Egypt’s Military: Seizing Power or Extending Transition?

MB’s Badie vs. SCAF’s Tantawi

Recent moves by the military council have put in question their commitment to democracy and the democratic transition. The popularly elected parliament has been dissolved, policing powers have been extended to the army, and an addendum to the constitutional declaration has afforded the council legislative powers, independence from the president, and a substantial role in overseeing the constitution.

These steps have been called by many a ‘soft coup’, and they may well be. It may represent the army’s effort to protect its influence in Egypt no matter the coming president, but especially if it yields to Mohamed Morsy of the Muslim Brotherhood.

There is another way to view these maneuvers, however, which posits the army as the guardian of democracy and the democratic transition.

Due to failures of the political powers, Egypt has not yet formed a constitution. For all those clamoring for the army to yield power, should it put the president – whoever he may be – in charge without defined responsibilities? Should the president have the chief role in shaping the ongoing democratic transition? Were not Mubarak’s nearly unchecked powers a chief cause of the revolution to begin with?

In this manner, the army has positioned itself as the balance of power for the coming president. Asserting its neutrality, the army will give responsibility to running the internal affairs of the nation to the president, but will act as the legislature until a new body is elected. Along with the president, prime minister, and the constitutional court, the military will also hold veto power over the coming constitution, to assure it is written according to consensus.

The addendum to the constitutional declaration states the military will retain this power until the new constitution is formed and approved by the people. At that time the transition will be complete and the military will abide by the new charter.

Understood in this explanation, the military’s moves are much more reasonable.

Not that they are immune from doubt, not in the least. Many argue the chief reason the political process has been muddled has been the military playing one party off against another. The extended transition envisioned by the military allows ample room for this policy to continue. The transition may be extended, and extended, and extended…

Additionally, even under this military-favored explanation, there seems little reason for the army to re-assume policing powers, as if it were a state of emergency. In advance of announcing the election results, the army has deployed throughout the country.

Meanwhile, the explosion of rumors has made everyone suspect. Conspiracies abound, and the military is not exempt, nor should it be.

Yet it should not be declared that the military has ‘seized power’. It may, but it has not done so yet.

It, like everyone else in the political scene, does appear to be maneuvering and manipulating. Surely there is much back-room discussion and public venting of rhetoric, sincere or otherwise. The Brotherhood has set up a confrontation scenario, while it pledges not to use violence under any circumstances. Even though other Brotherhood statements predict a violent backlash if their candidate does not assume office.

Their vote count appears legitimate and has been verified by independent sources. Yet their proclamation of victory, before consideration of electoral appeals, is a political move to establish the status quo viewpoint on their behalf. It is shrewd, but also suspect.

As is the military. Observers should be careful not to take sides as both have opened themselves to accusation. Instead, the facts must be presented as best determination allows, even in the midst of deep confusion.

Such is the apt description of all Egypt. May confusion pass and all judgments be established on solid evidence. Such indeed would be a revolution.

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