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Egyptian uprising hasn't ended military rule

The country's ruling military regime counts the votes of a recent presidential runoff that it skilfully engineered to be irrelevant.

Nathan Smith
Sat, 23 Jun 2012

As 84-year-old former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak lies reportedly on life support in the Maadi army hospital in Cairo, his ruling military regime counts the votes of a recent presidential runoff that it skilfully engineered to be irrelevant.

The ex-ruler of three decades was sentenced to life in prison on June 2 for failing to stop the killing of protesters in last year's uprising that led to his ouster.

He was transferred to prison after spending months in a military facility in detention and has since fallen ill.

Earlier this week, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) dissolved the Egyptian parliament, claiming a third of the candidates were unconstitutional. In doing, so the SCAF attained the legislative powers to draft the country’s constitution.

Mr Mubarak’s ailing condition will not change which group controls Egypt. He was the international face of the military regime before the protests in 2011 and that regime remains firmly in power today.

His reported death will temporarily divert attention from the election process and satisfy a popular demand of the Arab Spring protests. It does not change the military’s trajectory to retain their deep power.

The military’s real power lies in the institutions surrounding parliament, where the military-dominated justice system is blocking any step the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) takes. There was little more the SCAF could do to stop the MB moving into parliament this week.

However, their upcoming constitutional declaration will include new rules for the formation of the constituent assembly including a provision to require the new president to be sworn in before the SCAF, not the lower house of parliament.

Set for July 1, the promised transfer to civilian rule has introduced some urgency to the electoral process. Many Egyptians are sceptical that the old military regime will relinquish their tight control completely, if at all, and certainly aren’t convinced that the MB will have any real power if victorious.

Mr Mubarak’s colleagues in the SCAF are extremely unwilling to hand power to the Islamist group just because of an election. The SCAF have controlled Egypt for too long to give it up that easily.

Quiet manoeuvring

The ruling military regime is quietly manoeuvring to ensure Islamists do not control the Egyptian parliament and presidency.

SCAF made it possible for Ahmed Shafiq to run in the presidential runoff, even though he was the last prime minister to serve under Hosni Mubarak and therefore very unpopular with Cairo’s revolutionaries.

The MB has few such problems with the voting public. Their first parliamentary victory displayed how Egyptian voters would prefer an Islamist republican party to control Cairo, rather than let the painful legacy of Mr Mubarak’s military to continue.

But the military still hold all the keys to all the doors, and those were the keys the protesters tried to wrestle away last year.

The Arab Spring was purported to be a long awaited ray of democracy for the Middle East. This region of the world had, according to the Western media’s narrative, been subject to the despotic and occasionally psychotic reign of oppressive men who cared for little more than advancement of their own power.

The region needed democracy and it was finally en route in the neat, packaged form of (mostly) peaceful demonstrations.

Proposed power transfer unpopular

Mr Mubarak was already in poor health before 2011, and his condition was deteriorating.

His idea to transition power to his son, Gamal Mubarak, was an unpopular decision among the other ruling military officers and there were rumours in Cairo of a forced retirement for Hosni Mubarak.

The timing of the revolutionary fervour was extremely serendipitous for the agitated officers. It offered them a perfect cover to remove Mr Mubarak by appearing to stand with the revolutionaries against the hated tyrant.

The Arab Spring protesters viewed Mr Mubarak’s resignation as a sign of their successful patriotism and the inherent beauty of constitutional democracy.

However, a closer examination reveals the machinations of the military regime at work, as they retain their status as Egypt’s rulers.

Today, the liberal, secular and predominantly young revolutionaries who dominated the protests in Cairo's Tahrir Square continue to be marginalised. They have failed to win any real support during the parliamentary and presidential elections.

Instead, the Muslim Brotherhood, a long dormant Islamic voice kept under control by the SCAF, grew popular, capitalising on the movement and challenged the authority of the military.

Mr Mubarak was cruel, and the military regime he represented kept democracy from the Egyptian people. But its senior officers knew what would likely replace them if they ceded power prematurely to Islamic republicanism.  

SCAF fear that foreign relations, especially with Israel, could sour if an Islamic ideology gains power.

Consequently, the military have engineered the electoral process to be irrelevant as to who wins the presidency. The MB may have their man in the top position on July 1 and parliament may fall under their control. But it will be the SCAF who control the institutional levers.

Even if the MB decides to protest the changes - something they have become adept at recently - ultimately the Egyptian political structure on July 1 will be little different to the dark Mubarak days.

Nathan Smith has studied international relations and conflict at Massey University. He blogs at INTEL and Analysis

Nathan Smith
Sat, 23 Jun 2012
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Egyptian uprising hasn't ended military rule