Tahrir Square is aiming at rolling another head By Keffyalew Gebremedhin
Today, thousands of Egyptians thronged in the historic Tahrir Square with fury to vent their anger and utter distrust of the once adored Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which took power in February 2011 after Mubarak was pushed out of office.
The lead story on Al Ahram read, “A million Egyptians return to Tahrir to demand an end to military rule; police continue bloody crackdown against revolutionaries; Field Marshal Tantawi accepts Cabinet resignation; protesters reject SCAF gestures as too little.”
The voice of the protestors is clear now: some call Tantawi to go and others the SCAF to pack and go to the barracks. Egyptians have collected sufficient evidences that the military has been harboring interest in staying in power. Egyptians are convinced that it has been stealthily working to that end. They point to the iron fist rule it has exercised, the military tribunals.
In the past ten months, Egyptians have witnessed newsmen threatened, protestors and bloggers tried in military tribunals, and people sent to jails for petty offences. There have been reports of tortures, open and systematic denial of media freedom for which Egyptians believe it is their inalienable right after they overthrew Mubarak.
There is no point going in circles. Egypt is a country that is decidedly tired of military rule. It is determined not to give to polite words of its military rulers, fine aspirations for the country behind which are fists that have been getting firmer by the day. The military has run Egypt as one of their departments from 1953 to 2011—with Naguib as the first one, then Nasser, Sadat, Mubarak and now Tantawi at the helm of power for a total of 58 years.
It would be recalled that since assuming power in February 2011, SCAF has refused for its own reasons to annul emergency laws that were promulgated first in 1953. The army is being accused of being for both the political power and the economy it controls.
This is another evidence that there is nothing more intoxicating than the financial and economic interests of politicians and men-in-uniforms and with guns, when they assume power. In Egypt, in the last 60 years the army has grown and expanded its control of Egypt’s economy, by some estimates between 45 and 60 percent of it. It began with the armaments industry in late 1940s that through the years turned into military materiel exporter, with no oversight from parliament, the ministry of finance or the president himself. The political leaders, especially Sadat and Mubarak successfully appeased the military by giving it huge stakes in the economy so that it would not turn against them.
If I must digress, incidentally that six-decade old Egyptian experience has not gone unnoticed by a few in Sub- Sahara Africa (SSA) that have been trying to replicate its past lessons, without making sense of its present tribulations.
Two leaders in Africa are already attempting to empower the military economically for their own ends. New studies financed by DFID and Irish Aid—under the guise of ‘centralization of rent’ for national development—are now encouraging SSA to take notice of these two African countries that have reportedly done so well by embarking on that path with endowment funds and state-owned enterprises as the machinery.
While in Ethiopia’s case the army is not directly mentioned, in Rwanda the ruling Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) is said to have been given the Horizon Group, an investment company, which like EFFORT, is another holding company on behalf of the ruling party—assuming that the interests of the army and the politicians are in collusion.
This is detailed in two studies entitled Re-thinking business and politics in Ethiopia: The role of EFFORT, the Endowment Fund for the Rehabilitation of Tigray and Developmental patrimonialism? The case of Rwanda. These have been presented as model studies on the two successful African countries that have channeled rent into development. The studies are available at Africa Power and Politics Program webpage:
http://www.institutions-africa.org/filestream/20110822-appp-rr02-rethinking-business-politics-in-ethiopia-by-sarah-vaughan-mesfin-gebremichael-august-2011 and the study on Rwanda is available here Download. I shall return in regard to these research works shortly.
When we return to Egypt, the country from which such lessons have been picked, things have terribly soured. This worsened after two members of SCAF Generals Mohamed al-Assar and Mahmoud Hegazy in a rare three-hour interview on 20 October condemned the Coptic-led protests in which 28 people were killed and 300 injured. Egyptians expected apologies for the deaths and sufferings of Copts and others on 9 October, since the army is responsible for their deaths, running them over by armored personnel carriers and using live ammunitions. The two generals condemned them as “a group of aggressors whom we will keep chasing…”
This convinced Egyptians that this killing of innocent people would not have happened, had there not been a go ahead by the SCAF itself. Why should the SCAF turn violent, unless it has reasons to force the people to cower before its power? Such are the questions that are being asked by ordinary Egyptians.
To make matters worse, those two generals denied any killings by the army. As of last Tuesday, after all these needless bloodshed, last Tuesday SCAF announced that it would transfer investigation of handling of Copts-led protests that Egyptians refer to as the Maspero Investigations from military prosecution to civilian prosecution. That by itself is a important victory.
The interview of the two generals was also important in spilling some tightly guarded SCAF secrets, i.e., intention to overextend its stay in power. Gen Assar noted, according to Egyptian news sources, “We do not want to stay in power. We want to execute the first step of transferring power by holding elections. If we had wanted to stay in power, we would not have insisted to hold elections.” Maj. Gen. Mahmoud Hegazy added, “We will keep the power until we have a president.”
This revelation did not sit well with Egyptians. Instantly, they began to work through their networks to rally the public for protests—a “million people march.” The intention of SCAF was after the election was to subordinate the elected body to its control, a thing Egyptians never expected. In October, the announcement of the new timetable for the formation of civilian government was also pushed to August 2013. Actually, since the summer the SCAF has not succeeded in allaying the fears of Egyptians ending up under another military dictatorship.
Moslem Brotherhood did not join the march, since it has shown compliance with set election schedule. Although a million marchers has been a far cry, those who were out were determined enough to successfully deliver their message to SCAF in no uncertain terms. Egypt is engulfed now in a state of protests in all major cities and towns.
The anger of Egyptians is also manifested by the escalating violence. So far over two-dozen people were killed and over 2,000 injured, according to news sources.
Late in the evening, it is reported that SCAF has pledged, according to The New York Times, to make faster handover to civilian rule. Essam Sharaf’s cabinet has already resigned. In his first public speech on television, Marshall Tantawi reiterated that SCAF has no interest in remaining in power. He then made a concession to bring the presidential election to next June, instead of the summer of 2013. He also proposed a referendum for the transfer of power, assuming that is what the people want. How the whole sequence of events is being orchestrated seems to have been taken from Mubarak’s book.
Therefore, it is unlikely that this is going to calm Egyptians, who see Tantawi as another Mubarak. Since the protestors have not received the new SCAF concessions, they may push for his ouster. On top of that, with the decline of tourism Egypt’s economy has gone down by about 25 – 30 percent in 2011, difficult means of livelihoods adding more anger.