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Monday Morning Reality Check: Martial Law, Not Democracy in Egypt

Monday, February 14, 2011 - 11:48 AM

Champions of democracy the world over welcomed the departure of Hosni Mubarak, Friday, with a massive display of joy. Protesters across Cairo savored their victory, and correspondents on TV channels worldwide fought back tears (some, in fact did cry) as they reported the story of a revolution.

I was inspired, instead, to turn to Brother Webster -- as in Webster’s Dictionary, for a little reminder of what all the hoopla was about:

Revolution |n. (pl. s)(Origin Latin revolutio.) a fundamental change in power that takes place in a relatively short period of time.

Given this definition – “a fundamental change in power” perhaps the celebration is a bit premature. I hate to be a spoilsport, but I’m fairly confident that military regime is not what the youth of Egypt had in mind over these last three weeks. And “revolutionary change” is certainly not what has come to Egypt – not yet.

As President Obama said in a common sense remark made during a stop near Northern Michigan University, “We're going to have to wait and see what's going on.”

There are big questions about what comes next — and there are strong doubts about whether military rule will lead to the demonstrators ultimate goal: democracy.

It is fast becoming an overused expression in reference to Egypt.  But it is so perfectly placed that I will use it again: This is the end of the beginning. Let us consider what has really happened there.  

An ashen-faced Vice President Omar Suleiman announced a shift in power in a one-sentence address on state TV. He said Mubarak had decided to step down; he the asked "the Armed Forces Supreme Council to run the state."

So yes, Mubarak is gone. But so what? What is left in his place? Martial Law.

And a more questions than answers: Will Egypt scrap it’s current Constitution (ratified in 1971) in favor a new one? Will elections (currently scheduled for September) election happen, or not? What about the opposition leaders? Will the Parliament filled with Mubarak loyalists, be dissolved? 

We can all celebrate all we want to; but truth be told, we have no idea what a military junta will do. And any that this was a Facebook or Twitter revolution, orchestrated entirely without military manipulation behind the scenes is sweetly idealistic, but ignores the complete integration of the military in Egyptian life and government.  

To understand where we go from here – and whether true democracy can take hold – we must ask the hard question: Does Egypt's military really have a sovereign, civilian government in mind.

And we must fact up to the hard answers: There is no evidence the military is interested taking a backseat to democracy. Egypt's military has been integral to its government ever since the military staged a revolt against the Egyptian monarchy and its British advisers in 1952.  

Since then, Egypt's military has become a fixture in that government, with little role other than to support the president. There are tens of thousands of members of the regime and the military-industrial complex in Egypt. Egyptian military officers own a share in every industry, from travel, to automobiles to construction. You name it, they’re in it.

The institution needs to be stripped down, modernized and subject to civilian control. But, if history is any guide, people in patronage-based positions won’t see them challenged without a fight. They will fight any true change that threatens their lot in life. 

So why didn’t they crush the protestors? Simple. Mubarak was expendable.

The military, despite ties to Mubarak, likely decided it needed to publicly break with him for the sake of its own legitimacy. But that doesn’t mean military leaders have an interest in democracy. They likely have more of a stake in the status quo.

Meanwhile, the protestors that made up the resistance movement agreed with each other and the Military on one critical goal: It was time for Mubarak to go. Whether they can all coalesce around the broader goals of democracy remains to be seen.

Jami Floyd is an attorney, broadcast journalist and legal analyst for cable and network news, and is a frequent contributor to WNYC Radio. She is former advisor in the Clinton administration and served as a surrogate for the Obama campaign on legal and domestic policy issues. You can follow her on twitter.

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Comments [2]

hlk from NY

Jami, I agree with your assessment that revolution does not necessarily result in democracy (as we in the West know it). Let us wait and see if the rights of all will be respected and how those who differ with the majority will be treated. Do not celebrate too soon.

Feb. 25 2011 04:44 PM
JohnC from New Zealand

Libya was a stable and relatively democratic state under the monarchy. So was Egypt.
The Libyan monarchy was overthrown by the crazy Captain Gaddafi, inspired by Nasser of Egypt. The USA didn't support Gaddafi, but it had supported Nasser. In fact the CIA was responsible for the Egyptian military coup in 1952.
So in many ways the USA is responsible for the Gaddafi and Mubarak regimes existing.
The USA should not have interfered in the first place. It can do nothing now, except hope the the liberal, pro-western constitutional monarchies are restored.

Feb. 19 2011 10:34 PM

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