The Moment of Truth Has Come for Egypt's Military Council

What would you do if you were an officer in State Security and you were still in your job? Before the revolution you tortured hundreds of Egyptians and you know that the coming elections will bring in a civilian government that will definitely fire you and may even put you on trial. Would you maintain law and order, or would you do everything you could to spread chaos in Egypt, in order to save yourself? If you were the chairman of a bank, appointed to the job by Gamal Mubarak, what would you have done after the revolution? Would you have helped revive the economy until a new government comes and dismisses you and investigates your activities, or would you use your experience to create an economic crisis that might defer your inevitable fate?

In the aftermath of any revolution, if followers of the old regime retain their positions, they are bound to conspire by all possible means to sabotage the country and thwart the process of change. In all the revolutions the world has seen the old regime was demolished as soon as the revolution succeeded, but the revolution we had here in Egypt seems to have a unique status. Twenty million Egyptians brought about a great revolution, in which many gave their lives, and succeeded in forcing Hosni Mubarak to step down. They then went back home and left the revolution in the charge of the military council. A real misunderstanding took place: the revolutionaries saw the overthrow of Mubarak as a first step toward overthrowing the old regime, while the military council thought that Mubarak’s departure was an inevitable sacrifice in order to preserve the old regime.

We have to distinguish here between the armed forces as a national institution we are proud of and the military council as a political authority whose policies we have a right to disagree with. The military council refused to open fire on demonstrators—an excellent decision in line with the traditions of the Egyptian army—but at the same time the military council did not bring about the revolution, did not expect it, and did not understand it. In fact the council was taken by surprise by the revolution, just as Mubarak was. Until the revolution broke out, the military council was loyal to Mubarak as commander in chief, but then the revolution triumphed over the tyrant and the military council had to deal with the fait accompli. During the Battle of the Camel, thousands of armed thugs came into Tahrir Square intent on attacking and killing the revolutionaries. That happened in full view of the troops, but they did not stand in the way of the thugs or protect the revolutionaries from them. To anyone who asked, they said their orders were not to take sides. Staying neutral between peaceful demonstrators and hired thugs with weapons simply meant giving the Mubarak regime a last chance to put an end to the revolution.

Everything that has happened in Egypt since the revolution can be summarized as a struggle between two wills: the will of the revolutionaries for real change that cannot come about without dismantling the old regime, and the will of the military council, which hangs on to the old regime and defiantly resists change. The current state officials and decisionmakers are the same people the revolution  aimed to overthrow. It’s as if we were asking the old regime to help us overthrow itself. The State Security officers, the police chiefs, the governors and most of the ministers and senior officials in banks, ministries and the media all belong heart and soul to the Mubarak regime and are decidedly hostile to the revolution. But the military council has left them all in their jobs.

The result has been a series of conspiracies and crises, all of which have been artificial, from the sectarian attacks to the shortages of diesel fuel and foodstuffs. The result has been to obstruct democratic change and to push the revolution back in order to contain and neutralize it. The revolutionaries wanted a new constitution, but the military council went along with Mubarak’s legal advisers and imposed a referendum on limited constitutional amendments. Then we were surprised to find the council declaring an interim constitution that in effect ignored the referendum result and defined the Egyptian state in a way that reflected the wishes of the council, not the will of the people.

A few days ago the newspaper Tahrir published a document showing that 165,000 thugs are still on the State Security payroll. What should we expect from these thugs? No doubt they are working to spread chaos and maintain the breakdown in law and order until Egyptians turn against the revolution and regret having asking for freedom. Professor Omar Taher earlier published, also in Tahrir newspaper, a letter that EgyptAir sent to tourism officials in Japan asking them not to send any Japanese tourists to Egypt because of the security situation. These are just examples of the systematic sabotage that Mubarak’s followers are carrying out across Egypt.

Finally came the massacre at the Maspero building as the climax of the sectarian strife that has broken out in Egypt, deliberately and systematically, since the revolution. We cannot understand what happened in the Maspero massacre unless we bear in mind that the Mubarak regime is still ruling Egypt. The military police are working in full cooperation with the police force, where the leadership is still loyal to Mubarak, and with State Security (renamed National Security), which is operating with the same officers who abused and tortured Egyptians for years.

It was a peaceful march and the time and the venue were known in advance, attended by thousands of Copts and many Muslims who are in solidarity with their legitimate demands. Suddenly, unidentified armed groups appeared, as in all previous attacks. The whole scenario was repeated. The armed thugs attacked buildings and then attacked the army, which gave the army sufficient reason to lay into the demonstrators, which was the real purpose of this wretched drama. In all previous incidents without exception, from the burning of the church in the village of Soul, to the events in Abbasia and the attacks on the Interior Ministry and on the Giza security headquarters, the thugs have appeared. They have often been captured on videotape and some of them have admitted to the media that they received money from members of the old National Democratic Party to commit their crimes. Why haven’t the military police arrested them and questioned them? Why have the military police allowed extremists in Qena to cut off a Coptic man’s ear and block the railway line to the south for ten days? How can Mubarak’s thugs, armed with knives and other such weapons, attack the families of those killed in the revolution without the military police detaining any of them?

Meanwhile the military police attack, torture, and kill only the revolutionaries. The crucial question in the Maspero tragedy is: were Egyptians run over by the army’s armored vehicles? Unfortunately the answer is yes. This horrendous crime has been documented on video and most of the bodies have been found in the morgue, with signs that they were crushed by the vehicles. Some day soon the dust will clear and the campaigns of distortion, incitement, and lies, led by the official media, will come to an end, and Egyptians will then find themselves face-to-face with a brutal massacre committed by the Egyptian army against Egyptian civilians.      

In 1906, five officers off the British occupation army went on a pigeon shooting trip in the Egyptian countryside and, as the result of a chain of mistakes, a fight broke out between the officers and the Egyptian farmers. One Egyptian farmer was killed and a British officer died of sunstroke while escaping. Lord Cromer, the British consul general in Egypt, organized a show trial and the court sentenced four Egyptian farmers to death and many others to various terms of imprisonment. The incident became famous in Egypt as the Denshawai massacre, and the whole country rose up in mourning for the victims. It is saddening but necessary to compare the two incidents: in the Denshawai events five people were killed, while in the Maspero incident 24 died. The military council has not apologized for killing the demonstrators and no one from the military has been sent to trial, though the council did decide that an investigation should be done by military judges, which makes the military council both judge and litigant in the same case. Another difference between Denshawai and Maspero: the British troops killed the Egyptians as inhabitants of a colony, whereas the military police killed Egyptians like themselves; Egyptian citizens pay the taxes with which the armed forces buy armored vehicles meant to protect the country, and then the military uses them to run over and kill the Egyptians who paid for them. The Maspero massacre leaves us face-to-face with the truth: the Mubarak regime is still ruling Egypt and it is trying to set it ablaze and sabotage it in order to abort the revolution and prevent change.

The military council is now going through a real test of its credibility and has to choose: either it protects the criminals who ran over the demonstrators at the Maspero building, in what would amount to a cover-up, or else it stands up for truth and for Egyptian military traditions and refers the massacre to an impartial judicial committee so that justice is done and the criminals are punished. The Egyptian revolution stands completely alone now that everyone has abandoned it and has plotted to abort it, but the revolution, thanks to the people who brought it about, will triumph and will take Egypt to the future the country deserves.

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