Answering Five Questions about Egypt's Crisis

Question 1: What is the basis of the military council’s legitimacy in governing Egypt during the transitional period?

On February 11th, Omar Suleiman came out to announce that Hosni Mubarak had stepped down and had transferred presidential powers to the military council. There is a strange contradiction here. After being deposed, the deposed president does not have the right to give his powers to someone else. That’s like a company manager being fired, going home, and then signing an order hiring new employees at the company. The appointments would not be legitimate, because a manager who has been dismissed cannot appoint someone; likewise, the deposed Mubarak could not appoint the military council because he himself had lost his legitimacy and hence could not give it to someone else. From a legal point of view, the 1971 constitution does not allow the military council to rule Egypt. Rather, it stipulates that if the head of state is unable to perform his official duties, the head of the supreme constitutional court should assume power. Neither the constitution nor Mubarak, after his deposition, can be a valid source of legitimacy for the military council.

So where did the council acquire its legitimacy? The military council’s only legitimacy is the Egyptian revolution. On February 11th, there were 20 million Egyptian revolutionaries on the streets who had succeeded in overthrowing Mubarak, and if on that day they had rejected government by the military council as well, they would definitely have had their way. But it was the revolutionaries who trusted the military council, gave it legitimacy, and mandated the council to carry out the objectives of the revolution. The military council acquired its legitimacy from the revolution and when it loses the trust of the revolutionaries it also loses the sole basis of its legitimacy. It is seeking a new legitimacy separate from the legitimacy of the revolution, exploiting Egyptians’ trust in the army. This is a mistake that must be corrected. However, the revolutionaries who want to deprive the military council of its political role do not mean to push aside the armed forces. On the contrary they respect and cherish the armed forces and want them to be free to carry out their national duties.

Question 2: Did the military council protect the Egyptian revolution?

The military council refused to open fire on demonstrators and this is a position for which it deserves credit. But what happened after that? Over nine months, the military council did not protect the revolution at all; in fact the opposite is true. The council thought that overthrowing Mubarak and putting him on trial was the most the revolution could obtain. Instead of the complete change for which the revolution was launched, only the person of the president was changed. The Mubarak regime is still ruling Egypt, from State Security, which has resumed its criminal activities at full capacity, to senior police officers loyal to former Interior Minister Habib el-Adly, who run the Interior Ministry and continue to kill demonstrators and violate their humanity, to the prosecutor general, who was forced to make innumerable political compromises in the Mubarak era, to the sycophantic journalists who work on behalf of State Security, to the senior officials throughout the civil service.

The scene in Egypt is unprecedented: there was a revolution to overthrow the Mubarak regime but the military council saved the regime and kept it in power. The outcome has been unfortunate but predictable. The Mubarak regime has contained the revolution and aborted it through carefully measured steps, including a deliberate breakdown in law and order, the release of thugs and violent convicts to terrorize people, the failure of the police, with the consent of the military council, to perform their duty, deliberate price increases and strikes by interest groups, which the authorities deliberately ignore so that the demonstrators turn to vandalism and blocking roads. Misleading media campaigns aim to convince people that the revolution is the reason for all these crises, as well as sectarian conflicts, in which State Security officials specialize, like setting fire to churches in full view of security forces and military police, who look on without intervening.

