SCAF: How to Rule Egypt
Published Monday, July 16, 2012
When the military took over the state after the fall of the Mubarak regime, many questions were raised about its future role, particularly the extent of control it will have over the state.
Cairo - The Egyptian street had barely caught their breath after the presidential elections when President-elect Mohammed Mursi surprised the population by announcing the reinstating of the parliament and calling for early elections.
It was a show of strength in front of the military. But this performance erupted into a legal and political controversy.
It also posed the pressing question of the future role of the military council, especially as the conflict between the presidency and the judiciary is a reflection of that between the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and Supreme Council for the Armed Forces (SCAF).
These developments raised doubts about the reaction of the generals. Will the situation prompt them to adopt the Pakistani model, where the army is directly in control, or the Turkish model, where it takes a more indirect approach?
According to professor of political science at Cairo University and civil-military relations researcher, Mohammed Abdullah, “the model we have now is part Pakistani and part Turkish.”
“The Turkish is reflected in the presence of the National Defense Council set out in the annex of the complementary constitutional declaration. Its powers are related to decisions on war, military spending, and the defense policy.”
“The Pakistani model exists on the strength of the economic role of the military establishment. It runs approximately one-third of Egypt’s GDP, directly and indirectly. This is in addition to the overlap between civil and military affairs, which means that soldiers permeate the political and administrative system of the state,” he added.
Abdullah explained that “models cannot be perfectly cloned in political systems. They can be similar in many aspects and different in others.”
He said that “Egypt is moving towards a new model based on two main factors. The first is how the military establishment will perceive its future role and the red lines it sets for itself, in case it had to retreat from a part of this role under any possible pressure. The second factor is related to the ability of the emerging currents to change the political system.”
He indicated that “the clearer and more institutional the political intervention of the military establishment, the bigger the role that the Turkish model will play in building the Egyptian model.”
“The Pakistani model will be more relevant to the Egyptian structure if the economic role of the military establishment becomes more rooted and institutionalized, with the military governing political interactions in a covert manner through tools of arbitration between opposing forces in society.”
Abdullah pointed out that the tactics which SCAF might resort to will be in stages. First, they will leave the confrontation between the different constitutional authorities. Then, they can use the pressure of the street to attack the presidential palace. This will be followed by negotiations that would finally lead to a military coup and overthrowing Mursi.
He believed that the calm response of SCAF today means that it is unlikely that they would immediately go into a direct confrontation.
But according to professor of political science and expert on civil-military relations, Ahmed Abd-Rabbo, the Pakistani option is very likely.
The reason is that “the conflict between the MB and SCAF began at the outset and remains present today, even if it has not taken the form of a confrontation. They are playing with each other in a smart manner, without clashing directly.”
He claimed that Egyptian Parliamentary Speaker Saad al-Katatni’s behavior in the people’s assembly proves that Mursi’s decision to convene the parliament was not revolutionary. Rather, it was a decision that falls into the category of soft confrontation.
Abd-Rabbo indicated that “the Pakistani model could take shape partially due to the current balance of power between the two sides. The likelihood of a total coup is low.”
“The partial application [of the Pakistani model] would be in the attempt to withdraw Mursi’s legitimacy. This will be followed by either handing over powers to others or holding elections that would allow new forces to emerge,” he argued. This will follow “the council’s attempt to undermine the popularity of Mursi and the MB.”
“The coup will not be swift. SCAF will not go through with it before weakening the Brotherhood and pulling away some of Mursi’s legitimacy which draws partially on the social promises he made and that SCAF might try to impede,” Abd-Rabbo continued.
Political affairs researcher at the Future Studies Unit in the Alexandria Library, Mohammad al-Arabi, disagrees.
He believes that “Egypt is closer to the 1980 Turkish model, described as praetorian. The army was part of the state structure but somehow allowed a margin of liberal democratic governance.”
He said it is likely that “SCAF will behave with Mursi in a way similar to that of the Turkish army with [Prime Minister] Necmettin Erbakan [1996-1997].”
He ruled out an all-out confrontation between the two sides. According to Arabi, there is a consensus between them on three levels: the position of the army and its importance against Israel, the question of distribution of wealth, and not upsetting external relations.
Arabi also ruled out the Pakistani model, due to the difference between the nature of the Egyptian state and Pakistan, specifically in terms of its creation.
“The Egyptian state was created in the normal way, with the army as its spinal cord. Nevertheless, there was a extremely strong and efficient civil bureaucracy, in addition to the social nature of the state.”
“But the state of Pakistan was established by separating from a larger entity, India, in 1947, on a religious-ethnic basis. The army was the main cornerstone of state building.”
“It is said that Pakistan is an army which had a state built for it. This makes it closer in these characteristics to Israel. The army is thus the most important factor in any political equation.”
“The experience of the army entering politics in Egypt was due to particular historical conditions,” explained Abd-Rabbo.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.