Saturday,21 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1134, 7 - 13 February 2013
Saturday,21 October, 2017
Issue 1134, 7 - 13 February 2013

Ahram Weekly

Calculated ambiguity

Al-Ahram Weekly

Since the Kifaya movement appeared in 2004 to resist attempts by the former regime to bequeath power to the son of the president, the big question looming over Egyptian politics was the army’s position. The army held its cards close to its chest, so much so that even the supporters of Gamal Mubarak couldn’t guess its next move.

The move finally came on 2 February 2011, when the army publicly sided with the people, abandoning the old regime to an ignominious fate.

The people greeted the deployment of tanks in Cairo streets with roses. They showered the army with love, but the elation was short-lived, wrecked partly by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces’ (SCAF) patent mismanagement of the country and its apparent bias to the Muslim Brotherhood.

A subsequent constitutional declaration by SCAF paved the way for the Brotherhood’s power grab. Since then, questions over the army’s intentions surfaced yet again.

In the months following, the country’s newly elected President Mohamed Morsi dismissed the country’s top brass, promoting new faces to lead the military. But he also decorated former SCAF members and immunised them against prosecution in connection to the killings of protesters on Qasr Al-Aini and Mohamed Mahmoud Street. This triggered accusations that Morsi and the army had struck a secret deal.

Now questions about the military’s position abound, prompted by the turbulent events of the past two weeks, the convictions in the Port Said football trial, the demonstrations in Port Said, the anti-Muslim Brotherhood demonstrations in Suez and Cairo, and the recent clashes at Al-Ittihadiya, the presidential palace, of which the stripping and beating of citizen Hamada Saber was the last straw.

In the Suez Canal cities of Port Said, Ismailia and Suez, the president’s decision to enforce a curfew from 9pm to 6am for a month as of 27 January was immediately challenged. In Ismailia, the entire population went out for nocturnal walks, and even organised an impromptu football game to underline the point. In Port Said and Suez, thousands chanted anti-Muslim Brotherhood slogans and called for an end to its rule.

So where does the army stand?

Does it believe the regime’s contention that the country is facing immense perils, or does it agree with the opposition’s counterclaim that the revolution was hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood?

The army seems to be baffled by what’s happening, unable to conclude if the current turmoil is an attempt to sabotage the country or an explosion of righteous discontent that may end up matching that of 25 January 2011.

Meanwhile, clashes between security forces and demonstrators continue to undermine the country’s security and stability. New groups are coming to the scene. One is the Black Bloc, which maintains that, “Violence must be met with violence.” Another is the “Free Policemen” that called on security officials to desist from attacking demonstrators and confine their role to protecting police stations and offices.

The military’s position was at last spelled out by General Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, the army chief and defence minister. Al-Sisi’s remarks, made at a meeting with army cadets, suggest that the military’s bafflement is far from over.

Al-Sisi mentioned the existence of “real threats to the security of Egypt and the cohesion of the state,” adding that “failure to address this situation by all concerned parties will lead to grave consequences and undermine the existence and stability of the country.”

He remarked that “the continued power struggle among various political forces and their differences in matters concerning the running of the country would lead to the collapse of the state and threaten the wellbeing of future generations.”

The picture Al-Sisi painted in his remarks was a bit misleading. Alluding to the ongoing demonstrations and clashes, Al-Sisi spoke of the need to maintain security and stability. But he made no mention of the mishandling by the president, the Muslim Brotherhood, the government and the security forces of the current situation.

The army chief blamed all political groups for the current turmoil. But he made no mention of the erroneous mistakes made by the president, or the threatening language he used in a recent speech, a language that was unwisely addressed to a nation that had just overthrown the last president.

Instead of taking sides with the people, as the previous army chief did, Al-Sisi gave the impression that what mattered was “legitimacy” as seen by the Muslim Brotherhood, which is very close to the “legitimacy” once propagandised by the former regime.

The military was in a quandary, Al-Sisi said. It was “trying to reconcile the need to protect citizens and their rights to demonstrate and the need to protect vital national facilities”.

Al-Sisi’s remarks don’t necessarily mean that the army is taking sides with the president and the Muslim Brotherhood. But they indicate that the army is for now taking a passive stand on the matter. “The army of Egypt will remain cohesive and solid, an army for all Egyptians regardless of their affiliations,” the army chief said.

Al-Sisi didn’t bring up the fact that, only two months ago, the president contemptuously turned down an initiative by the army to hold a national dialogue; an initiative that the army had hoped would end the turmoil.

Two years ago, the army command took sides with the people, making it clear that it couldn’t condone the killing of protesters by Mubarak’s regime. Right now, the current army command is sitting on the fence. It pretends that killing, the mistreatment of demonstrators, and the torture of protesters is not its concern. But when it comes to crimes of that type, sitting on the fence is not neutral.

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