Watching the daily and weekly developments in Egypt, one wonders how optimistic one has to remain about the prospects of genuine democracy in that country. The Egyptian military had a good start when it ousted Hosni Mubarak. Even when his goons were allegedly sent to beat up the civilian demonstrators in Tahrir Square, either by Mubarak or by someone close to him, the Army showed its neutrality by not participating in that violent episode. That fact also gave ample reason to think that the Army understood the real mood of its citizens regarding regime change.
What has gone wrong since then? How can one explain the outbreak of violence on May 5, when the military arrested several hundred people and imposed a curfew? Could it be that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) (al-MaÇ§lis al-Ê¾AÊ¿lÄ lil-QuwwÄt al-Musallaá¸¥ah) is showing its utter lack of political knowledge regarding its own country? Alternatively, is it possible that the SCAF is so afraid of the probable takeover of an Islamist president that it does not wish to give up power without sufficient guarantees about its own economic future? After all, the ownership of economic prerogatives of the Egyptian Army is a well-known fact in that country. Still, one has to look for deeper explanations–which might be a mixture of the aforementioned ones–for why the Egyptian Army appears bent on creating chaos before Egypt’s most important presidential election, which is scheduled to be held on 23 and 24 May 2012.
Any regime change brought about as a result of a revolution has the potential of either being guided or taken over by the armed forces, unless the revolutionary forces succeed in taking measures to discourage or to outmaneuver the military leaders from sabotaging the intent of the revolution. The success of the Chinese communists in defeating the forces of Chiang Kai Shek is an example of the “guiding” role of the armed wing of China’s communist party. The Islamic revolution of Iran in 1979, on the other hand, was an impressive example of the success of the revolutionary forces in discouraging the leaders of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s armed forces to take counter-revolutionary measures aimed at defeating the revolution. Those leaders were either so confused or so dispirited about the sudden collapse of the imperial regime that they found no courage to do anything to sabotage or to defeat the revolution, even though the United States was very much in favor of seeing such an outcome.
The Algerian Army, however, by anticipating the electoral victory of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) in the second round of general elections–since they handily won the first round on December 26, 1991–cancelled the electoral process on January 15, 1992, and implemented a massive and brutal crackdown of the FIS. The total number of deaths in Algeria stands close to 200,000 persons. The brutality of the Algerian Army killed the prospects of democracy for that country for a long time. Today, Algeria stands as a bloody example of the resolve of its military not to allow the return of democracy to their country, which, especially in the wake of the Arab awakening, has escalated the prospects of the return of Islamist domination there.
Even though, as Francis Fukuyama astutely observed, Political Scientist Samuel P. Huntington explained the return of chaos in developing societies in the 1950s and 1960s by arguing that, “[w]ithout political development, the other aspects of modernization could lead to bad results–to tyranny, civil war and mass violence,” one also has to keep in mind that the SCAF may also be primarily concerned about the implications of democratic rule on the privileged economic situation of the military. Consequently, it is concerned about how the potential election of an Islamist presidential candidate would affect that status, even though the Muslim Brotherhood–unlike the FIS in Algeria in 1991–has refrained from making outlandish statements threatening the privileged status of the military. In fact, Mohammed Morsi, presidential candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, declared that “he intends to consult closely with the generals over matters the military rather than impose his willâ€¦” Another leading liberal-leaning Islamist presidential candidate, Abdel Moneim Fotouh, said that “he too intends to consult with the generalsâ€¦” Still, one can understand the apprehension of the unknown on the part of the SCAF. That may be one reason why it has acquiesced in the decision of Egypt’s election commission to declare the ineligibility of a number of Islamist candidates.
Another reason for the bizarre behavior of the military may be that it wishes to create a managed chaos aimed at defeating an Islamist presidential candidate. Perhaps that would improve the chances of the election of Amr Moussa, the former Foreign Minister of Egypt and the former Secretary General of the Arab League. He is a more known quantity for the military than any other presidential contender.
Regardless of its apprehension about democracy, the latest outbreak of violence in that country demonstrates that the SCAF appears to be playing dangerous games. One does not have to go to the extreme of drawing parallels between the role of the Egyptian military and the one played by the military of Algeria in 1992. However, given that Egypt is so close to the establishment of democratic rule for the first time in its dark experience of autocratic rule, one has to remain highly concerned.
This is where one has to hope that the administration of President Barack Obama would play a role in strongly urging the Egyptian military to let the democratic process produce its results. Any postponing or sabotaging of democracy in Egypt would be a tragedy of immense proportion. More to the point, such a potential development would create highly deleterious spillover effects in the general emergence of democracy in the rest of the Arab world at large.
One option for the SCAF would be to conduct behind-the-scenes negotiations with the Muslim Brotherhood on its future status, especially considering the fact that both Morsi and Fotouh have remained quite reasonable about not threatening the status of the military.