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Back to 2011? Military is in control of Egypt again

Nancy A. YoussefMcClatchy Tribune News Service

At the site where thousands of people once lived in support of ousted President Mohammed Morsi, all that remain are ashes and military tanks stationed to control the area. Where kitchens once prepared thousands of meals to break the fast during the holy month of Ramadan, government bulldozers now sit. Where the injured from the sit-in camp once clung to life on dirty hospital floors littered with bloodied bandages are now charred hallways.

Despite the 2011 uprising that aimed to end the military’s grip in Egypt and give power to its civilians, the military is firmly in charge of the country again.

Few people talk now about democracy, civil rights or creating a modern state. Few speak of elections or civilian leadership or reforming the justice system or ending police brutality. The military is back in charge, and many Egyptians support that.

Where many once hoped the military would lead the nation toward civilian power, the wave of events that started July 3 with the ouster of Morsi and was capped by Wednesday’s violent crackdown on two sit-in sites – which led to the deaths of at least 638 people and the injury of 3,000 – reaffirmed that the military instead is shaping Egypt’s political future. Of the two major forces in the nation, many prefer the military, however undemocratic, over the Muslim Brotherhood, the secretive organization through which Morsi had ascended to the presidency.

The military’s hand already is playing out on the streets, where being affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood now is considered all but an act of terrorism and much of the country is under a state of emergency and curfew.

“Where are you going?” the seventh soldier of the day asked a reporter Thursday who was there to survey the military’s carnage and cleanup of the sit-in site at Rabaa a day earlier.

“Why?” the reporter asked.

“We have orders to detain anyone from Al Jazeera,” a network that’s thought to favor Morsi supporters, the soldier replied.

Some who were at the forefront of the 2011 revolution embrace the military action. In a tweet Wednesday, Alaa al Aswany, a premier Egyptian writer who’d led the revolutionary movement, said people were “with Egypt or the terrorists,” referring to the Muslim Brotherhood.

“Nobody is talking about Egypt’s democratic process. They are asking, ‘Is this headed toward civil war?’ ” said Eric Trager, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “What the events of Wednesday show is that the government appointed after Morsi’s ouster is really a facade. The military is in charge.”

The crackdown and other recent moves by the military are an effort to “obliterate the Brotherhood so it can shape the political environment rather than work within another one,” Trager said.

In the weeks between July 3 and Wednesday, there were growing signs of a country increasingly under military control. More than 200 people, largely Morsi supporters, had died in clashes with security forces before Wednesday. Earlier this week, the government announced that it had named 25 provincial governors, 19 of whom were generals.

Upon announcing Morsi’s ouster, Gen. Abdel-Fattah el Sissi named Adly Mansour as the president. Mansour went on to appoint a government largely of Hosni Mubarak-era holdovers and military generals.

Among those who accepted a post was Nobel laureate and Morsi opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei, whom Mansour named as vice president. ElBaradei resigned Wednesday. In his resignation letter, he referred to the divisive nature of the new government and suggested that the civilians weren’t in control.

Last month, weeks after Morsi supporters had erected their sit-in sites, el Sissi, the minister of defense, gave an address urging Egyptians to take to the streets and give him a “mandate” to address the protesters. Millions did, then were frustrated when the sit-ins remained.

Negotiations between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military to end the impasse began earlier this month, led by international and domestic mediators. Nadar Bakkar, a spokesman for the conservative Nour Party who participated in the discussion, said the talks had failed in part because it was unclear who was in charge.

“The interim authority is not thinking as a whole,” Bakkar said. “Sissi is leading.”

More talks had been scheduled for Wednesday. Members of the Nour Party, Ahmed el Tayeb – the sheikh of Al Azhar, the premier center of Sunni Muslim thought – and other chief negotiators said they hadn’t been informed that the military would clear the sit-in sites instead. Several government officials told McClatchy that they, too, had learned about it only when it began.

“The field of influence left for this civilian government keeps being reduced,” said Zaid Akl, a political analyst at Cairo’s Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies who’s a revolutionary proponent.

But Akl said that it wasn’t over yet for Egypt. The country still is set to write and ratify a new constitution, which might limit military power. And Egypt is supposed to hold elections early next year, which might lead to a new democratically elected civilian leader.

“I believe we should declare democracy dead in Egypt the day the constitution is ratified and is not democratically fulfilling,” Akl said. “We are not going backward yet. We are in a state of paralysis.”


By Nancy A. Youssef
McClatchy Foreign Staff