Sunday, August 19, 2012

Arlene Kushner On Why Egypt's Military Is Very Much In The Picture

From Arlene Kushner:
August 17, 2012

A More Nuanced View

Well, the grandchildren have gone home and Kaitana Savta ("Camp Grandma") is over for this summer.  It afforded me a great deal of (exhausting) joy, and gave me strength for the work I do.  
It will be back to normal very soon.  But as Shabbat preparations are necessary today, I will start here with a mini-posting on one of the key issues we are confronting today: The situation in Egypt.
You may have noticed that when I wrote about Morsi's dismissal of Tantawi I was more circumspect than many other commentators.  For example, I noted that Morsi consulted with Tantawi before retiring him and gave him an honorary position afterward. And I asked, This is a coup? A completion of the revolution?
Then came announcements or suggestions that al-Sisi, Tantawi's replacement is a closet Brotherhood supporter, and I began to wonder if I had been too cautious, too circumspect. 
Well... I've checked with Egyptian English language media sources and I've consulted with some experts in the field.  And what I'm seeing is that this is a nuanced and vastly complex situation.  It's not, "Yikes! the Brotherhood has totally taken over Egypt now."
As to al-Sisi, the Egyptian media sources vary on whether he is Brotherhood connected.  There are a great number of rumors floating and various accusations and denials.  The Facebook page administrator for SCAF put out an official statement denying that al-Sisi was the Brotherhood's man inside of the military.  
What seems clear in the end is that while he may have some Brotherhood sympathies, he is not Brotherhood.
Dr. Moti Kedar provided a complex picture for me: Lots of people in Egypt approve of some of the things Brotherhood does without endorsing their entire program.  Some approve of more, some less. It is not black and white: Brotherhood or not Brotherhood.  Kedar says al-Sisi is definitely not overtly Brotherhood.
What is more, says Kedar, the military consented to stepping back and allowing Morsi to run the country.   Or, more accurately, to try to run it -- as he's taking on a horrendous national situation.  "Let's see how you do," was the attitude.
Kedar -- who says the problem with many commentators is that they don't know Arabic and don't track what is being said in Egypt -- believes that the military is still in the picture.
He sees two scenarios that would bring the military back in more forcefully. The first, and most significant, is if Morsi came after military wealth.  The military is the wealthiest segment of the society. (It has been my understanding that the military wanted to stay in control in good part because of a vested interest -- their desire to protect that wealth.) 
The second is if Morsi were to mess up really badly.
Add to this the fact that there are civilian anti-Brotherhood elements in the country -- headed by talk show host Tawfiq Okasha and former MP Mostafa Bakry -- that have gained increasing prominence of late.  There have been calls to burn down the Brotherhood offices across the country, and former MP Mohamed Abou Hamed is pushing for a one-million-person anti-Brotherhood rally on  August 24.  The sentiment expressed is that the intentions of the original mass rallies in Tahrir Square have yet to be realized.
And so, while I would not say the picture in Egypt is rosy -- certainly not -- it is still a wait and see situation with outcomes unclear.
Hesham Selam, writing in Egypt Independent, says (emphasis added):
" compelling as it is to interpret these recent developments as a civilian coup against Egypt’s military rulers, there are some indications that they are the product of a movement within the military’s own ranks to avert an impending confrontation with civilian political forces and to reconfigure the army’s role in politics in a way that leaves its autonomy and long-term interests intact.

...personnel reshuffles and meaningful institutional change are not one and the same. Simply that the military has undergone an internal purge and conceded presidential and legislative powers to Morsy on paper does not necessarily mean the institution is ready to give up its long-standing privileges. These include the undue power the military enjoys in shaping defense and national security policy, as well as the political and financial autonomy of its operations, budget and its vast revenue-generating economic empire from elected civilian institutions and public accountability. In fact, the military’s recent concessions to civilian leaders may have been aimed at protecting these very privileges, not giving them up. In other words, there may be a long road ahead in the quest for meaningful civilian oversight of military institutions and leaders...

Finally, and most importantly, Egypt’s still inconclusive struggle for revolutionary change cannot be reduced to power politics between the military and the Brotherhood."
On to other matters after Shabbat.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.

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