Egypt so far is one of the Arab countries where the Arab Spring has not led to a revolution; the Mubarak family is gone but Scaf, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, lives on. Scaf is what Turks would call Egypt’s “deep state” institution, the structure behind the structures of the state, and the armed forces have been the real power behind the throne for the last sixty years.The latest groups of protesters in Tahrir Square would like to change that. Already worried by signs that the military was digging in to hold long term power, the protesters were enraged by the widespread violence deployed against them in the last three days. According to the NYT, the military is now seen as the enemy by many of those who are active in Egyptian political protest:
Egyptian troops had been heralded as saviors when their generals ushered out President Mubarak on Feb. 11, but on Sunday they led a new push to clear [Tahrir Square], and the Health Ministry said Monday that at least 23 people had been killed. Since Saturday, more than 1,500 people had been wounded, the ministry said.
That protesters are clashing with soldiers does not, in itself, spell “revolution”. Clashing with civilians—and goading competing factions of civilians to clash with one another—is one of the tactics that the military has used to maintain the status quo for years. But murmurings and backroom deals suggest the army’s top brass is aware that its power might be imperiled if it doesn’t compromise:
Many have urged the adoption of some sort of ground rules protecting Western-style civil liberties before a potential Islamist majority of the Parliament might dominate the constitutional convention. The military acted on those suggestions to present the liberals with a kind of devil’s bargain: a declaration that would have protected individual and minority rights, but also granted the military permanent political powers and immunity from scrutiny as the guardian of “constitutional legitimacy.”
Egyptians seem confused about where their country is headed, and a foreign blogger sitting thousands of miles away isn’t going to unravel all the mysteries of Egypt’s future. But a few things do seem clear in the general chaos:
- The economy is in trouble and nobody knows how to fix it.
- The corrupt nexus between political, military and economic power remains a driving force in Egyptian society.
- At the end of the day most Copts are more worried about the Islamists than about the military.
- The political parties seem to be haggling with the military over terms rather than digging in for an all out fight for power.
- There are no signs that the military is losing its hold over the troops or that the broad masses of the population are ready for a revolution against Scaf.
Put all that together and this does not look like a revolutionary moment, but economic privation and street violence introduce a wild card. Interesting times.