Tuesday 17 July 2012

Egypt through the Barrel of a Gun

No sooner had Muhammad Morsi, Egypt’s new Islamic Brotherhood president, assumed office than he showed that he was not a figure to be taken lightly.  The parliament, dominated by his Brothers and dissolved earlier this year by court order (for this read army order), had to be reinstated, he decreed.  The following day he changed his mind.  His office, he said, would respect the court’s decision “because we are a law based nation.”  In other words, he is a figure to be taken lightly. 

I have to ask what brought this epiphany in a mere twenty-four hour period.  Your guess is as good as mine and my guess is the generals  They are ever present in the omnipresent SCAF, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the guardian of all truth, justice and the Egyptian way, or the Egyptian way as they see it, which is their way. 

I have said this before and I will say it ad nauseum – in Egypt old soldiers never die; they don’t even fade away.  The other thing I will continue to say is that the so-called Arab Spring was never about freedom and democracy; it bore no relationship whatsoever to the process that ended the moribund communist gerontocracies in Eastern Europe in the late eighties and early nineties.  No; it was about power; it was a struggle over the transfer of power from one self-interested group to another self-interested group

In Egypt the generals may have let power slip in the pretence of democracy but you can be assured that they will never let power go.  Egypt is not a law-based nation; it’s a military-based nation.  Anticipating a victory for the Islamists in the presidential election, SCAF issued a constitutional decree as soon as the poll closed, stripping the potential president of many of his powers, most particularly oversight of the armed forces.  Brothers to the right of them, Brothers to the left of them, the generals were having none of this valley of uncertainty. 

So, then, the future of parliament is in the power of the courts and the courts are in the power of the army.  The only way that Morsi can achieve full constitutional legitimacy is for his Brothers to reassemble and administer the oath of office “This will go down in history as the first serious step towards a democratic transition in Egypt, said Omar Ashour, an Egyptian academic.  “The ultimate test of a democratic transition is whether civilians are in charge of the armed forces.”

In matters like these I often draw parallels with seventeenth century EnglandEgypt now is a little like this country after the conclusion of the First Civil War.  Then there was uncertainty; then the outcome could not be predicted; then there were fractured sources of authority.  In the contest that followed the New Model Army came out on top, the guardians of the revolution as they interpreted it.  Political power came from the barrel of a gun; political power comes from the barrel of a gun.  Egypt is set to prove a time-worn adage.  


  1. Again? Which is the lesser evil.

    1. Personally, if I were Egyptian, I would rather have the generals than the brothers. But I'm not Egyptian. :-)