The final blow against the revolutionaries was timed for Saturday, November 19th, a week before elections, to remove them finally from the electoral scene. The barbaric attack by security forces on injured revolutionaries and demonstrators in Tahrir Square was meant to drag the young revolutionaries into an unequal battle in which they would be crushed. Security personnel and military police attacked and viciously assaulted the demonstrators who came to defend them. After the demonstrators were cleared from the square, the military police opened it again so that the revolutionaries would pour in and be crushed again. All that was carefully planned by creating a crisis in Mohamed Mahmoud Street (which does not lead to the Interior Ministry), in order to convince public opinion that the demonstrators were being killed to defend the ministry and prevent the revolutionaries from storming it. But the people spoiled the plan when they went out into squares across Egypt in support of the revolutionaries. This surprise confused the Mubarak regime, which committed more barbaric crimes against peaceful unarmed demonstrators. Security personnel sponsored by the military police (according to the testimony of the forensic department) killed demonstrators with live ammunition, aimed shotguns at their eyes and then released poisonous gases at them. When the regime realized that the revolutionaries were determined to stay whatever the sacrifices, it had to make a few concessions, so it dismissed the Sharaf government and asked Kamal el-Ganzouri to form a new one, confirming that the military council disregards the will of the revolution and insists on monopolizing power and on defending the Mubarak regime to the very end.

Question 3: Why don’t we leave the military council in power until the country can be handed over to an elected president?

Because the military council is the Mubarak regime—no more, no less. Should we expect the Interior Ministry officials loyal to Mubarak to help us restore law and order so that we can dismiss them and put them on trial? Should we expect the bank chiefs appointed by Gamal Mubarak to contribute to stimulating the economy until an elected government comes and dismisses them and maybe puts them on trial on corruption charges? A video has emerged showing a police officer aiming a shotgun at the eyes of a demonstrator and then being congratulated by his colleagues for blinding an innocent person in one eye. That incident, recorded in full, is significant: it means that the Mubarak regime treats Egyptians in the same way after the revolution as before. The public prosecutor has asked to question the police officer but the Interior Ministry has refused to hand him over and his colleagues are up in arms in solidarity with him. Of course, an officer can’t carry out his commander’s orders to shoot demonstrators in the eye and then be put on trial because he obeyed orders.

The only way to save the revolution is to form a revolutionary consensus government with presidential powers, not subordinate to the military council, a government that can restore law and order and conduct fair trials for all those who have committed crimes against Egyptians. The military council knows that the formation of an independent government will bring an end to the Mubarak regime and so it is maneuvering, negotiating, and calling for endless discussions with the political forces and inviting them to form advisory councils that no one will consult. The military council is buying time until the elections start, while imposing Ganzouri as a leader on the Egyptian people so that his government can kill off what’s left of the revolution.

Question 4: Why does the military council insist on holding elections despite the deterioration in the security situation, the incompetence of the agencies responsible, and the chaotic nature of the political scene?

Because the revolution provides the council’s only legitimacy, it is looking for a new legitimacy that a cooperative parliament will provide. The military council has done everything it can to exclude the revolutionaries from the People’s Assembly, refusing to disqualify members of the old National Democratic Party and allowing them to form ten new parties so that they can use the money they plundered from the people to buy votes and get into parliament. The elections have been planned with one clear aim: to have a parliament made up of ex-NDP members and Muslim Brothers, in whom the military council has found a reliable and obedient partner, ready to do anything demanded of it in return for seats in government.

Question 5: What’s to be done?

Circumstances have forced the Egyptian revolution to fight on two fronts: it has to continue peaceful demonstrations and sit-ins so that the council responds to the will of the revolution, dismisses Ganzouri, and forms an independent government led by someone associated with the revolution. We are not interested at this stage in the political affiliation of the prime minister: what matters most is how loyal he is to the principles of the revolution. Whether it is Mohamed ElBaradei, the liberal, or Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, the Islamist, or anyone else who is equally credible, only a revolutionary prime minister can protect the revolution and put it on the right track. This is the demand on which we must unite, and to achieve it we must press on with all our strength and we must take part in elections. In my opinion, the revolutionaries have a duty to take part fully in the elections. If the elections are conducted without any rigging, a number of revolutionaries will get into parliament. If the elections are rigged, the revolutionaries will be witnesses to the betrayal of trust and the rigged elections will be cancelled through the will of the people. No one will be able to falsify the will of the people, who were able to force Mubarak to step down through courage and sacrifice.


Photo Credit: Floris Van Cauwelaert

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