Tensions cloud relations between Egypt's revolution and army

Lina El-Wardani , Monday 11 Apr 2011

The military's violent crackdown on a Tahrir Square sit-in early Saturday morning has triggered intense debate among the forces of the revolution over how to deal with the country's military rulers

Anti-government protesters sit down in front of Egyptian Army tanks to prevent them from moving (Photo: AP)

The violence used by the army in dispersing last Friday's sit-in in Tahrir Square was widely condemned in intellectual and political circles in the country. Activists also view the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces’s denial of the excessive violence used in breaking up the sit-in as an added reason for concern.

In an earlier incident in which the army used force to disperse a sit-in in the square, the military council issued a strong apology the very next morning.

In a joint press release, around ten Egyptian Human rights organisations slammed the forced eviction of Tahrir Square on 9 April by the Armed Forces and called for an immediate investigation into the excessive violence and shootings and demanded that all those detained in the raid be released, and the identities of those killed made public. The statement included a list of over 40 names of civilians arrested in Tahrir that night.

For its part, Egypt's Revolutionary Youth Coalition released a statement at a press conference on Sunday condemning the violence used by the military in Tahrir Square and declared that their dialogue with the military council will be suspended until a full investigation into the violence is conducted, and a number of other demands are met. Some of those detained on Friday have already been released.

The coalition added that a sit-in will be staged from next Friday if investigations have not started by then and leading figures of the former ruling regime, including Mubarak, have yet to be tried. The coalitions are also demanding the release of those detained by the army.

However, the statement stressed that the coalition supported unity within the military, thus distancing themselves from some dozen army officers whose participation in the sit-in is believed to have been the main trigger for the forcible dispersion of the protesters.

The recently established Egyptian Social Democratic Party (ESDP) also condemned the violence used by the army, but equally condemned the army officers who joined the demonstrations and sit-in. Such an action “threw a military shadow on our peaceful revolution, and is unacceptable in any army the world over.” The ESDP, however, underlined the right of Egyptians to criticise the armed forces, as any other institution of the state, saying this was a fundamental human right.

Political activists and intellectuals appear deeply divided, however, on how to deal with the country’s ruling military in the transition phase. Some, like filmmaker Hala Galal, would like to speed up the withdrawal of the Armed Forces from political life.  

Galal is urging the speedy formation of a transitional presidential council that would take over the reins of power from the military council. “There are hundreds of excellent academics, legal and judicial figures and technocrats that could run the country for a transitional period. The military council should appoint a transitional presidential council immediately,” she says. She also wants the police reformed and revamped so that they would get back to doing their job in providing for domestic security, and allow the army to focus on its original mandate, which is to protect the country’s borders.

Gamal Fahmi, political writer and member of the board of the Journalists Syndicate, agrees with Galal that this is an exceptional situation. However he believes it is now too late for a transitional presidential council. Many agree with Fahmi that the military council will need to stay in power until the parliamentary and, maybe even, presidential elections are held.

“Because the army is playing a political and legislative role, mistakes happen. Some mistakes could trigger public anger like the forced eviction on April 9. The only solution I see is an immediate apology and promise that it won’t happen again. Also a transparent investigation has to be initiated immediately,” said Fahmi, who added that he is not pessimistic about future relations between the people and the army, but urges the military council to deal with their mistakes as they happen and to speed up the implementation of the revolution’s demands.

Fahmi belives that there are attempts to sow dissention between the people and the army, and warns that “even we, the revolutionaries, could fall in this trap, which would benefit only the counter revolutionary forces.”

Presidential candidate Mohamed ElBaradei was of a similar view. On Twitter he said: “Efforts to abort revolution continue unabated. Obvious measures need to be taken immediately to sustain credibility.”

Leading Muslim Brotherhood member Gamal Nassar agrees with Fahmi that counter-revolutionary forces are trying damage the relationship between the army and the people. "I have information that some NDP members have contracted over 20,000 thugs to use them in the next phase in countering the revolution," said Nassar, who added that this doesn't justify the army's use of violence against civilians.

The slogan that was used in the early days after the army appeared on the Egyptian streets on 28 January was “the people and the army are one hand.”

The army’s advent to Egypt’s streets in the early days of the revolution was welcomed by the people who met the officers and soldiers with flowers and the chant: “the army and the people are one hand”. But as tensions cloud the relationship between the two sides, the optimistic chant is becoming increasingly rare.

On one occasion, when the army used violence to disperse the Tahrir sit-in, on 25 February, the military council apologised on using force against protesters. This time around, however, the military has continued to deny using violence against the protesters, and that some 40 of them were arrested. “This is a big mistake,” comments Fahmi, “denying it makes us feel that it could happen again. We demand a clear admission and correction.”

Fahmi went on to call upon the military rulers to recognise that “this is the price of working in politics. The army doesn’t know protests and sit-ins, but civil and political life knows them. We don’t design revolutions in labs, but they interact in very complex ways.”

However some relate the growing tension between the army and the political activists to the military council’s delay in meeting the demands of the revolution. “The most important demand is a quick and fair trial for Mubarak, and all of the political and business figures that not only corrupted all of Egypt’s institutions, but the whole political life of the country,” said Gamal Nassar of the Muslim Brotherhood, who also supports an immediate investigation into the events of 9 April.

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