What military rulers of Egypt want

Few comments by Elijah Zarwan, Cairo based analyst of International Crisis Group.

Questions:

1. Some critics of the the interim military council say that the military leadership in Egypt is hoping to extend its authority. Is it a real danger? Do you see some signals the military leadership consider it or not?

2. In general, how successful or unsuccessful is the interim military council in running the country?

Answers:

Elijah Zarwan, Senior Analyst, International Crisis Group

1. The military council most recently has indicated that it will stand aside after parliamentary elections are held, a new constitution has been written and approved by popular referendum, and when presidential elections are held. Particularly given how contentious these various steps could be, this process could extend until 2013. I do not believe that the generals who make up the council wish to extend their direct rule beyond that, but the fact that they wish to remain in power during the constitution-writing process indicates that they wish to maintain some measure of control and direction of that process, in order to safeguard the military’s outsized position and privileges in Egyptian politics and society. I believe the generals wish to step out of the spotlight, but only when they can be sure that the new civilian government will not impinge on their interests, and that the military will maintain its influence on policy. The danger is perhaps not that the generals will unilaterally try to stay in power, but that bumps along the road will delay the journey. Each miniature crisis — such as the attack on the Israeli Embassy in September, or the use of deadly force against protesters last week — has at best distracted attention from and delayed the implementation of the longterm program, and at worst has resulted in a rollback of civil liberties and democratic reforms, such as the military’s expansion of emergency powers after the Israeli Embassy attack.

2. Whatever government took power after the fall of Mubarak was going to face all the problems that created the revolution, plus several new problems created by the revolution, combined with the people’s inflated expectations for swift change. The generals have struggled and have made mistakes, yes, but any government would have struggled and made mistakes in such circumstances. The generals appear to have taken an improvisational approach to making decisions and consulting with the various political forces, floating ideas to get reaction, and then retreating or proceeding in response to the popular, political, and press reaction. This has had the advantage of maintaining flexibility in the face of a volatile situation, but a more formalized consultative process, such as through a broad and representative advisory council, would perhaps have been better for stability, and would have dispersed criticism of and focus on the military.

Regardless of the generals’ skills or intentions, further unrest seems likely in the short to medium-term. The sooner the generals can step aside in favor of a democratically elected government, the better for Egypt and for its military. The economic situation is dire. Prices are going through the roof. Wages are not rising. People are suffering, and are close to their breaking-point. Local and international investors will remain wary until the situation stabilizes. The first step toward a return to normalcy and stability is the democratic election of a president and a representative government.

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One Response

  1. In this transition stage the Military Council is justified in pursuing oversight of the country. Stability and some sense of order is required. Sobhi Saleh and others who think sharia law in Egypt is a done deal should hold their horses. The moderate conservatives of Egyptian society in the military, academic, business, student and civil realm should be empowered. Egypt is a vital piece of the Middle East jigsaw puzzle. The Land of the Pharaohs can be a friend of its neighbours in the coming years and decades. Egyptian GDP is at $452 Billion. This figure can grow by at least 5% per annum from the years 2014 to 2050 if great infrastructure development and investment takes place. This would result in a very healthy average income per capita income of $32,713. Innovative opportunities for increasing the general welfare of the 80 million people in Egypt must be exploited. If the right vision can be mapped out for the Egyptian people they will agree to it.

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