A Trip Down Memory Lane (Militaries and Democracy Edition)
A few thoughts/historical examples, as to why I am guarded in my optimism on Egypt.
Pervez Musharraf, after the coup in 1999:
This is not martial law, only another path towards democracy. The armed forces have no intention to stay in charge any longer than is absolutely necessary to pave the way for true democracy to flourish in Pakistan.
Musharraf left power in August of 2008 (and even then, he was forced out under threat of impeachment).
Now, I am not stating that Egypt 2011 and Pakistan 1999 are analogous. However, Musharraf was not the first military man to state that he was only leading a transitional government that would soon return to democracy.
A rather extreme example that comes to mind is Brazil. In 1964 a military coup brought Castelo Branco to the presidency. It was his stated intention to allow a popularly elected president to come back into office in 1966. However, civilian control of the presidency returned in 1985. The first direct election of the presidency took place in late 1989, with President Collor taking office in 1990.
In South Korea, General Park Chung-hee came to power in 1961 and promised, amongst other thing, to adhere to the constitutional limitation of two terms in office (there were also rigged elections for the parliament during his time in office). He managed to get the document amended to allow for a third term and eventually replaced the constitution to one of his own liking. He was eventually assassinated in 1979.
Both the Cuban Revolution of 1959 and the Nicaraguan Revolution of 1979 started with broad-based coalitions of actors supporting post-revolutionary power actors who promised democracy and yet certain actors in the initial coalition emerged in control to the exclusion of others. Heck, we can go back to the French Revolution of 1789 to see where popular will and the promises of liberty do not always pan out as intended.
Indeed, if I had time and all the books in my office around me, I have no doubt that I could put together a lengthy list of cases wherein at the moment of initial change from one regime to a transition one that the holders of power at the transition made some sort of promise of democratization-promises that were, all too often, not kept.
Again: this is not to say that any of these examples create a predetermined path for Egypt. However, the preponderance of the historic record should provide some brakes on unbridled hope as to what the Egyptian military is likely to do in the next six months (and, likewise, the ability of the protestors to control those outcomes).