It's been my contention since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in February that (1) this was a military coup d'état against the prospect of Mubarak's son taking power and (2) the military brass intend to hold on to power. On the latter point, I wrote in April: "The soldiers have become far too accustomed to power and the good life to give up these perks. They will do whatever it takes, be it purging Mubarak, throwing his sons in jail, banning his old political party, changing the constitution, or repressing dissent, to keep power."
An important article in the New York Times today, "Egypt Military Moves to Cement a Muscular Role in Government" by David D. Kirkpatrick explains just how the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces plans to keep its power – by pre-empting the constitution:
The military announced Tuesday that it planned to adopt a "declaration of basic principles" to govern the drafting of a constitution. … it will spell out the armed forces' role in the civilian government, potentially shielding the defense budget from public or parliamentary scrutiny and protecting the military's vast economic interests. Proposals under consideration would give the military a broad mandate to intercede in Egyptian politics to protect national unity or the secular character of the state. … Though the proposed declaration might protect liberals from an Islamist-dominated constitution, it could also limit democracy by shielding the military from full civilian control.
A meeting of Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (لمجلس الأعلى للقوات المسلحة),
For those of us worried about a potential Islamist domination, this is good news: "The announcement of the declaration is a setback for the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group considered Egypt's best-organized and most formidable political force. It was poised to win a major role in the new Parliament, and thus in the writing of the new constitution." But for the liberals, it's bad news:
Demonstrators have returned to Tahrir Square with increasing frequency to voice their demands, culminating in a weeklong sit-in rivaling the days of the revolution. … The protests are increasingly taking aim at the military. On Thursday, a coalition of 24 political groups and five presidential contenders endorsed a call by the young leaders of the protests for the military to cede more power to a civilian government now rather than wait for elections. The military leaders are sounding increasingly exasperated.
In other words, it's business as usual. All that huffing and puffing about a "New Egypt, New Era" really does not amount to much. That said, I continue to be impressed by the Tahrir spirit and hope it will someday reach the corridors of power. (July 16, 2011)
New Egypt, New Era?
Oct. 2, 2011 update: Relations between liberals and the military are growing testy:
Chants against [Field Marshal Hussein] Tantawi and military rule are now common in street protests in Egypt. This appears to have angered the generals, who believe they played a key role in helping topple Mubarak's regime by choosing to remain neutral during the uprising.
Then there is the curious development of Tantawi acting like a politician:
Tantawi also appeared to have been annoyed by the stir created by a walkabout he took last week in downtown Cairo wearing a business suit and tie. His appearance out of uniform had sparked speculation in Egyptian media that he might be contemplating a run for president. Egyptians, he counseled, should make better use of their time by focusing on work rather than listening to people talking about his attire. "Did they want me to wear a torn suit?" he said, alluding to comments posted on the Internet's social networks that the career soldier looked smart in a business suit.
Nov. 1, 2011 update: The pattern has become even more clear, writes Hamza Hendawi for the Associated Press at "Hand of Egypt's military rulers grows heavier":
Growing in confidence after eight months in power, Egypt's military generals appear more determined than ever to crush the protest movement that ousted Hosni Mubarak and has turned critical of their rule. … At the same time, the military leadership has been drumming up an image of itself as the nation's foremost patriots, even as it steps up moves to silence critics, leaning on managers of media outlets to tone down commentary on the army or ban particularly vocal critics from appearing on political talk shows.
Activists worry the military aims to hold power for as long as possible to give itself time to create favorable conditions for one of its own or a civilian with military background to run for president in elections. …
Tantawi and other generals on the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces insist the military has no wish to stay in power and will not field a candidate in the presidential election, slated for late next year or early 2013. But activists doubt it will willingly give up the domination it has enjoyed over the nation for decades.
"I have serious doubts that the military will hand over power to civilians," said activist Ahmed Imam. "They will most likely choreograph a scenario in which they will appear to hand over power but will in fact hold on to power." …
The military has shrugged off criticism of its handling of the post-Mubarak transition, including complaints that it has kept in place much of the former ruling party and regime loyalists in powerful political and security posts, has resorted to Mubarak-era abuses like torture and has acted unilaterally in setting the course for the country.
Just as Mubarak often did, Tantawi has used scare-mongering and patriotism to justify the military's heavyhandedness. "We are patient, patient, patient for the sake of Egypt," he recently told reporters. "Look around us, do you want us to be like that?" he said, alluding to Libya's civil war.
He also played on concerns over a post-Mubarak surge in crime, blamed by many on police forces who have refused to work. He said Egyptian women are being raped by criminals and so he would not lift the emergency laws that were a cornerstone of Mubarak's regime. …
Then there is an indication that the military despot may not wish to rule from behind the scenes:
In what many saw as a trial balloon, posters went up briefly last week in Cairo and the Mediterranean city of Alexandria voicing support for the head of the military, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, as a presidential candidate. … Tantawi, who during Mubarak's rule hardly ever appeared in public and was never seen out of his uniform, recently took a highly publicized stroll in the streets of Cairo in civilian attire, shaking hands, patting shoulders and chatting with passers-by. The walkabout further raised speculation of a presidential run.
In another move seemingly intended to whip up patriotic sentiments, state television carried live a ceremony to hoist the Egyptian flag on a newly built 575-foot (176-meter) iron tower in central Cairo. The Monday ceremony, presided over by a member of the ruling military council, coincided with Tantawi's 76th birthday.
Nov. 3, 2011 update: Jeffrey Fleishman and Amro Hassan write in the Los Angeles Times on the same topic. They start by noting the military's hold on power:
Activists and politicians are worried that the military, the country's most revered institution before the revolution that overthrew President Hosni Mubarak in February, refuses to have its authority and financial interests answerable to an emerging democracy.
Concerns were heightened this week when the military-backed interim government announced parameters for writing Egypt's new constitution. The proposals allow the generals to appoint 80% of the constitutional committee. They also state that the defense budget would be kept secret and the military would be the "guardian" of the constitution, raising the possibility of intervention in legislative and presidential affairs.
Then they focus on the role of the military chief of staff:
State television and newspapers are portraying Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi in a flattering light that echoes portrayals of Mubarak during his rule, including coverage of the Egypt Above All movement that has pasted posters of the field marshal across Cairo. Abdel-Rahman Hussein, writing in the independent Al Masry al Youm, put it this way:
Tantawi appeared last month "in a video clip that showed him walking in downtown Cairo in a civilian suit, not his usual military uniform. At that point mutterings were heard about a potential presidential bid. Indeed, after criticism it has never before had to deal with, the military is keen to display a more media-friendly image."