The Egyptian military virtually staged a coup by acquiring extraordinary powers based on emergency laws that are leftovers from the era of ousted President Hosni Mubarak. However, just as in Turkey, the military is not alone in this caper. They have collaborated with the college of judges and the Supreme Constitutional Court, whose members have often uttered statements like, “This country has not been disowned, everyone cannot do whatever their heart desires.”
This parental, or, better, praetorian attitude escalated in seriousness when it became obvious that the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Morsi, would win the presidential race. The generals, together with their mates in the Supreme Constitutional Court, sacked the new parliament on flimsy justifications. Why did they then sacrifice Mubarak, their leader and one of the pack? It seems by throwing him to the wolves they maintained their privileged place in the system that gave them the power of veto over what transpired. This was a carefully crafted trade-off.
By scrapping parliament, the ruling bureaucracy aborted the drafting of a new constitution as well. The Egyptian people are bereft of their dream of creating a democratic and pluralistic regime. It does not matter now whether the Islamist candidate has won the presidential race against the military’s choice, Mubarak’s former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik. Now the junta, or the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, has the monopoly on all powers to manipulate the newly elected president and the future parliamentary elections, a body that will redraft the new constitution.
No doubt this intervention will wreak havoc in the incipient process of political reordering and dim the hopes of the people who downed the old tyrant. Shall we see an Algerian type of civil strife, which tore the country asunder in a decade-long fratricide during which 200,000 people perished back in the ‘90s. That is to be seen. But how come the military dared to highjack the “revolution”?
As the best organized opposition under repression, the Muslim Brotherhood thought they could win both the presidency and a majority in parliament. They got close to what they wanted out of the parliamentary elections, but as they got closer to a presidential victory, the generals made their move. They carefully manipulated fears of a part of the people toward extremism on the one hand, and the absence of a constitution and aimless sway of parliament in the face of a deteriorating economy on the other.
People are tired of the state of mobilization that has not borne the expected results and the deep rift and friction between the Muslim Brotherhood and secular political groups that seem irreconcilable. This rift creates a sterile environment that is exploited by the military in the name of stability and order. Furthermore, the belief that without due support from a tired and disillusioned populace the Muslim Brotherhood could reconcile with the military has further dampened popular zest.
Today Egypt has no parliament, no constitution and no political leadership of any strength. The presidential elections have been more divisive than uniting. The judiciary has lost its legitimacy as an autonomous body that would control the excesses of the executive, especially the military establishment. Hence there is no dependable institution that the Egyptians could turn to.
Whatever will happen, one thing is sure: Stability is a long shot in Egypt. But whether the world would prefer “stability” maintained by the military over a trial-and-error process of democratization is yet to be seen. By now we know that democracy is not taught but learned by experience.