(In collaboration with Termometro Politico)
“I’m proud. We did good, we did right. True, we lost, and the villains are back in power… but we were right, and we tried”. With these gloomy words, one of numerous activists who gathered in Tahrir Square in January 2011, celebrated the fourth anniversary this year by remembering what should have been done, in contrast with the present painful reality. All the enchanted memories that fill the hearts and minds have been swept away by the political changes that have marked the destiny both of Egypt and of the Mediterranean area as a whole.
Focusing on the Arab Republic of Egypt, it gathers that, on 11 February 2011, in only 18 days, the astonishing energy of the civil society was able to prompt the long-lasting President Mubarak’s ruling end. Despite of the massive importance that this bottom-up popular revolution assumes, after 60 years of tyrannical ruling, it is critical to understand how this disrupting process was not an organized one. The activists missed a unified strategy, political representative, guidance, and a common defined ideology.
This has been the main reason why the protests failed to produce, and then to secure a substantial democratic change for the Egyptian society.
On the other hand, the second reason lays its basis on the hidden but colossal power of the military.
In particular, since Colonel Jamal Abd al-Nasser took the Presidency office in 1956, the military side of the coin fulfilled a more influent role in the political arena, so that the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) was formed under his auspices. On top of this, after 1991, the Egyptian Armed Forces (EAF) enlarged their infiltration in almost every sphere of what had become President Hosni Mubarak patronage system. Under this President ruling, the so called “officers’ republic” took the lead, by reinforcing military networks, and permeating the higher levels of state administration and state-owned economic sectors. As a consequence, when Mubarak’s presidency mandate expired, on 11 February 2011, the power substantially fell in the hands of the SCAF that acquires a crucial role in the Egyptian political and social arena. “The army and the people are one hand.” , the Egyptian chanted, by celebrating the new era of their country’s history. But what should have been a transitional ruling, turned into an entrenched and mounting control of the political and public life. Not even the popularly elected President Mohamed Morsi, with the Muslim Brotherhood backing, was able to finalize the change. Although the Brotherhood tried to reconcile with the security, intelligence and military forces, they were still embedded into the internal conflict – Islamists vs. non-Islamists. Thus, they did not have ample space for maneuver to use the military tools against their internal enemies. SCAF and the officers’ republic were always alive, underneath Morsi government.
The protests of June, 30th 2013 against the President in charge were just a pretext for military intervention to give power back to the army. Another process towards change was then aborted.
Therefore, SCAF was not only able to remove Morsi, to crush the Brotherhood and reconstruct the power, during Adly Mansour interim government, but also to endorse the new President in charge, General Adb al-Fattah al-Sisi. The former defense Minister won the May, 28th 2014 Presidential election with a spectacular – as well as undemocratic – result of 96.91% of preferences.
In occasion of the recent first anniversary of the Presidency, it is possible to make an appraisal. Clearly, the authoritarian attitude and the strict top-down control over all aspects of life has been reinforces. Equally, steps backward have been made in association gathering, labor activism, and civil society. In two years, thousands and tens of thousands Islamists and members of leftist groups have been respectively killed and imprisoned. The last and most provocative act was the death sentence upheld for the ex-president Morsi, earlier this month.
The range of the army’s weight in Egyptian political arena is given by numbers: 17 of Egypt’s 27 provincial governors are military generals, and 24 major generals are serving as deputy governors, secretaries-general, or assistant secretaries-general in a public administration.
In addition to this, the SCAF, in particular, gained control over the infrastructures’ building management. Indeed, al-Sisi’s main security measure consists in a law that formalized the military protection of critical infrastructures. This means the army and businessmen have been strengthening their ties and foreign investments – namely American ones – are concentrated in the hands of the military.
Moreover, it is fundamental to emphasize how the critical context in the Sinai Peninsula also contributes to reinforce the military front: the imperative of security and the urgency to fight terrorism drive the enhancement of SCAF power.
Hence, this contributes to freeze the gust of springy air that the civilians tried to bring into politics. Nowadays in Egypt – and in the region at large – the imperative of state security and order rules, are given neither to human security, nor to people’s voices and prerogatives. Notwithstanding, the fact that the popular movement is not over and that popular victory is more a matter of generational process to be fed up by involvement in the core of the political arena, this outcome will be unlikely reached until Egypt will not move away from the “officers’ republic” and the identity politics that breaks bonds of trust.
Master’s degree in International Relations (LUISS “Guido Carli”)