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Egyptians blame military for failures of transition period

Military junta blamed by majority of Egyptians for problems of transition period; street protests, labour strikes cited as main drivers of positive change by respondents to survey

Amy Austin-Holmes, Thursday 28 Jun 2012
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Recent events, including the dissolution of parliament, expansion of the military’s powers, and second round of voting – essentially a coup followed by an election – epitomise the zigzagged contradictions of Egypt’s transition to democracy: one step forward, two steps back. Now that the so-called ‘transition period’ is coming to an end, with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) planning to hand over power on 30 June, many are looking back at the past year and a half and asking themselves what has been accomplished, what setbacks have occurred, and why?

In order to answer these and other questions, a team of researchers at the American University in Cairo (AUC) conducted an online survey in Arabic of over 500 Egyptians.[1] The sample included college-educated Egyptians of all ages who attended both public and private universities, including both activists and non-activists. 56.7% said they attended at least one demonstration during the 18-day uprising that ousted Mubarak, while 43.3% said they did not take part at all. Contrary to other surveys, which try to predict the future, the purpose of this poll is to try to make sense of the past.

Graph of achievements of the transition period and who is believed to be responsible
Graph of achievements of the transition period and who is believed to be responsible

As the graph demonstrates, pressure from labour strikes was considered to be decisive in leading to the promise to raise the minimum wage and the creation of independent trade unions. For all of the seven other achievements, pressure from street protests was considered to be the most decisive.

·         The decision to put Mubarak on trial:

o   89.3% of respondents believe this was due to pressure from street protests

o   Only 4.6% believe this was due to pressure from political parties

·         The decision to release civilians who had been detained for political reasons

o   83.1% believe this was due to pressure from street protests

o   Only 8.1% believe this was due to pressure from political parties

·         Moving forwards the date of presidential elections/handing over power to civilians:

o   80.6% of respondents believe this was due to pressure from street protests

o   Only 11% believe this was due to pressure from political parties

Just how substantial these concessions are, or whether certain promises will indeed be upheld, cannot be ascertained by this survey. Nevertheless, these results are interesting as they question much of the academic literature on democratisation, which generally sees the formation of political parties as the most important factor in transitioning away from authoritarianism.

Graph of setbacks of the transition period and who is believed to be responsible
Graph of setbacks of the transition period and who is believed to be responsible

If street protests can take credit for the achievements of the transition period, it is the SCAF who was given the blame for the setbacks and defeats. Responsibility for the setbacks in terms of democratisation was unequivocally laid at the feet of the ruling generals in the SCAF. This is again significant, especially as the survey was conducted before the dissolution of parliament and power grab by the military earlier this month. For all ten categories of setbacks, the SCAF was considered to be more responsible than any other group.

For six of the ten categories, more than 50% of respondents blamed the SCAF, these included: violence against protesters (70.2%), the Maspero incident (68.1%), military trials (94.4%), human rights abuses (64.7%), repression of opposition (73.9%), and increase in prices/decrease in supplies (64.2%).

Given that the transition period witnessed both achievements and setbacks raises the question of how responsive Egyptians believe the ruling generals have been to their demands.

The survey found that 70.5% of respondents believe that the SCAF is not responsive to the Egyptian people at all, while only 0.5% believe the SCAF is completely responsive to the Egyptian people. It is not just a small band of malcontents who oppose the SCAF.  The standing of the military as an institution has decreased significantly among both activists and non-activists.

How responsive do you believe the SCAF is to the Egyptian people?

The fact that the democratic credentials of the military council are now in question may not come as a surprise to some.  The SCAF, after all, is an unelected group of about 20 generals whose decision-making process is murky, to say the least.

How responsive do you believe the SCAF is to the United States?

What may be more surprising is that 83.3% of those surveyed believe the SCAF is either completely or somewhat responsive to the United States. Only 0.2% believe the SCAF is not responsive to the United States at all. 

Related to the issue of accountability is that of budget transparency. Until now the military’s budget is not subject to civilian oversight. The SCAF has maintained that this is necessary for reasons of national security and hopes to prevent civilian scrutiny of its budget after the handover of power. But respondents to the survey overwhelmingly expressed a desire to increase transparency, with 81.2% saying that they believe the military’s budget should no longer remain secret.

 

                             

Do you believe the Egyptian military’s budget should remain secret?

Total responses

441

 

Yes

83

18.8%

No

358

81.2%

 

Like most national armies, the Egyptian armed forces are supported by Egyptian taxpayers. Another channel of support comes from American taxpayers in the form of US military aid. Since 1979 the Egyptian military has received about $1.5 billion per year in military aid from the United States. Two-thirds (66.9%) of all respondents said that they believe Egypt should no longer receive military aid from the US.

                                                  

Do you believe Egypt should continue to receive military aid from the United States?

Total responses

441

 

Yes

146

33.1%

No

295

66.9%

 

Respondents were then asked to explain in an open-ended question why they supported or rejected the continuation of US military aid to Egypt. The two main arguments for supporting the continuation of aid were because “Egypt needs the aid” and “Egypt earned it.” The two main reasons for rejecting US military aid were because it is “humiliating/shameful” and because “it gives the US power over Egypt.”

It would be wrong to interpret this as simply a matter of anti-Americanism. Surveys that merely try to gauge whether people’s perceptions of the United States are positive or negative are often unable to explain the reasons behind these sentiments. Evidence from this survey sheds light on what may be driving the resentment.

 

Key Findings

There are six clear results from this section of the larger survey. The full results of the survey will be published in the near future.

1)      Survey respondents clearly believe that the achievements of the transition period happened as a result of pressure from street protests and labour strikes, while the role of political parties was negligible.

2)      More than the old regime, the police, or the state media, survey respondents blame the SCAF for the setbacks of the transition period, especially concerning the use of violence against protesters, military trials of civilians, and other human rights abuses.

3)      The standing of the military has seen a sharp decline, with 70.5% of respondents believing that the SCAF is not at all responsive to the Egyptian people.

4)      The overwhelming majority of respondents (83.3%) believe that the ruling military council is either completely or somewhat responsive to the United States. 

5)      Two-thirds of respondents (66.9%) believe that Egypt should no longer receive military aid from the United States.

6)      And finally, the majority of respondents (81.2%) believe that Egypt’s military budget should no longer remain secret.


[1] The survey was conducted by a team of researchers at the American University in Cairo, under supervision of Amy Austin-Holmes, Assistant Professor of Sociology, with research assistance by George Thabet. Dr. Holmes can be contacted at: holmes@aucegypt.edu

 

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