Military minds and that crucial extra mile

Hani Shukrallah , Thursday 3 Mar 2011

In a little less than a week, the Egyptian military took some highly significant steps towards meeting the demands of the people. More giant steps need to be taken however before the Egyptian revolution can be fully realized

The mind of the Egyptian military seems to have undergone a second dramatic shift during the past few days, the first such shift having been the decision to overthrow Mubarak. That first shift had come fast on the heels of a last ditch effort by the former president and his then vice president Omar Suleiman, in two consecutive TV addresses on the evening of Thursday the 10th of February.

We still don’t know what precisely happened between Thursday evening, when Mubarak made his fateful last address, propped up shortly after by an ominous, threatening address by Suleiman, and 6pm Friday, when an obviously shattered Suleiman announced that Mubarak had stepped down. We can be certain, however, that the millions that descended on Tahrir Sq and poured onto streets across the country triggered a decisive shift within the ruling power structure, within which the military had become a predominant actor. Neither could there be any doubt in our minds that Mubarak did not in fact resign, but was overthrown.

The second dramatic shift in the minds of the military was subtler, though on close inspection it becomes practically self-evident. Friday night hundreds of military police launch a vicious attack on the protesters who had decided to resume their sit-in in Tahrir sq, on the grounds that most of the revolution’s demands had yet to be met. For the first time since they were ordered onto the streets nearly a month ago, the military found itself risking the hard-earned goodwill of the people. A shift did take place, however, sometime between the attack on Friday night and the next day, when the army issued a profuse, and for the military, remarkably uncharacteristic, apology for the previous night’s attack, immediately released all those who had been arrested in the course of the attack, and pledged never to attack Egyptian civilians again.

And though the army blamed the Friday night attack on low-ranking officers who were acting on their own initiative, only the hopelessly gullible could give any credence to this excuse, though most have been happy to turn over that particular leaf. Since the apology it’s been a week of one concession after another: a 4-hour meeting between the military council and 17 representatives of the Coalition of Youth Movements, in which promises are made that the military will respond to the revolutionary demands, and that Ahmed Shafiq’s cabinet will be dismissed “before the elections”.

Then comes the most outstanding development since Mubarak’s overthrow: the announcement by the prosecutor general that he had ordered the freezing of the Mubarak family fortune, not only in Egypt, but abroad, and that Interpol had been contacted to take measures to ensure this is done. This was tantamount to a declared intention to prosecute Mubarak and his family on corruption charges, a full shift from the previous posture of “honoring” the former president. It was also the most potent evidence yet that a seismic shift had indeed taken place in the minds of the military or, more precisely, in the balance of forces within the supreme council. For it was widely known that Mubarak’s stepping down had been accompanied by a promise of immunity for him and his family granted by the military.

All of which climaxed in Thurday’s resignation of the prime minister, and the appointment, immediately after of Essam Sharaf, who, though a former minister under Mubarak, had been for several years a vocal critic of the regime, and had joined the protesters in Tahrir sq in the days preceding Mubarak’s removal from office. Sharaf’s was one of two names the youth coalition had suggested for the post in their meeting with the military earlier in the week.

Yet Egypt continues to live in the shadow of counter-revolution; some of the most crucial of the revolution’s demands remain unfulfilled, while the makeshift character of concessions creates an anomalous situation that could well threaten, not just the achievements of the revolution, but also the very stability and political future of the nation.

Take for a start the fact that until today, and even as one case of corruption, profiteering and plunder of state resources follows another, we have yet to see a single coherent case directed against the officials and oligarchs responsible for the mayhem, wholesale murder and destruction created by the attempted counter-revolution. There is now incontrovertible, even if as yet largely circumstantial evidence that the “scorched earth” policy pursued by an alliance of top NDP officials, the domestic security apparatus and ruling party oligarchs had been a previously conceived contingency plan that was put into effect as soon as the powers that be realized that the traditional security apparatus could not roll back the people’s revolutionary upsurge.

The mind boggles at the sheer unscrupulousness, cynicism, indeed the depravity of Egypt’s failed counter-revolution. Gaddafi has madness as an excuse, but here we had a cold-headed, carefully laid out plan involving a junta made of hundreds, possibly thousands of government and security officials, having the perverse objective of setting the nation ablaze, destroying not just its present, but its past and future.

There is absolutely no way that the military is not by now fully cognizant of the lengths Mubarak, his oligarchs and security bodies were willing to go to in order to keep him in office, nor yet of the persons responsible. An abundance of factual evidence, captured ID cards and confessions by culprits is available to all, let alone to an armed forces command that saw it all happen before its very eyes, and had in fact acted to bring a stop to it. Indeed, the mere fact that the attacks, first against the protesters, then against public and private property, and finally against foreigners were each brought to a halt virtually overnight is in and of itself ample proof that they were planned, and that a higher authority (which could not have been other than the military) intervened to have them stopped, most likely with dire warning of harsh retribution.

Certainly, we have here a Pandora’s box of crimes ranging from high treason to terrorism, arson and murder. The military’s hesitation in bringing the sordid details under public scrutiny is probably motivated by considerations that include concern over the extent of popular outrage, worry over the country’s image overseas, and such. It will not wash. Continuing procrastination in this matter will only confirm the already widespread feeling that there is an attempt at a cover-up. Too many people have lost their lives; too many have been seriously injured, the whole country was made to live in terror for nearly a month, and the Egyptian Museum, the greatest storehouse of ancient Egyptian antiquities in the world, was looted and nearly torched. None of it is forgivable. All of it cries out for retribution.

But no less important is the fact that the bulk of the insidious forces that orchestrated and conduced that destructive campaign are still in place, and are still up to their dirty tricks. The conspicuous and wholly unjustified absence of any real policing in the country, even traffic police, accompanied by rather farcical attempts at staging demonstrations calling for the “return of the police”, are just a couple of indicators among many that the counter-revolution is lying in wait for a comeback.

Neither can the military explain or begin to justify the fact that not a single measure has yet been taken against the Interior Ministry, the major culprit in the above mentioned crimes, and whose top officials stand accused at the very least of criminal dereliction of duty; not a single step has been taken to bring ministry officials to account, or even to merely act to bring what has clearly become a rogue body of the state to heel, subject to military/civilian oversight.

The core criminal body at the heart of the ministry of interior is, of course, the State Security Intelligence. I would be pleasantly surprised if there was a single officer of that service who’s hands are not drenched with the blood of torture victims, and worse. Yet, the head of the service is removed from his post, only to be replaced by one of his deputies.

A great deal still needs to be done before the Egyptian revolution is realized, as it insiststs that it should be, and as it has earned the right to be. Only a fully democratic Egypt is acceptable, anything short of that goal will simply not do.

During the past week, the military have taken great strides towards the people; it’s time they also traversed that crucial extra mile, for only then will the Egyptian revolution have been met with success, and only then can we begin to properly undertake that at once most challenging and most satisfying of jobs, the job of rebuilding our nation.


Hani Shukrallah
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