The Military Still Runs Egypt
To return to a story from earlier in the year, Fareed Zakaria reminds:
We think of Egypt as having gone through a regime change. But it really didn’t go through a regime change. Egypt has been run since 1952 by a military dictatorship. It is still run by a military dictatorship.
Mubarak resigned. A few people around him resigned. But at the end of the day the military still holds power. They have a huge vested interest in maintaining the current system politically, financially and socially. They aren’t going to go quietly into the night.
This is pretty much what I was trying to point out back at the time—that it was rather premature to talk of revolution (properly defined) in the Egyptian case. And, more importantly, that the military was not moving and acting as a tool of the people, but rather that they were moving to further their own interests. The fact that high level military actor decided that Mubarak had to go (and that they clearly removed him) was why I called it a coup at the time, and I stick by that assessment.
The interesting part will be to see how the elections later this year play out, and whether we see any institutional evolution after said election, and especially whether there is further movement towards deeper constitutional reform in post-election Egypt. There will also be the ongoing question of the military’s deep ties to the economy, as that is a key part of their power and influence (which, added to the guns and such, makes them pretty darn potent political actors).
Zakaria notes three possible models.
The first is Turkey, which is the idealistic, but likely unrealistic one:
I think the people who imagine a Turkish model where the Egyptian military steps back the way the Turkish military did are going to be disappointed. The Turkish military only relinquished power because the European Union absolutely insisted on it and made it a principle of Turkey’s path into the European Union.
The optimistic, but realistic, one is Indonesia:
The Indonesian military was very large, powerful and quite involved in business and the economy after Suharto’s fall. Over the following years, it has not been easy to get the military out and to erode its power. The process has been slow. But two democratic electoral transitions later you can see that there is some rebalancing. The democratic parts of the system – the national legislature and the elected president – have gained legitimacy, which gives them power.
The more pessimistic one is Pakistan: “where the military has allowed a lot of democratic processes that turn out to Kabuki Theater – behind the curtain the military actually runs everything.”
One can argue as to the degree to which these are perfect potential comparisons, but they do illustrate reasonable hypothetical pathways. And, certainly, these are not the only possibilities. Still, the most powerful institution in Egypt is the military, so the key question going forward is its evolution.