Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1149, 23 - 29 May 2013
Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Issue 1149, 23 - 29 May 2013

Ahram Weekly

A tale of two institutions

The army and the judiciary, celebrated before the January uprising, largely survived the revolution, though not unscathed, writes Ahmed El-Tonsi

Al-Ahram Weekly

Both the army and judiciary started their evolution as entirely national institutions in close proximity in date, representing watersheds in each institution’s history. The Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936 was the start of re-establishing the Egyptian army as an institution, in at least a nominally independent Egypt, whereas the Egyptian army established by Mohamed Ali — predominately led by foreigner officers — belonged to Egypt as an Ottoman province. The treaty of 1936 offered the Egyptian army some freedom to establish its own ranks and arms. Similarly, the Monteux Treaty of 1937 ended the capitulations and abolished the Mixed Courts system, and thus was the real beginning of a truly national judicial system. The years of 1967 as the army’s setback and 1969 for the judiciary with its massacring were not interrelated as both institutions passed through their respective crises as national institutions.
On the other hand, 1972 for the judiciary with the law that remedied the impact of the 1969 massacre and 1973 with the Egyptian military triumph in the October war have been landmarks in the evolution of both institutions.
In general, the two institutions have always enjoyed considerable prestige throughout their history, with such prestige enormous during Hosni Mubarak’s rule. Both the army and the judiciary have not been touched by the near collapse of other state institutions in the aftermath of the January 2011 Revolution.
Rather, the army and the judiciary are the only state institutions that skipped the inevitable disruptive impacts of the revolution as witnessed on the other institutions, like the presidency and the police.
Before his resignation, Mubarak assigned his executive powers to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which later acquired legislative powers. Accordingly, SCAF — or the army — was the major political force during the whole transitional period.
On the other hand, the judiciary asserted its role throughout the transitional period and its aftermath through its decisions or verdicts in various lawsuits and cases brought before ordinary courts, not exceptional ones usually established to try political figures of an ousted political regime. Furthermore, the judiciary has repeatedly come to the forefront of the political scene with its supervision of the long array of legislative and presidential elections and political referenda. Put differently, the judiciary and the army have survived the revolution’s political upheaval and have maintained and even expanded their role through the formal transition period ending with Mohamed Morsi assuming power on 30 June 2012.
On approaching the end of the transition period, however, the two institutions started gradually losing a substantial deal of the people’s genuine admiration, as manifested in the early days of the revolution. “Down with military rule” and “The people want the purification of the judiciary” have become slogans raised by some sectors within the angry masses during demonstrations, particularly in the late months of SCAF’s period in power.
Many reasons exist behind such slogans. As ever, frustration is a function of expectations. Almost full popular support was coupled with increased expectations from the masses in the early months of the revolution. It is quite understood that the people thought of the army as their major agent of change in the aftermath of the revolution. Yet, it has been catastrophic to think that judges would respond to popular demands and rule in favour of public opinion.
Significant in this has been the frustration of some at judicial verdicts that acquitted many political figures of the former regime. In other words, the two institutions have not sustained the initial popular zeal for their continued presence and for not being identified with the ousted regime. In particular, SCAF suffered a great deal of criticism because of its mismanagement of the transition period. On the other hand, the judiciary reached its worst level of public confidence in the aftermath of the NGO workers crisis.
Nevertheless, the fierce attack against the army has been partially the work of elements within political forces that have opportunistically misled many revolutionaries towards adopting a tough stand vis-à-vis military rule and its alleged 60-year implication in politics. In fact, this historically unfounded claim, as well as being politically expensive, delinked the army from its partnership with various revolutionary forces that coalesced to make the January revolution. The only beneficiary from the army’s breakaway from revolutionary forces was the Muslim Brotherhood.
Still, many elements within the opposition have been fiercely attacking the army and its “first republic”. By all standards, the role of the army in January’s revolution was pivotal to its success. Moreover, the role of the army in the democratisation process has become a model to the extent that some political scientists have started to re-evaluate conventional views of the military as an anti-democratic institution. For example, Ozan Varol, after analysing the Arab Spring revolutions, concluded that some militaries, “are capable of playing a democracy-promoting constitutional role in a post-authoritarian society, because their self-interests often align with the conditions that James Madison and others have identified as conducive to the genesis of a constitutional democracy: institutional stability, political pluralism, and national unity”.
Inevitably, conflicts have taken place between the new regime of the Muslim Brotherhood and the army and the judiciary, particularly with their continued role in the aftermath of Morsi’s election. Recklessly, the ruing Brotherhood regime, in attempting to consolidate its power base, has infringed upon the jurisdiction of these two institutions, miscalculating that the political landscape would be permissive to undertake action against the army and the judiciary. Decrees and constitutional declarations have been the major tools utilised by Morsi during his confrontations with the army and the judiciary.
Beyond legalistic approaches, the regime has committed several sins against the rule of law with its demonstrations and encirclement of the Supreme Constitutional Court. The autonomy of the two institutions has been at stake, while each institution’s crisis has been precipitated and escalated by a series of missteps by the ruling regime. Identifiably, the conflicts have revealed that the army has become a truly professional institution while the judiciary has been revealed vulnerable, possessing soft power that cannot always withstand the aggression of hard power, even from a regime with limited legitimacy. Some judiciary members, for various reasons and motives, have cowed to the whims of the executive branch of government. This uneven autonomy or independence between the two institutions has emanated from their pattern of evolution as national institutions within the fabric of the modern Egyptian state, reflecting differing socio-political developments in Egypt in the last century.
With the open confrontation between the regime and the judiciary, and the tacit conflict between the army and the regime, it can be said that the evolution of both institutions has been an ongoing process. Yet each institution will have its different pattern as well as track of development. The same can be said about popular zeal for each institution. However, the fortunes of the army changed after a few months of Morsi’s rule, with some people under oppression and in a highly toxic political environment expressing some degree of nostalgia for a past they once rejected when recklessly shouting down military rule. Even some have desperately prayed for a “second coming” of the army to end the unprecedented tribulation under the Muslim Brotherhood regime.

The writer is a political analyst.

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