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Egypt's counterrevolution

19 Haziran 2012 Salı

Turkey was proclaimed as a model by many Egyptians in the Spring of 2011, as they looked to rebuild their country following the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. They were talking about today's prosperous and relatively democratic Turkey governed by moderate Islamists. But the events of the past week have shown that the generals who took over from Mubarak had a different Turkey in mind -- the Turkey of the Deep State. Having initially cloaked itself in the mantle of "revolution" and promised to oversee a transition to democracy, but the junta has now made clear that it has no intention of relinquishing real authority. Three rulings this week by the Supreme Constitutional Court aligned with the junta have made clear that Egypt will be ruled by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces junta and its backers in the bureaucracy and judiciary until further notice.

First, on Wednesday, the Court reimposed de facto martial law, giving the security forces the same blanket authority to make arbitrary arrests they had enjoyed under Mubarak -- until such time as a new constitution is in force. That, of course, could take a while. On Thursday, the Court not only slapped down a law passed by the democratically elected parliament that forbade officials of the former regime from running for office; it also dissolved the legislature itself. That means former Mubarak Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik can in Saturday's runoff against the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi, for a presidency whose powers will be defined by the military -- dissolving parliament on plainly political grounds has also swept aside the Constituent Assembly it appointed to write a new constitution.

Although this weekend's presidential runoff race will go ahead, judicial meddling that arbitrarily disqualified some popular candidates, and a choice between two candidates equally loathed by many many Egyptians has ensured that whomever wins will lack not only executive authority, but also legitimacy. Meanwhile, Egypt has no parliament, and no constitution or process for drafting one - a status quo that simply affirms the generals' control.

Mubarak's ouster was more a palace coup than revolution. A junta of generals responded to the massive protests in Tahrir Square by easing out the dictator in order to save the dictatorship, and then stumbled their way to a dominant position, helped by the ineffectual and chaotic state of the opposition. The "revolution" in Tahrir Square lacked leadership and strategy, and it has found itself increasingly marginalized as Islamist parties used their extensive grassroots organization to win a majority in the new parliament. The failure of more liberal elements to agree on a single candidate further diluted the impact of their support in the electorate, leaving them to choose between Shafik and Morsi -- a choice that has many calling for a boycott, that would simply leave them on the sidelines. The failure of the Brotherhood and the secular opposition parties to agree on a common program to ensure a democratic transfer to civilian rule may yet prove to be the undoing of both camps.

Rather than governing directly, the generals would prefer a pliant civilian government willing to bow to the military's the expansive prerogatives, including a substantial stake in the economy and a veto on matters of national security - a setup not unlike Pakistan.

And this week's events signal an aggressive attempt to roll back a civilian democracy that was empowering the Islamists. One senior judge, Ahmed al-Zend, last weekend launched a scathing attack on the parliament democratically chosen in an election overseen by the very judges he represents, denouncing it as "a thorn in Egypt's side". In a statement as comical as it was chilling, Al-Zend declared that if the judges had known the outcome that the recent parliamentary elections would produced, they'd never have agreed to oversee them.

The junta's confidence appears to be based on the belief that they've successfully demobilized the revolutionaries, or isolated them from the wider population to the point that they present little threat. The generals seem to assume that their willingness to use the old tools of repression, as well as the divisions among the opposition and the desire of much of the population for an end to economically disruptive turmoil, will prevent another mass challenge to state power of the sort that saw Mubarka toppled. But that may be a risky bet. Even if it holds for a while, it essentially restores a situation where a regime lacking in legitimacy presides over an economy and society in deep crisis. And that, as last year's events showed, is untenable.