Egypt: On demands for the army’s return

Ibrahim El-Houdaiby , Saturday 9 Mar 2013

Demands for the army to intervene in domestic affairs shows the bankruptcy of opposition currents and the failure of the country's leaders, opening the door for the former regime

Calls for the army to take over power, which come from “revolutionary” and “civil” forces, reveal the failures of those in power and the bankruptcy of the opposition, and thus require closer inspection.

Army intervention is unlikely because it would gain nothing from being at the forefront of a tense political scene bursting with angry social forces some of which (like the Ultras and several revolutionary groups) detest military rule because of the martyrs killed during its tenure. Also, because the military, at the time, restricted the tide of the revolution or, more accurately, attempted to.

The army knows that being at the helm over the past two years caused it to lose much of its “legendary” immunity and legitimacy that armies are granted after independence. Today, it is in a far better place than if it intervenes; it is beyond criticism, unlike those dominating the political scene; the interests of the institution and senior officers are protected by undemocratic constitutional clauses that limit civilian control of the army and prevent effective oversight of the army’s non-military economic activities and how revenues are distributed; it has a broad mandate in outlining foreign policy; and it wields actual power through the presence of “former” officers in many vital corridors of state.

There are other reasons why army intervention is unlikely, including the dangers of interceding against a president protected by an organisation in revolutionary conditions when taking to the streets is the norm, even for the president’s conservative group. This could result in a domestic war and the complete collapse of what remains of the “Egyptian state.”

It would create a state of chaos that would go beyond key players on the domestic scene, to regional and international players that pose a direct threat to Egypt's economic and security interests.

Calls for the army to return reveal serious problems in the positions of many influential political players. The president’s supporters previously ignored demands for a legislative foundation to guarantee the military institution is under the control of political decisions, while remaining professional and not exceeding its boundaries. They asserted the president had achieved “an unprecedented accomplishment by ending military rule that lasted 60 years,” when he dismissed a handful of military leaders in August. They ignored criticism that this was merely sacrificing a few people to maintain the influence of the military institution, and gave it more powers and immunity from civilian oversight, as seen in the constitution.

Thus, they should reassess these claims since the presidency’s position on the military during recent events reveals the army is not under his control. Meanwhile, his strategy to tighten the control of civilian sovereignty is not as successful as his supporters are claiming, and was based on miscalculations. Also, empowering the military will not stabilise his rule but spread their influence and curb his powers and room for manoeuvre.

Demands by “civil” and “revolutionary” forces for the army to return only weeks after strongly criticising it during debates on the constitution, because of the "special privileges" accorded to the military, and condemning the Muslim Brotherhood-military alliance, implies this criticism was not because of the alliance itself but because these forces were not part of it.

These calls coincide with declarations by some to boycott parliamentary elections as a “moral” not political decision, and should have been justified with an alternative strategy for change. This indicates political bankruptcy and a strategy for change that does not rely on popular revolutionary or democratic political action, or a combination of both. Instead, it relies on undermining the legitimacy of the incumbent regime, not for the benefit of the people or alternative parties, but in favour of the brass.

This is a very critical issue since the bankruptcy of the political scene limits alternatives and allows the reproduction of the Mubarak regime, its institutions and figures. Thus, promises of a “renaissance” by rulers evaporate and “change” is limited to a few figures and not the state’s structures and policies. It also leads to a continued inability to manage the state administration in a manner that meets the minimum needs of citizens.

The regime has failed to achieve key revolutionary goals (retribution, social justice, overhauling security institutions). The opposition limits its agenda to criticising rulers without proposing an alternative on either platform or activism (most of their activities are centred in the capital, in hotels, without any real effort to build alternatives that branch out and are intellectually cohesive). This triggers the people’s cynicism about “change”, which is becoming more costly as time goes by, and further disconnects politicians from the street, because they are preoccupied with issues that are not of interest to the people. All this makes the alternative of “the old state” more appealing for some social strata (especially businessmen and middle-class professionals), and this state would come in the form of the army.

Those calling for the return of the army, if they are genuine “political parties,” are responsible for presenting alternatives to the failure of rulers, and presenting them to the public during elections. They must also continue supporting revolutionary struggle that is searching for usurped rights, not withdraw from all this and ask the military to intervene on their behalf.

Reverting to Mubarak’s regime is not an option because history does not move backwards and because the cornerstone that regime was built on, the culture of fear, has collapsed. Also because what remains of the state’s oppressive power now provokes anger (such as during Al-Itihadiya and Al-Mansoura clashes) or is ridiculed (such as the curfew in Suez Canal cities) rather than frightens.

The acceptance of politicians associated with the revolution to enter and seek alliances with what remains of Mubarak’s regime, and their failure to present policies and solutions for current problems threatens the interests of politicians on all sides, not for security reasons that Mubarak’s regime would return, but from public rage that will devour everything in its path because the legitimacy of “the state” and the entire “political system” has been tarnished for many Egyptians, who will reject all options, including attempts to revert to the past.

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