By Hasan Afif El-Hasan
The post-colonial societies everywhere have been fascinated with the military, maybe because the first and last encounter of the post-colonial societies with the colonizing power had been a struggle against its military. With the disappearance of the colonizing power, the elites retain the inherited state apparatus and try to create a modern military. Egypt is no exception. The best organized institution in post-colonial Egypt has been the military. It is the only group that has the legal monopoly of violence and it gives the people a sense of pride and security. The military is well placed to take control over the bureaucratic apparatus and it is trusted by the business bourgeoisie to control the national market and cooperate in the industrialization of the economy. Equally important, fear of chronic instability and anarchy among moderate communal elites and state officials leads them to support military regime.
Power-holders like to claim that they rule on behalf of the people and that claim has sometimes been challenged by social movements or popular uprising. In Egypt, an authoritarian military regime ruled the country for more than sixty years claiming it was on behalf of the people until the people took to the streets and demanded real democracy. On January 25, 2011, millions of Egyptians gathered in public squares and the streets of big and small cities calling for the end of the military rule and establishing democracy. After eighteen days of protest, President Mubarak stepped down and transferred his authority to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.
Egypt’s military has been institutionalized as a government within the government since the middle of last century. Besides controlling major industrial resources, the military controls the ultimate instruments of coercive control: the armed forces, the police, and the intelligence; and like the rest of Arab countries, they do not hesitate to use them against their own people to quell even peaceful dissenters. The military permitted the Egyptian people to try to launch a new and democratic government. Sadat and Mubarak tolerated the moderate Islamists as long as they were relatively weak compared to the ruling party. But this time, the military allowed the Islamists to compete against their candidate, Ahmad Shafik who was the last prime minister under President Mubarak. Fifty million Egyptians chose their president from a field of candidates that offered real choices for the first time in sixty-four years. The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) group embraced democratic procedures and won the first contested national elections. The seculars who did not like the democratically elected government found something new, the MB government mistakes, to hang their apathy on. Unhappy with the results where their candidate lost and the MB candidate won, the military threw the democratically elected government from power one year later.
On July 3rd 2013, the Egyptian army chief General el-Sissi removed the country’s democratically elected president, Muhammad Morsi from power and arrested him and thousands of his supporters. El-Sissi suspended the Egyptian constitution, and appointed an interim president for Egypt, thus the conditions that favored democratic rule in Egypt degenerated into a familiar form of tyranny within a year. The violence of the military takeover was only a prologue to a long period of government-initiated terror where human rights and fundamental freedoms so blatantly violated. A military supported constitution was approved by an overwhelming majority of 98.1%, according to the elections commission. This is a return to the era of Husni Mubarak when his re-election approval always exceeded ninety percentages.
Vestiges of the authoritarian military regime persist in the form of substantial political prerogatives for the armed forces in the new constitution. The constitution promulgated after the coup conferred substantial guarantees of autonomy on the military including immunity for all officers from dismissal by civilian presidents for any reason. Supporters of el-Sissi want him to run for president, but from all indications, he will hold the real power in the country whether he is elected as a president or continues to play his backseat role as a Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and minister of defense.
Many Egyptians support the military take-over because they believe their country needs a strong and populist leader like the late Jamal Abdel-Nasser, or what the Egyptian thinker Fahmi Huwaidi disapprovingly called ‘a superman’ to solve Egypt’s economic and social problems. But el-Sissi actions suggest he is neither a Nasser nor a superman. Some compare him to the last century General Augusto Pinochet of Chile because both terminated ongoing democratic process and created exclusionary personal military regimes. The military dictatorship of General Sissi stands out among all other authoritarian regimes including that of General Pinochet on many accounts. Yes, El-Sissi aborted the first democratic experiment in more than six decades, and Pinochet destroyed one of the oldest constitutional democracies, but the two generals played their roles in two different centuries and different eras of international conditions. Pinochet staged his coup in the twentieth century when many different kinds of authoritarian political systems from Paraguay to Poland, from South America to South Africa seemed secure; and el-Sissi staged his coup in the 21st century when more people than ever before in human history live in countries whose regimes are democratic, and when the central institutions of the remaining nondemocratic political systems face serious challenges from movements for democracy. El-Sissi’s coup comes at a historical moment when people in Egypt and many Arab countries are tired of the military rule and they are not afraid to die defending their human dignity seeking reform and demanding democracy.
When Pinochet succeeded in overthrowing the Marxist Salvador Allende presidency in 1973, the working class and the progressive liberal organizational network in Chile undercut the military’s capacity to institutionalize the military rule and carry out fundamental structural change and by 1989, Chile was democratized again. The liberal Chileans used the universal jurisdiction system to demand justice against their ex-dictator for the crimes he committed. On October 10, 1998, Baltasar Garzon, a Spanish magistrate indicted General Augusto Pinochet for human rights violations committed by his regime in Chile against his political opponents. Pinochet was arrested in London and held for a year and a half and released by the British government only because of his deteriorating health conditions.
In Egypt, the liberal progressive leftists who had advocated democracy and defended civil rights all their lives, suddenly became the staunch supporters of the military coup and the use of all instruments of coercive control against the opponents of dictatorship. The progressive liberals siding with the reactionary groups in Egypt and the Arab World in support of the military actions shows how deep are the roots of Egypt’s anti-democratic forces.
Supporters of the military rule need to be reminded that the previous involvement of the Egyptian military in the civilian sphere led to the ultimate tragedy of sapping it of its fighting capacity in the 1967 war, the humiliation defeat and submission to the will of foreign powers. When the Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren appeared recently on the conservative Michael Medved radio-talk show, he praised General el-Sissi for overthrowing the democratically elected government and using the military to crush the Islamic movement and quell the dissenters. Ambassador Oren described el-Sissi as a great Egyptian leader that had to be supported. Ambassador Oren likes General el-Sissi because his actions serve the strategic interests of Israel not Egypt. Egypt’s enemies love to see the Egyptian people demoralized, divided and ruled by a government that kills its own people. Only in Egypt, the liberals join the anti-democracy forces and Egypt’s mortal enemies in supporting a ruthless military rule.
– Hasan Afif El-Hasan, Ph.D. is a political analyst. His latest book, Is The Two-State Solution Already Dead? (Algora Publishing, New York), now available on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.