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Egypt's ruling junta consolidates its position

With parliament dissolved, a retired air force general and long-time Mubarak crony in a runoff for the presidency, and democracy activists in disarray, Egypt's ruling junta is in the catbird seat.

By Staff writer / June 15, 2012

Egyptian protesters chant slogans against the country's ruling military council and presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Friday, June 15. Judges appointed by Hosni Mubarak dissolved the Islamist-dominated parliament Thursday and ruled that Mubarak's former prime minister can stand in the presidential runoff this weekend, setting the stage for the military and remnants of the old regime to stay in power.

Amr Nabil/AP

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With the decision to dissolve parliament yesterday, Egypt's Constitutional Court did more than send a message to 30 million citizens that their votes don't count. It concentrated even more power in the hands of the military junta that has run the Arab world's largest country for 18 months and counting.

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In so doing, the wildest hopes of the revolutionary activists and average citizens who poured into the streets of Cairo and a dozen other cities in January and February of 2011 have been dashed. Former Gen. Hosni Mubarak may have been forced out by the protests, but the military establishment and the tools of political repression that Egyptian state apparatus have wielded so effectively since the 1950s remained in place.

Egypt's transition, such as it is, continues to lurch on. But any hope of a fundamental change – of a military subordinated to civilian control, an end to indefinite detention of political activists by security agencies, a reset of a sclerotic and corrupt government bureaucracy – has been dashed, at least for now.

Nathan Brown of George Washington University had a sharp, grim assessment of what he termed "Cairo's Judicial Coup" yesterday: "The [Supreme Constitutional Court's] actions today, occurring in the context that they do, reshape Egypt's transition process – so much so that some Egyptians will likely wonder if they are in any 'transition process' at all. That concern is justified. The 'process' part was already dead. Now the 'transition' part is dying."

Perhaps high hopes were always naive. Mubarak, after all, was not a supreme dictator. He was merely the man at the top of a pyramid of military businesses, fiefdoms carved out by retired generals and their cronies, and a national order designed to make the average Egyptian more subject than citizen. Yesterday's decision to dissolve parliament was made by a "Constitutional" court appointed by Mubarak that operates under a set of constitutional decrees issued by senior officers, who were also appointed by Mubarak. Only the thinnest veneer of checks and balances has been thrown over the process.

What is Egypt's governing document at the moment? A constitutional declaration issued by the generals in March. Article 58 of that document is perhaps the most salient. It begins: "The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces [SCAF] runs the affairs of the State." It goes on to say that SCAF controls legislation, the budget, the cabinet, and foreign affairs. In other words, everything.

In the past 24 hours the junta dispatched riot police across the capital to head off protests, though there has as yet been no sign of major mobilizations like those that swept Egypt early last year. The country's economy, fragile to begin with, has plummeted in over a year of turmoil. Egyptians are tired, and struggling.

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