Egypt’s revolution is entering a new and uncertain phase as the country’s
military rulers – hailed as saviors after Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow – struggle
to distinguish themselves from the authoritarian president they sacrificed at
the altar of popular unrest.
This week, Amnesty International issued a
scathing report accusing the army of brutality that at times exceeded that of
the Mubarak regime. The study found that the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed
Forces (SCAF) had tried thousands of civilians under emergency law, deployed
“thugs” to attack protesters and made repeated “empty promises” on improving
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Parliamentary elections are scheduled for next week, though
the presidential ballot remains months away. The latter was originally scheduled
for late 2012 or early 2013, but on Tuesday, opposition parties announced that
they had reached an agreement with SCAF chairman Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein
Tantawi on moving up presidential voting to this summer.
Still, the move
is unlikely to placate protesters. At least 37 people have been killed in Tahrir
Square since clashes with security forces followed renewed rallies there on
Average Egyptians – euphoric in February at toppling Mubarak’s
three-decade rule – are once again enraged at what they see as the army’s curbs
on their democratic aspirations.
“The generals are as usual late – late
in realizing the situation is serious, late in coming up with a response,” said
Samuel Tadros, a research fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, who
hails from Cairo. “One of course has to be fair to them and acknowledge that
they were neither trained for the task nor did they seek it. The responsibility
was thrown upon them.”
“Tantawi and the SCAF have attempted to balance
between various groups. The three players are the Islamists, the non- Islamist
elite and the street radicals. SCAF has so far been trying to accommodate
the first two groups. After all, those groups are the ones they can understand
and deal with,” Tadros said.
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“Balancing between different and
contradictory demands will result in no one being satisfied.”
of their resentment is three-fold. First is the delayed transition to civilian
rule – a deferral many view as a transparent bid to hold on to the power the
army has enjoyed uninterrupted since a 1952 coup against an unpopular
Second, the army has pushed a constitutional provision that would
see it retain extensive powers even after any such transition.
the reintroduction of the emergency laws.
“What happens next is anyone’s
guess,” Tadros said. “The protesters aren’t leaving [downtown areas]. The use of
force to make them leave can succeed temporarily, but unless SCAF is ready to
use absolute force and end this once and for all, it will
Shibley Telhami, an Israeli-Arab pollster who is the
University of Maryland’s Anwar Sadat Professor of Peace and Development, said
that although the army retains considerable support among Egyptians, its once
sterling reputation as a defender of the people has been tarnished.
have now multiple segments of society who are challenging the military’s
political power, and the opposition is coming not from one source,” Telhami, who
recently conducted extensive polling in Cairo, told the Council on Foreign
Relations. “Initially the liberals were the most aggressive in wanting the early
transfer of authority to civilian control.
Now you find opposition among
Islamists, who organized the latest demonstrations, but you also find it among
many Christians, specifically after the confrontation several weeks ago that led
to the death of several Copts.”
Army leaders, he said, “still have a
reservoir of goodwill. A lot of Egyptians actually are invested in the military
as an institution because they envision Egypt to be a powerful and leading Arab
state in the Middle East and they think they should have the military power to
go with it. The public’s concern is about the military’s intervention in
Telhami said his poll found that the Egyptian army’s approval
rating – around 90 percent at the time of Mubarak’s overthrow – had plummeted to
just over 40%.
Forty-three percent of respondents believe the military is
“working to reverse the gains of the revolution, while only 21% believe that
they are working to advance it,” he said.
“It is rather extraordinary
that we now see evidence from this poll, which was conducted in six cities in
Egypt, that indicates a plurality of Egyptians now think the military is working
against the goals of the revolution,” Telhami said.
The poll confirmed
that Amr Moussa – a former foreign minister under Mubarak and later head of the
Arab League – retains pole position in the race for Egypt’s presidency with 20%
Mohamed ElBaradei, the former chief of the International Atomic
Energy Agency, is closely behind, followed by ex-prime minister Ahmed
When asked what foreign leader Egypt’s new president should
emulate, Telhami said, responses were overwhelmingly in favor of Turkish Prime
Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“Interestingly, we also asked them which
country would you want Egypt to look like politically, and again the number one
answer was Turkey,” he said.
“Turkey has found an assertive foreign
policy that resonates with the public, particularly on the Israel-Palestine
question. That Middle Eastern assertiveness and independence resonates
well with the Egyptian public.”
The poll reaffirmed several earlier
independent surveys on attitudes toward peace with Israel, a subject on which
Egyptians are deeply divided.
“A little more than a third say they would
like to see the treaty canceled, about a third would like to keep the treaty,
and the other 40% really don’t know or are uncertain,” Telhami said.
Pew Research Center survey from April found just 36% of Egyptians wanted to keep
the 1979 peace treaty, and 54% in favor of annulling it.
“When you ask,
‘What if Israel does sign a peace treaty with the Palestinians and have a
tw-ostate solution?’ you have a number of people who want to keep the peace
treaty increase a little, but only to about 41- 42%,” Telhami said.
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