SCAF takes soft approach during live show in attempt to placate anger

Hatem Maher, Thursday 20 Oct 2011

Top generals urge Egyptians to have confidence in the armed forces; critics accuse them of evading difficult questions and being out of touch with the younger generation

Major General Asar
Major General Asar (Photo:Screen Shot)

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) took a soft approach during a live show to placate anger over what some Egyptians perceive as poor management of the ongoing transitional period following the ouster of Hosni Mubarak in February.

Two army generals, Mohamed El-Assar and Mahmoud Hegazy, were guests on the popular Dream TV show on Wednesday for more than three hours, trying to ease growing tensions following last week’s deadly clashes in front of the state TV headquarters (Maspero) which left scores killed and wounded.

In an apparent attempt to stir emotions and gain support after SCAF came in for fierce criticism over a number of issues, both men evoked memories of the army’s ups and downs during the late 1960s and early 1970s, a period in which Egypt was involved in two wars with Israel.

“We have never and will never open fire on our own people. The soldiers were not armed during the Maspero incident. Some people shot at the army and the protesters at the same time,” Hegazy said of the unfortunate clashes which made headlines for all the wrong reasons.

“There are people who are relentlessly trying to undermine the great revolution and ruin its achievements. We call on the Egyptian people to stand together and face those people.”

Asked why SCAF has so far failed to take swift measures to punish the culprits or dismiss some government officials over their handling of the affair, El-Assar said: “We can’t make any decisions without waiting for the results of the investigation. We will take the appropriate decisions following the investigation’s outcome.”  

Government defence

SCAF members leapt to the defence of the under-fire government, implying that calls to show Prime Minister Essam Sharaf the door were unjustified.  

Activists and pundits demanded on several occasions that Sharaf, whose appointment back in March was met with widespread consent, be sacked after failing to “fulfil the demands of the revolution.”

Sharaf was particularly blamed for his inability to appease thousands of workers and public employees who went on numerous strikes and held demonstrations across Egypt to demand better living conditions.

“No government will be able to perform better, given the huge amount of challenges the country is facing now. The workers have every right to ask for their rights, but the timing is not suitable,” El-Assar said.

“The workers who strike and protest are wrong. They should realise that it is impossible to fulfil their legitimate demands now. The country is struggling to pay off debts; we are not in a very good financial position.”

Hegazy added: “We need to sacrifice certain things to achieve our primary objectives - having a new parliament and an elected president. We have to be aware of the government’s capabilities and whether it can fulfil the demands now or not.

“I just urge people to stop accusing the armed forces of betrayal, and to have some confidence in them.”

Transitional period

All eyes are on next month’s anticipated elections of the People’s Assembly, as the process to end the transitional period gets underway.

However, the build-up to the first elections following the departure of Mubarak, under whom the practice of rigging votes was very common, is clouded by security concerns and fears that members of the dismantled National Democratic Party (NDP) may win seats in the new parliament.

SCAF eagerly awaits the elections, believing that a new parliament would ease pressure on them through paving the way for the normal appeal and monitoring mechanism.

“We are determined to hold the elections despite any security concerns. We just hope the people don’t hold any demonstrations during the elections,” Al-Assar said.

“No police forces in the world are able to secure elections and demonstrations at the same time.

“As for the treason law, it will be applied after going through the proper legal channels. I’m not sure whether it will come into effect before or after the elections.

“But if it is enforced after the parliament elections, a parliament member who should be punished under the new law would be relieved of his duties following a court ruling,” he added, trying to defuse growing fears that former corrupt officials may sneak into power again.  

The elections of the lower and upper houses, scheduled for November 2011 and January 2012 respectively, will be followed by the drafting of a new constitution and presidential elections.

The timetable presented by SCAF, which is not clear-cut, may leave Egypt president-less until mid-2013.

“This is the maximum time needed to end the transitional period but it can be shortened to two months for instance,” Al-Assar commented.

Fury on social networks

Many people vented their fury against SCAF on social networking websites Facebook and Twitter, accusing Al-Assar and Hegazy of evading several important questions and failing to provide any convincing responses for the headline-grabbing issues.

“The conclusion: dear army officers, we are two different generations, two different mentalities and two different spirits,” writer Belal Fadl, who turned up the heat on SCAF following the Maspero incident, said on his Twitter account.

“Oh poor martyrs, good night,” he sarcastically added.

Others mocked the friendly nature of the interview, contrasting it to another live show on ONTV channel in March which sealed the fate of then Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq after he was subjected to heavy criticism by staunch critic Alaa El-Aswany.

However, Wednesday’s show also witnessed messages of support for SCAF, which is still backed by many.

“We know that the majority of the Egyptian people are supporting and standing by us. But we will not follow in the footsteps of the previous regime and ignore those who criticise us,” Al-Assar said towards the end.

“We are working to satisfy and win over them. It is important to satisfy all people.”

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