Is Egypt's revolution over?
Tahrir Square is filling again today, but it no longer holds the symbolic power for Egyptians that it did in early 2011. Now it's more of a democracy ghetto.
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No more crowd surfing for officers
In the heady days after Mubarak’s ouster, “the Army and the people are one hand” was a popular slogan, with an officer at one point practically crowd surfing through Tahrir Square amid joyous chants that the military had sided with the people.
But the military has been the real power behind the Egyptian government since the 1952 Free Officers Movement coup upended the Egyptian monarchy. The unlikelihood that the military would give up its power and privilege lightly was evident in the announcement of Mubarak’s ouster.
“The president ... has decided to leave his position as the president of the republic,” began Vice President Omar Suleiman, Mubarak’s longtime head of military intelligence, as victory cries and ululations began to crest over Tahrir, “and has entrusted the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces [SCAF] to administer the nation’s affairs.”
The military has been steadily formalizing its power ever since, issuing decrees, making laws, and calling the tune on the transitional process. But only in the past month has its desire to be a permanent kingmaker shifted from suspicion to solid fact. In recent weeks, the ruling generals have dissolved parliament, granted themselves legislative authority, given military police broad powers to detain and arrest civilians, sought to place officers above civilian supervision, and effectively taken control of writing a new constitution.
While there is still a lot of faith in the military in Egypt and a yearning among many for the stability of the Mubarak days, that faith has been eroding along with the Egyptian economy and the living standards of the country’s poorest.
In Pictures Turmoil in Egypt
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That gives the generals few options other than brute force if the Muslim Brotherhood spearheads mass protests.
“With how clumsily SCAF has behaved, everyone now understands that the military isn’t one hand with the people, and that’s a huge thing they’ve lost,” says Mark LeVine, a professor of Middle East history at the University of California, Irvine. “After the revolution, people went back home because they trusted the military. Now, when things get bad, what reserve of trust do they have to draw upon to keep everybody quiet?”
What has been driving the military’s behavior? In many analysts’ estimation, it is acting out of fear, particularly of a parliament and presidency both in the hands of the Brotherhood.
“Clearly, the military must have guessed that the balance of power was shifting quickly under their feet, that if they didn’t make this play before the Brotherhood got elected, they’d pull a Turkey on them,” says Mr. LeVine, referring to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government, which has sidelined the once powerful Turkish military and detained scores of officers for plotting against the government.
“[Egypt’s generals] feared the Muslim Brothers would use the legitimacy of a parliamentary majority and the presidency, and pretty soon you’d see the top generals on trial,” says LeVine. “I think they’re right to be afraid.”