The Egyptian army and the revolution

Hassan Abou Taleb , Friday 11 Mar 2011

Those who are turning against the army are ignorant of the role it played in the revolution and its status as the last bulwark against anarchy

In the afternoon of the “Friday of Rage”, 28 January, the police withdrew at around 4pm and it was decided that the military would deploy to enforce stability and security. From this emerged a new dynamic in the Egyptian people’s revolution, most prominently that the army became an active player in events and shouldered a herculean responsibility.

It is true that the former president took the decision to deploy the army to compensate for the purposeful collapse of the police force, but as a national institution the army accepted the decision as part of its constitutional and patriotic duty. At that moment, the only option was to protect the homeland, its vital sites and the citizenry —whether they decided to stay and protest in the squares, especially Tahrir Square, or continued to work at production lines.

By Saturday morning, 29 January, many armoured vehicles belonging to the armed forces had taken positions around Tahrir Square to protect the revolutionaries, which meant that the army had taken another step towards safeguarding the revolution. In this way, a genuine partnership was forged which became more defined as events unfolded.

The army’s position was —and will continue to be —supportive of the rights of Egyptians to obtain their inalienable rights to security, freedom and dignity, while fighting corruption and prosecuting the corrupt. The tradition of the Egyptian army makes a distinction between tangible accomplishments on the one hand and publicity on the other. There are situations about which we will know more about in good time, when every Egyptian and Arab national will find out the exact sequence of events and how the army’s role was critical in making the revolution a success, and obtaining the resignation of the president and his entourage. I will cite three examples that best exemplify this.

First, the meeting between the former president and military leaders at the Armed Forces Operations Centre on 29 January, as protestors in Tahrir stood their ground and pressed their primary demand of the removal of the president and his circle. The meeting was attended by then Vice President Omar Suleiman and was described by the official Middle East News Agency (MENA) as part of the president’s monitoring of security developments.

Other trusted reports, however, assert that the meeting discussed what the army could do to end the protest in Tahrir Square by force, upon the specific request of the former president and his son Gamal. The army rejected the proposition and decided to protect the demonstrators and said it would not use force against them because they are the people of this nation and so is the army. The code of the army is to protect the people and homeland, not to confront them.

Second, Statement No 1 by the armed forces at noon on 10 February, 16 days after protests began in Tahrir Square, during which the demands of the people continued to escalate, with adamant insistence that the president and the symbols of his regime must go. At the same time, professional strikes continued to spread as several syndicates and labour unions joined protestors in Tahrir Square.

Everyone noticed that the statement was issued after a meeting of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces that for the first time was not attended by the president, who is the supreme commander of the armed forces. His absence made it clear that the position of the army was parallel to that of the Egyptian masses who were demanding that the president steps down, and attempting to prevent absolute civil disobedience that would paralyse Egypt.

Statement No 1 declared the army’s support for the people’s legitimate demands, and was proof that the armed forces realised the dangers of not acquiescing to the people’s demands. The statement was a warning or an indirect offer that President Mubarak must take a major step to avoid an ominous fate for the country, and for himself.

Third, the events that took place between the leaders of the armed forces and President Mubarak and his deputy in the 18 hours between Mubarak’s address on Thursday night, 10 February (in which he extended to the vice president with some of the president’s powers), and the night of Friday, 11 February (when it was announced that the president had renounced his powers and designated the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to run the country).

During these hours there were harsh and stern discussions that directly pressured the former president and his son to give up power, and opened the door to vast regime changes that correspond to the aspirations of all Egyptians.

These three examples reveal a genuine partnership between the army and the people that caused the ouster of the president and the collapse of the former regime. This opened the door to major changes that are gradually taking shape. This partnership between the army and people in making the revolution possible and successful requires a harmonious dynamic between the two sides, and special recognition of the army’s role. If it had not adopted these positions, the situation in Egypt would have gone in an entirely different direction.

We don’t need to look farther than our neighbour Libya; when the army or segments in it stand in confrontation with the people and their legitimate rights, the outcome can be nothing less than catastrophic.

Accordingly, claims over the past two weeks —which several political activists have propagated —indirectly criticising the armed forces are unfair, if not misleading. They falsely agitate the masses and pave the way for a treacherous dynamic between the people and the army, which will cause the army to withdraw from running the country and leave it exposed to those who want exclusive control of power without legal or popular support.

Several politicians and writers have criticised what they described as procrastination in prosecuting figureheads of the former regime, and running the country as if it were a hot potato to be passed along as quickly as possible regardless of the outcome. Some condemned the constitutional declaration by the army leadership that it would transfer power peacefully and securely to a civilian government within six months, which will be followed by a new constitution that corresponds with the age and the aspirations of all Egyptians.

Instead of gratitude for this clear position, or a call for sincere cooperation with the army to end this interim period as soon as possible, to launch normal civilian life, some complained that the interim phase is too short and should be extended to two years. During this period the army would give its powers of running the country to a presidential council that would include one military representative and four civilians to manage the political transition within two years.

The proposal is open to a democratic discussion, but should not be used as a pretext to blame the army because some political forces are calling for the army’s interim period to end quickly with a few alterations. There are also growing numbers among the masses who want the army to be more affirmative, otherwise the situation will deteriorate further and the country will enter a vicious cycle.

There are two issues worthy of note here. First, these criticisms imply that the actions by the army do not support the revolution but oppose it. There are people who wrote on social network websites that the army itself is part of the counter-revolution, which is a blatant lie, and an unjust accusation against the armed forces and its leadership. Second, there is a conviction by revolutionary groups that the revolution is not over yet, and that its true culmination is taking over power. This will not happen until the army returns to its barracks and hands over power to the revolutionaries, and accordingly some claim that the authority of the revolution has deposed constitutional authority, which means that the army’s management of political life in this critical interim period is unconstitutional.

This is playing with a fire that will burn everyone and violate the rights of millions of Egyptians who believe that the army’s actions during this phase are noble and aim to safeguard the revolution and its legitimate demands, as well as protect the entity of the state and its institutions. They also believe that the transformation process to civic government must proceed according to the law and amended constitution, which we all agree are only interim amendments and do not represent the aspirations of Egyptians (who anxiously await a new constitution which will be solely drafted by civilians under a leadership elected in free and honest elections).

It is curious that the calls for the army to return to its barracks come at a time of a gaping security vacuum as a result of the absence of the police and the disruption of the entire police apparatus, which will require some time to reinstate. At the same time, there is widespread hooliganism, lawlessness and seizure of state-owned land, as well as private and public property. This brings into question the true motives behind wanting to put the country on the path to anarchy in this irresponsible manner.

Denying the fact that the Egyptian army today is the last security frontier for the Egyptian people is catastrophic, and any thrust to trap the army or put it in a confrontational posture with the Egyptian people is irresponsible and unpatriotic. Everyone must be wary of those with loud voices but empty ideas.

Short link: