Crisis in Cairo

It will take more than an election to break the military's hold on Egypt

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The real revolution in Egypt is starting now. Ever since the Officers’ Coup in 1952, leading to the abolishment of the monarchy and the appointment of Gamal Abdel Nasser for presidency, succeeding Egyptian presidents Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak have also come from within the ranks of the military. There has never been a question that the president should come from a civilian background, and the Supreme Military Council has effectively been leading the country throughout the terms of all presidents, supported by the fact that of the $1.3 billion in annual U.S. aid to Egypt, approximately half has been given directly to the military, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.

When Mubarak stepped down on Feb. 11, it seemed like a significant achievement. However, it was really nothing more than cosmetic surgery, as he was only the frontman. The Supreme Military Council remained intact, and made a power grab, and they have no intention of relinquishing power, despite their continuous proclamations of guarding the peace and starting a democratization process. First they attacked the Christian Copts who have been protesting the burning down of their places of worship; that was followed by a bloody crackdown on protesters in Tahrir Square. Women specifically were targeted and were subjected to sexual harassment and physical abuse, which is perceived as dishonor and thus used as a means to dissuade women from taking part in the protests. The indiscriminate brutality against all protesters suggests that the military is following the same techniques prescribed by Mubarak and his predecessors — suppressing with violence any dissidents who raise their voices against the government, whatever their agenda is.

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Egyptians have grown increasingly disillusioned with the military’s rule and now fear that they are intent on maintaining some degree of control even after the elections are held. And indeed, the Council is orchestrating a campaign to impose supra-constitutional principles on the next parliament, which will be tasked with drafting the country’s charter. Among their demands is getting an independent budget and having immunity from government oversight. This effectively means the creation of a state-within-a state. The recent appointment of Kamal el Ganzouri, a senile figure who had been part of Mubarak’s regime,  is clearly seen as a strategic placement of a puppet the Council could manipulate to go along with their false idea of democracy. This sparked protests all over the country, with campaigners demanding reform akin to that of Tunisia, where the army handed the power over to a civilian government.

Meanwhile, the Council has been cutting deals with the Muslim Brotherhood, the most organized and best prepared party for the next parliamentary elections. Their newly formed alliance with is designed to allow both sides to share the governing power in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood agreed to the Council’s demands for autonomy from government, while they will get to govern and shape the country to their own image and agenda, which is God given.

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This is where the international community’s leverage must come in, as merely asking the Council to give up power is like asking the Pope to give up the Vatican. Threatening to use direct sanctions against the Council, such as putting a freeze on their personal assets abroad, or filing criminal charges against them through the international criminal court, could be an effective way to force them to relinquish power. The one country that holds another key to the transition of power in Egypt is the United States. If the Obama administration puts on hold the American aid to Egypt, then, combined with the lost revenues from tourism, these steps would destabilize the Egyptian economy and shake the foundation of the Council. This has been the only effective strategy imposed on any Arab dictator, and it continues to be a successful means to achieve social and political change.

Whether or not the parliamentary elections take place, the struggle in Egypt will continue until a coherent, compelling vision of Egyptian society and what it stands for is brought before the people.