SPEAKING FREELY Survival instinct spurred Egyptian military
By Sameera Rashid
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After the massacre of hundreds of Egyptians by security forces, Mohamed ElBaradei, a symbol of liberalism in Egypt, resigned as the country's vice president. He noted in his August 14 resignation letter:
It's become increasingly hard for me to bear the responsibility of actions I do not agree with, decisions with consequences I fear and I cannot be responsible for a single drop of blood that will be shed ... . after today, I think reconciliation will come but only after we pay a very high price for a long time.
These are ominous words which underline how Egyptian society
is teetering on the edge of chaos.
Many analysts argue that the ongoing conflict in Egypt is a struggle between Islamists and secularists for true democratic dispensation, and not a descent towards authoritarianism. No doubt, there is a sizable support for the armed forces amongst the secular Egyptians; however, this argument is fallacious and actual reality is more complicated.
Firstly, the fact is that Egyptian secularists fell back upon the armed forces for arbitration because pluralistic civil institutions and democratic norms of engagement, which can resolve political disputes, have not evolved in Egypt due to decades-old rule of military-backed authoritarian regimes.
Secondly, new evidence shows that the armed forces neither intervened to protect the secular composition of Egyptian society nor to carry out the goals of 2011 Revolution. It can be argued that the military's involvement in the political process is aimed at protection of its own institutional interests.
Two reasons can be provided for this argument: Firstly, the armed forces acted against the Muslim Brotherhood because its political ideology of pan-Islamism and jihad might undermine the strategic role of the Egyptian armed forces as a guarantor of peace with Israel and a bastion of stability in the region. Secondly, the rise of Brotherhood as rival power center in the country threatened the military's administrative and commercial interests.
The Muslim Brotherhood has support at grass roots level- it is a networked organization and, over the decades, has successfully woven traditional ties, centering on mosques and Islamic charity organizations. So, after coming to power, president Mohammed Morsi began accommodating its constituents and followers and appointed Islamists at key governmental positions, such as provincial governors and officers in the interior ministry to utter discomfort of other dominant groups in Egypt.
Arguably, these appointments reduced the prospects for military men in the state bureaucracy, especially in the civilian security apparatus, and in gaining other important government posts, such as ambassadorial positions and governorships. Since the ouster of Morsi, the military-backed government has sought to recoup lost administrative positions by appointing 17 military men as provincial governors.
But the government has made little progress to speed up the democratic transition that it purported to undertake at the time of overthrow of president Morsi. In fact, the military-appointed interim government has resorted to authoritarian tactics. For instance, deposed president Morsi is being held incommunicado by the army, the top-line leadership of the Brotherhood has been arrested, Islamist channels have been banned, brute force has been used against pro-Morsi demonstrators and now a month long state of emergency - a feature reminiscent of the Hosni Mubarak regime - has been imposed.
The creation of a state of emergency, which allows the armed forces to control dissent and political opposition by trampling upon human rights and civic liberties, can never lead to political exclusion and pluralism and in attaining the revolutionary goals of "freedom, dignity and social justice". It can be bet upon that the Egyptian crisis does not emanate from the conflict between the Islamists and the secularists but the roots of the crisis are embedded in the deep-rooted authoritarianism.
It is time for Egyptians to come on the streets to demand for the release of political prisoners, including Morsi, as well as a lifting of the state of emergency and granting of the right of assemblage to all citizens. Unless they close their ranks, the armed forces will increase its stranglehold over power by weaving a narrative of "the fight against terrorism" and "a battle for revolutionary ideals".
However, it's a distorted narrative as battle for democratic ideals is fought by nurturing tradition of competitive politics through consensual arrangements and by safeguarding the interests of minorities and not by increasing friction and polarization in the society.
Sameera Rashid is a public policy practitioner based in Lahore and holds MSc in Public Policy and Management from King's College, London.
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say.Please click hereif you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.