF's power grab in the final days looks more like panic than the execution of a carefully prepared master scheme. It likely reflected a combination of fear of rising Islamist power, self-preservation, and growing confidence in its ability to control street protests. The prospect of the Muslim Brotherhood controlling Parliament and the presidency likely scared them more than many people conditioned by speculation about a MB-SCAF alliance recognized -- a dynamic that Robert Springborg captured extremely well for Foreign Policy a few months ago. Of course it wanted to preserve its economic empire and political protections. But both of those were constant over the course of the transition, and don't explain its heavy-handed moves at the climax of the process. What was new, and which likely emboldened this reckless behavior at the end of the transition, was its belief that it had effectively neutered revolutionary movements and protestors. The SCAF likely believes that a renewal of massive, sustained protest is no longer in the cards through a combination of its own repression and relentless propaganda, along with the strategic mistakes by protestors themselves. It doesn't feel threatened by a few thousand isolated protestors in Tahrir, and probably is gambling that they won't be joined by the masses that made the Jan. 25 revolution last year. They may also feel that the intense rifts of suspicion and rage dividing the Muslim Brotherhood from non-Islamist political trends are now so deep that they won't be able to cooperate effectively to respond. Or they may feel that the MB would rather cut a deal, even now, than take it to the next level. They may be right, they may be wrong. But I wouldn't bet on stability.... The SCAF, in other words, may look to have won this seemingly decisive round. But it's not the endgame. It's only the beginning of a new phase of a horribly mismanaged "transition" that is coming to its well-earned end. What's next? A replay of Algeria in 1991? A return to Jan. 25, 2011? Back to 1954? A return to the petulant slow fail of latter-days Mubarak? An alien invasion using nano-weapons and transgalactic wormholes in the Pyramids? Nobody really seems to know... but I'm pretty sure we're not going to see a return to stable CloneNDP-SCAF rule. Of course, this being Egypt, maybe tomorrow the Court will just overrule itself and we can all go back to normal..." Marc Lynch, "That is it for Egypt's so-called Transition." Foreign Policy 14 June 2012, in www.foreignpolicy.com">.
"As you can see from Mr. Evans' memorandum, the opposition to the C.R.C. (Council for the Revolutionary Command) may be regarded as partly political and partly due to economic discontent....Meanwhile as you can see from Mr. Evans' analysis, the C.R.C. do not enjoy the support of any adequate political organization. The Liberation Rally has not so far supplied the need. The attitude of the Moslem Brotherhood, which in the early stages gave the regime valuable support, is now equivocal and potentially hostile. The Government at present relies on the Army and pending the development of broader political support, either through the Liberation Rally or otherwise, the regime has been forced to adopt the policy of neutralising hostile elements and discrediting their leaders, most of whom have certainly provided plenty of sensational maiterial for this purpose by their past misdeeds. Neither the Wafd nor the Moslem Brotherhood under their present leadership would appear to be in a position to fill the vacuum which has been created. Whether the Liberation Rally can do so remains to be seen."Robin Hankey (Cairo) to Lord Salisbury (Acting Foreign Secretary), 29 September 1953, in F[oreign] O[ffice] 371/102706/JE1015/133. Public Records Office, Kew (copy in my possession). The decision on Thursday by the Army High-Command controlled Egyptian Supreme Court in dissolving the newly elected Egyptian Parliament, immediately prior to the second and definitive round of the Egyptian Presidential elections has had bells ringing all over the Near and Middle East. With to-day's Financial Times mentioning that armed troops have surrounded the Parliament Building. As the article above by Marc Lynch and other clearly show, the mots 'coup d'etat' and or 'soft-coup', et cetera, are all upmost in peoples minds at the moment. As well as the 'Algerian model' of the late 1980s 1. A model which was mentioned here in this journal in February of last year (see: "Egypt Without Mubarak: 'Revolution' or Regime Musical Chairs?") 2. With all that being said, where does this week's actions by the Army High-Command take us? I for one, while quite willing to believe that the Army would like to: i) ditch the existing Parliament (now accomplished) and force new elections which would see a diminished Moslem Brotherhood & Islamist presence in the chamber; ii) see the Army's preferred candidate, General Shafiq elected President over the Moslem Brotherhood candidate (this second goal of course is dependent upon what happens over this week-end's election results); The question I have is: how willing are the Army Generals to go to see 'their' man elected President? Per se, with the existing Parliament dissolved, and with new elections probably resulting in a Parliament friendlier to the Army's interests, the election of the Army's preferred candidate to the Presidency is not actually needed to protect the Army's interests. That General Shafiq should become President Shafiq is no doubt from the Army's perspective the ideal choice. It is not entirely a necessary choice. Nor does the Army's policy choices in the sixteen months since Mubarak was ousted, lends itself so clearly to their now supporting an outright coup d'etat. With their being so many examples of 'stop' and 'go', 'yes' and 'no' or perhaps 'maybe', to count. On the other hand, it could be that the Generals have learned in the past six months that a policy of pire ca va, mieux ca est coupled with Fabian tactics, has rendered the young protesters of 2011, mute if not entirely neutered. Perhaps! Alternatively, it could be that the army's tactics at this stage, especially if the Presidential elections are deliberately falsified, could end up reaping the whirlwind. And that instead of a Bonapartist 18th Brumaire, we will have another failed Kornilov Coup d'etat of September 1917. At this stage unfortunately no one has a crystal ball into the murky Egyptian political endgame. What the Egyptian Generals intend to do and what their opponents, both the Moslem Brotherhood and the young protestors of last year do in response, time will soon enough tell all. As Hankey's cover letter to Lord Salisbury shows, in essence the same forces: military, Islamic and secular liberals have been locked in opposition to each other for almost sixty years. Au fond,I have the gravest doubts that the Army High-Command wishes at this juncture to wager everything it controls on a very dangerous game of va banque. 1. Roula Khalaf, "Putschist shadow cast over Egypt." The Financial Times 15 June 2012, in www.ft.com. And, Borzou Daragahi, "Egyptian troops surround Parliament." The Financial Times 16 June 2012, in www.ft.com. 2.See: Diplomat of the Future, 15 February 2011, in www.diplomatofthefuture.blogspot.com.