The Military Still Runs Egypt

Remember 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.

FILED UNDER: Africa, World Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. ponce says:

    According to the CIA, Mohamed Hussein Tantawi is now running Egypt:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohamed_Hussein_Tantawi

  2. You mean the commander of the Egyptian military?

  3. ponce says:

    Among other jobs.

    I wonder how long it will be before people outside of Egypt and wonkville know his name?

    The faceless juntas don’t seem to last.

  4. Mr. Prosser says:

    Just curious, does the military run the secret police? It seemed to me from reading reports and watching broadcasts the people were more concerned with the police than the military. Is that correct or are they one and the same?

  5. MSS says:

    I am quite certain that when a future edition of the Polity dataset comes out, the current period will be marked as a “transition” between separate regimes, regardless of what the nature of the next regime is.

    In other words, contra Zakaria, what happened in February was a regime change. We just do not know yet what the next regime will be.

    In yet other words, it seems pretty clear (to me) that this was more than a simple substitution of the leader within the same regime.

  6. @MSS:

    I can live with the “transition” label.

    I honestly think that the jury is still out, however, on exactly how much change has taken place, and this is why I am curious as to the way the elections will be conducted and what their outcome will be (and then how the institutions evolve after that moment).

  7. Southern Hoosier says:

    Regardless of what model they use, two things are almost certain. There will be few if any women or Christians in the government.

  8. Southern Hoosier says:

    And how is that Arab Spring working out in Egypt?

    ‘Virginity tests’ and the abuse of Egypt’s women
    CNN) — Back in March, Amnesty International began reporting that the Egyptian military had subjected 17 women protesters at a Tahrir Square demonstration to “virginity tests.” The women told Amnesty that they had been handcuffed and beaten, stripped searched and photographed by male soldiers, then restrained by female soldiers while a man in a white coat performed a virginity check.

    http://goo.gl/1dLVh

  9. Ben Wolf says:

    @Southern Hoosier

    Could you maybe provide a link that has something to do with your actual claim?

  10. CB says:

    I honestly think that the jury is still out, however, on exactly how much change has taken place

    if anything, the revolt in egypt showed that a massive nonviolent (very relatively speaking) uprising can force drastic change upon even the most entrenched dictatorships.

    i guess the question is: does this current regime accept that change as legitimate, or does it devolve into even more brutal repression.

  11. Southern Hoosier says:

    Ben Wolf says:
    Wednesday, June 1, 2011 at 20:38

    @Southern Hoosier

    Could you maybe provide a link that has something to do with your actual claim?

    That was my opinion. All three models listed are Islamic. All Islamic government contains few if any women or other religions in there government.

    Coptic Christians in Egypt, the largest contingent of Christians in the country, are under severe attack — so much so that the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom announced just recently that Egypt made the list of “Countries of Particular Concern.”

    Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2011/05/20/coptic-christians-need-protection-help/#ixzz1O6ygcZPc

  12. Southern Hoosier says:

    CB says: Thursday, June 2, 2011 at 00:43

    if anything, the revolt in egypt showed that a massive nonviolent (very relatively speaking) uprising can force drastic change upon even the most entrenched dictatorships.

    What change? The military is still in control and most of Mubarak people are still in place. They are just rearranging the deck chairs.

    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.

    ponce says: Wednesday, June 1, 2011 at 11:33

    According to the CIA, Mohamed Hussein Tantawi “the commander of the Egyptian military” is now running Egypt:

  13. CB says:

    what change? i concede in my comment that the question is whether or not it will be lasting reform, but the ouster of mubarak and much of his cabinet is indeed quite drastic, no?

  14. Southern Hoosier says:

    CB says:
    Thursday, June 2, 2011 at 10:53

    what change? i concede in my comment that the question is whether or not it will be lasting reform, but the ouster of mubarak and much of his cabinet is indeed quite drastic, no?

    The military are the ones behind the curtain pulling the levers. They are the power brokers and they are still in charge.

    Egyptian Protests
    Sunday, Mar 6, 2011 13:35 ET
    Egypt PM names first post-Mubarak Cabinet
    Caretaker Cabinet appointed to help guide country through reform and elections later this year

    This was the Cabinet that will work to reform the goverment and set the rules for the up coming election. The article also says:

    The new Cabinet has to approved by the Supreme Armed Forces Council, which has been in charge of ruling Egypt since Mubarak’s fall on Feb. 11.

    So the military picked the cabinet and they will have a lot of say in what the reforms are and how the election is run. Hopwdully the military will talk a Western view of things.
    http://goo.gl/S6EW9

    An example of a drastic change was the Iranian Revolution. They went from a monarchy to a theocracy.