It’s no secret that some in Egypt who seek to bring the army back into power have once again descended onto the nation’s streets, not for the purpose of restoring peace and security as some claim, but rather to rule and administer the country from anew. This position enjoys widespread support within a certain sector of society that has come to hate the Muslim Brotherhood, or at the very least to view them as weak and abject failures.
This sector of society sees no alternative other than to employ the army, not for the purpose of steering the country down the path towards democracy, but rather to remove the Brotherhood from power and reassert the army’s control over Egypt with an iron fist. Those who support this option would see the Muslim Brotherhood leadership and its supporters return to their jail cells, ushering in a new era of repression and coercion.
Those who support this option do so on the one hand because they see it as the only way to address Egypt’s protracted security vacuum, and on the other because many have simply never stopped supporting military rule in the first place. Those who want something will, of course, strive to see it achieved; and in light of the recent escalation in tension seen throughout Egypt, this means that unfortunately there is a large audience receptive to the idea of bringing the military back to power.
Those who support this option, and their individual relationship to the army itself, can be likened to the phrase “one sings…while the other drums”. However, unfortunately for these people, the sequence of events that would need to occur in order to warrant the army once again taking to the streets, has already come and gone, with the military failing to seize upon the opportunity and take action.
By some estimates, nearly 700,000 people at various points over the last several weeks have gathered and protested outside of Egypt’s presidential palace, without the army caring to even lift a finger! Various states of civil disobedience have been declared, and still, they have yet to act! Dozens of police stations have been attacked and shut down, and yet, not a sound.
However despite all these indicators to the contrary, many in Egypt have placed their bets on the notion that the military will once again return to power.
Does the army benefit from the propagation of this want and nostalgia? Of course it does, as such talk will inevitably improve its image and reputation as an institution among the ranks of the people. However, the army actually returning to power would be an expensive venture that would consume a great deal of both Egypt’s funds and that of the international community.
Considering that we are past the point of engaging in another military coup, and that the United States has found in the Muslim Brotherhood an ally upon whom they can depend to help preserve their interests in the region, particularly the security of Israel, which they have been able to protect due to their close relationship with Hamas, it is safe to say that this option is unlikely. Furthermore, the army does not seek to throw itself into the political fracas once more, as this will inevitably provoke further division, which goes against their inherent interests.
The army in Egypt, as was stated decades ago by Anwar Abd al-Malek, exists as the nation’s largest and most organised institution, and is therefore the only force that can truly preserve the country’s unity and stability. It acts as the only force which can lift the country up and guide it through problems and crises, whether natural, political or economic.
However Egypt’s army was not built to be an alternative to that which occupied the country prior to 1952, as is the case in many other developing countries. Rather it was a national army, fashioned during the reign of Muhammad Ali, created to revive and reinvigorate the soul of Egypt, that made several attempts between then and 1952 to ease Egypt’s transition into democracy. It is therefore no shock that upon achieving independence, a number of wars were launched by the nation’s military to defend the country against repeated acts of aggression.
That being said, since 1952 Egypt’s army has involved itself in the nation’s politics, having had a hand in choosing the country’s leaders and filling the ranks of its bureaucratic institutions, with personal relationships built on ideology and service to the state leading to the creation of a number of intra-institutional networks that have been responsible for governing Egypt throughout much of its modern history.
This system was first developed under Gamal Abel Nasser and has largely persisted to this day despite various periods of change that have swept through Egypt. The army has been, and still is, considered by many to be the force and soul that governs the country, a fact which requires that it participate in politics. Until 2011, this largely consisted of ensuring and protecting the hegemony of the National Democratic Party (NDP).
As stated by Yousef Wali, a high-ranking member of Egypt’s military, “all of us are mere secretaries, here to ensure the sovereignty of President Hosni Mubarak!” Throughout most of Egypt’s history, there was no real political life to speak of; no competing parties, balance of power, or expectations for power to be traded and transferred through democratic means.
However with the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, and its securing of a majority in Parliament, control of the presidency, and ability to form a government, we have seen the manifestation of a new system that many already seek to destroy in favour of the status quo as it existed before the revolution. Those of us who support true democracy and the legitimate exchange of power via the ballot box, reject those who seek to revive the previous status quo, and affirm that the role of the army in Egypt is set to change, as it will hopefully throughout the rest of the third world. But how?
As I have stated previously, the army is Egypt’s largest and most organised institution, best capable of administering the country during times of crises and disaster. Obviously, the outbreak of a natural disaster would not be enough to usher in the re-integration of the military into the country’s politics, but a protracted security vacuum may well be enough.
Whereas the return of the military to power would mean a coup over democracy, its coming out to ensure the success of free and fair elections would illustrate its support for democracy. The crux of the matter is that our nation’s military must learn to limit itself to performing the kinds of tasks and functions for which it was intended, most importantly that related to national security and defence.
Unfortunately I fear that too few within Egypt have actually considered the need to define a new role for the army domestically, or re-assesse its commitment to protecting national security in light of recent political developments occurring throughout the region. May God help the army!
For it is on the shoulders of every citizen of this country to help reconstruct and define its new role. And finally, may God help Egypt, and guard it against both those who would seek to turn it into a theocracy, and those who would pursue the revival of a Cold War-era dictatorship. So we say to the army: if the outbreak of some crisis (God forbid) forces you to once again take to the streets, do so, but refrain from interfering in the affairs of the state. Your role should be limited to cooperating with the country’s various political parties to help organise and implement free and fair elections. After that your job is done.