What Egypt's Military Council Didn't Learn from the Revolution

My friend Yusri Foda is the host of the Egyptian talk show, The Last Word. Yusri invited me to take part in his show to comment on a program that featured Generals Assar and Hegazy of the military council. Despite my full respect for the generals, what they said in the program was disappointing because they confined themselves to praising the decisions of the military council. The next day, Yusri called me to tell me that the show had been cancelled. When I asked him what had happened, he said, “There were pressures that led to cancelling the program, so I’ve decided to suspend the show. In my work, I obey only my conscience and I can never agree to take orders from any other party.”

In my life I have met few people as courageous and principled as Yusri Foda. His admirable objection to pressure from the military council sets an example for honest journalists who do not compromise their principles—no matter what incentives or threats come their way. The military council seems to have grown irritated by any criticism, however serious and well-meaning it might be. A vicious and thorough campaign against freedom of expression in Egypt has started. Before Yusri’s show was cancelled, the military police had already made violent attacks on other channels, and deleted articles from certain newspapers because the military council did not like them. We respect the armed forces as a national institution of which we are all proud, but during the transitional period the military council combines the powers of the head of state and the legislature, and so we have a right, in fact a duty, to criticize its political decisions.

The military council did not take part in the revolution and did not promote it. During the revolution, it found itself at a historic moment and took a decision not to open fire on the demonstrators. This decision was wise and patriotic, and it won the military council the trust of the revolutionaries. So as soon as Hosni Mubarak stepped down, the millions of demonstrators went back home, confident that the military council was now the revolution’s trustee and would carry out all of its objectives. Of course, a trustee does not have the right to deviate much from the wishes of his client, but the military council has evolved from trustee of the revolution into an authority that imposes its will on the revolution. The outcome is that the Egyptian revolution has faltered and stalled. Everything that has happened in the aftermath of the Egyptian revolution reflects the military council’s desperate attempts to resist change and preserve the Mubarak regime. The revolutionaries wanted a new constitution, but the council refused and held a referendum on limited amendments to the 1971 constitution. It then ignored the result of the referendum and decided that the system of government would be presidential. In other words, the military council defined the structure of the future state as it pleased, without consulting Egyptians and even acting against their wishes. The revolutionaries demanded that the local councils be dissolved and the old ruling party be closed down, but the military council refused and it was not until many months later that these steps were taken through court rulings. The military council retained Mubarak-era officials throughout the bureaucracy. The revolutionaries have demanded that corrupt National Democratic Party members be disqualified from public office, so that they cannot poison political life again. But as yet the military council has done nothing to prevent this regression, so remnants of the Mubarak regime have been able to stand as candidates in the coming parliamentary elections.

This revolution was about dignity. We dreamed that even the humblest Egyptians would be treated as human beings with rights. The revolutionaries demanded the abolition of the State Security apparatus that tortured Egyptians and violated their dignity for decades, but the military council insisted on preserving this appalling institution after renaming it National Security. One does not need great intelligence to realize that State Security stands behind most of the crises Egypt faces, from the sectarian conflicts to the thuggery and the breakdown in law and order. The State Security officials belong to the Mubarak regime ideologically and in practice, and they will do everything they can to prevent any change that would lead to them facing trial for the many crimes they committed against Egyptians. They have all the resources they need for sabotage: accurate information, agents planted everywhere, and ample money that they have obtained from the remnants of the Mubarak regime.

The military council has not only saved State Security but has also added a new apparatus of repression, the military police. Over the last few months members of the military police have committed heinous crimes against Egyptians and no one has held them to account. They have beaten people, tortured them, given them electric shock treatment, and sexually abused young women by taking photographs of them naked under the pretext of giving them virginity tests. Finally, they ran people over with an armoured vehicle in the Maspero massacre. In the wake of each crime the military council has announced that investigations are under way but we have never discovered the results. Don’t we have the right to call for an impartial inquiry into the Maspero massacre, in which 27 Egyptians were killed?

From the start, the military council has been very close to the Islamist groups; and, on the other side, in line with their historical tradition, the Muslim Brothers have put their party interests ahead of the objectives of the revolution. After calling for a new constitution, they accepted the military council’s amendments and took sides with everything the council did. They have become almost the political wing of the council, so much so that the newspaper Al Masry Al Yom reported a few days ago that they were distributing meat subsidized through the army’s budget. This double standard extends to legal procedures. Twelve thousand civilians have been tried in military courts and are now serving time in jail. Trying civilians in military courts is a violation of their rights as well as of international conventions that Egypt has signed.

Also, the council imposes military trials only on certain people. The individuals who have set fire to churches, destroyed the tombs of holy men, and, in Qena, blocked a train line for two weeks have not been arrested by the military police and have not been questioned. At the same time, Ali al-Halabi, a young member of the April 6 Movement, was caught writing slogans on a wall, urging people not to vote for remnants of the Mubarak regime: the military police arrested him and referred him to the military prosecution, which ordered him to be detained in military jail.

Another example of the double standard: the military council has decided to monitor foreign financing for civil society organizations—a correct and necessary step. Egyptians have a right to know where all the associations, political parties, and institutes in Egypt receive their funding. But we notice that the military council monitors foreign funding only for one side. The Muslim Brotherhood and members of the Salafist parties are spending millions of pounds a day on election propaganda. Don’t the Egyptian people have a right to know where the Brotherhood and the Salafists obtain all this money? Has the military council taken any measures to reveal the sources of funding for the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafist parties?

Egypt now faces several crises—from the breakdown in law and order to the economic crisis to the slump in tourism. Most of these crises are the artificial creation of the officials affiliated to the old regime, who the military council support in their posts. The biggest problem is law and order: thousands of thugs and convicted criminals the Mubarak regime released from prison to create chaos everywhere. The Egyptian police force has no presence because its leaders belong to the Mubarak regime and deliberately refrain from protecting Egyptians in order to punish them for the revolution. The interior minister cannot control his ministry: he claimed that the snipers who killed demonstrators did not come from the police force, while evidence later emerged that there were police snipers in many of the ministry’s departments.

The military police intervene forcefully in only two situations: either to suppress revolutionaries or to save former regime officials when they are surrounded by demonstrators. Has the military council done what it should to restore order in Egypt? I think the answer is clear. The policies of the military council have disappointed Egyptians and added to their suffering. They have given the remnants of the Mubarak regime a golden opportunity to contain the revolution, sap its energy, and prevent it achieving its goals. The Egyptian revolution is now going through a critical phase in which the Mubarak regime, with help from the military council, is trying to recreate itself in a new guise. There are serious expectations that a majority in the lower house of Parliament will go to members of the old National Democratic Party. We will never allow such a travesty. In the revolution, at least 846 Egyptians were killed; a thousand went missing, probably killed and buried in unmarked graves; 1,400 people permanently lost their eyesight and ten thousand were otherwise injured. After these enormous sacrifices, we will never allow the remnants of the old regime to control Parliament and write the revolution’s constitution, because that revolution basically opposed their corruption and injustice.

The blood of those killed is a trust we all bear and we would not be fulfilling it unless we defend the revolution, so that it can achieve its objectives and Egypt can start out on a new course, far from the ghosts of the past and remnants of the old, corrupt system.


Photo Attribution: MOHPhoto / Shutterstock.com


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