B S Raghavan

Will Egypt's Military keep its word?

B.S. Raghavan | Updated on February 21, 2011

The euphoria over the people's revolution in Egypt is now getting tempered by the realisation that the overthrow of a tyrannical government is alone not enough without a previously settled alternative.

Most of the time, the immediately available power structure enjoying a degree of credibility for its professionalism, effectiveness, unity of purpose and organisational capability is the Military. The people of Egypt have predictably come to look upon it as the natural guardian and custodian of their interest, and the Military too finds itself having no choice other than to step in, if the country is not to slide into anarchy and have its sovereignty and security put into jeopardy.

Full-fledged freedom

Thus, so far, the happenings in Egypt have run true to script. The steps taken by the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) after assuming charge are also eerily identical to the ones that every Military takeover starts off with: Suspension of the Constitution , dissolution of Parliament and the Shura Council, and promulgation of laws and decrees under the Military regime's own authority.

Not too different from the standard operating procedure of many of the past instances is the promise to hold democratic elections to install a new civilian government in power within the time limit of “an approximate six-month period”. (Mark the word ‘approximate'!) By way of seeming to buttress the promise, the SCAF has set up a committee to review the Constitution and come up with suggested amendments in line with the people's demand for full-fledged freedom and democracy. The Supreme Council has undertaken to hold a referendum to finalise the amendments and launch a new Constitution. The Committee is supposed to submit its recommendations by February 25 and a referendum held two months from now, although these deadlines are at the moment more in the form of unconfirmed news reports.

Now, the question of questions is: Will Egypt's Military keep its word, or will it follow the old familiar script to the bitter end: Renege on all promises, tighten its grip, and continue to rule indefinitely, trotting out the well-worn pretext of needing time to restore law and order and safeguard the country's security?

The situation in Egypt is fast deteriorating, with different sections of the population already clamouring for instant solutions to their problems. Protests, sit-ins and strikes have reportedly occurred instate-owned institutions across the country, including at the stock exchange, textile and steel firms, media organisations, the postal service, railways, the Culture Ministry and the Health Ministry. The SCAF had had to issue a severe warning that it “will not allow the continuation of those illegitimate practices” which have caused a “state of instability” damaging national security.

Countervailing factors

So, there they are — all the usual ingredients for justifying the perpetuation of military rule. However, this time, as regards Egypt, in particular, there are two countervailing factors that might keep the Military in check.

The first is that it has not itself been the prime mover in staging a coup, but has, in a sense, been given the power of attorney by the people. They have shown that they cannot be trifled with and have the will and the mettle to rise in revolt against the Military also if it betrays their cause.

Second, Uncle Sam, whose largesse exceeding two billion dollars per year — $30 per capita — constitutes preponderant chunk of Egypt's Budget, is watching. Egypt cannot survive a single day without a continuous flow of US aid reaching it in a variety of forms.

In passing, I may mention, for what it is worth, a research finding by political scientists Hein Goemans and Nikolay Marinov that a majority of military takeovers between 1991 and 2001 has led to elections in five years or less and that those countries that are most dependent on Western aid have been the first to hold elections after the coup.

Published on February 21, 2011

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