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Egypt’s Counterrevolution Creeps Forward

The Egyptian People have spoken, and the military has dutifully recognized Mohammed Morsi as the country’s first democratically elected president.

The timing of this announcement (and the long delay while ballots were, ahem, processed) is indicative of a calculated political move by the ruling generals. It is likely that the military and the Morsi camp talked it over and came to some sort of an agreement before the military would award Morsi the presidency.

The decision to let Morsi be president is typical of the kind of decisions the military has made in the past, combining an inflexible determination to keep power with great flexibility in short-term political strategy. The military doesn’t confront its opponents until it has prepared the political ground. It allowed parliamentary elections to go forward but when the time was ripe it dismissed the parliament. Now the SCAF is letting Morsi become president, but is in a good position to shape the constitutional discussions that will allot him power and determine his length of tenure.

In Egypt, time is on the army’s side. The longer the uncertainty goes on, the worse the economy gets. The more desperate people become, the greater likelihood that they will support those promising stability and blaming revolutionary agitators for scaring the tourists and investors away.

The military seems to calculate that in time Morsi’s popularity will diminish even as his powers are whittled away. The government bureaucracy remains deeply attached to the old system, and without a parliament or a constitution—and especially without the support of the civil service—Morsi will be hard put to make changes, but he will be held responsible for anything and everything that goes wrong.

Egypt’s cautious, creeping counterrevolution continues. The Egyptian generals need only look across the Mediterranean at Turkey to see what can happen to a military when Islamists assume real political power. Many in the Turkish military establishment have been investigated and/or jailed for what they saw as their duty: the protection of Ataturk’s secular vision and preserving national stability.

Egypt’s military chiefs have no appetite to see the same thing happen to them.  They are cagey and cautious; they have already managed to blunt the revolution’s force through delay and concessions that mollify and confuse opponents but don’t yield much power. It would take a renewed and determined revolutionary upsurge to endanger the military’s hold on the levers of power; it is not clear that President Morsi is the man to promote such a movement.

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  • LarryReiser

    So much for the Arab Spring,we have powerful military and an Islamist President in Egypt a proto civil war in Syria chaos in LIBYA and a confused American FOREIGN POLICY.

  • Cunctator

    This article’s conclusion is very wishful thinking. The future is far more bleak. The Egyptian Army is a conscript force. That means that it draws the vast majority of its personnel from the same mass of people who just voted for an Islamist president. As the example of Turkey demonstrates, the Islamists will quickly come to control the streets: the officers corps cannot hope to confront that power through any demonstration of military force that requires a confrontation with the “people”. The ordinary soldier cannot be trusted to shoot his “brothers” or “fathers” in an effort to assert military rule. Therefore, the Egyptian military will slowly discover, perhaps in a couple of years if not sooner, that they have been outflanked by the Muslim Brotherhood. By then, it will probably be too late to take any remedial action.

    Jimmy Carter lost Iran by refusing to support the Shah, and we have had to deal with the consequences for the past 30 years. Obama lost Egypt by refusing to back Mubarak’s regime. In tossing an old ally to the Islamist “wolves” we will now have to confront many more years of upset and instability (and maybe worse) in the MidEast. The Obama-Clinton foreign policy has, quite simply, proven to be a disaster for US and Western interests in that highly volatile region.

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