now there are two former Egyptian presidents behind bars, both removed by an army that says it wants to stay out of politics and simply “contain the situation.” How long before there is a third?The Generals or the Brothers - NYTimes.com
The generals’ plan is to bring Egypt’s politicians together, write yet another constitution and hold elections. Don’t hold your breath on that one
London — There was a shocking predictability about events in Egypt last week. In early May a trusted source in Cairo told me: “The military will be back in power by the autumn and the West has already signed off. The one condition is that the army is fronted by a civilian face.”
And so it came to pass.
The army has its civilian face — provided by Egypt’s most senior judge — and the West, while insisting it couldn’t support a military coup, found a way around the dilemma by calling it something else, or nothing at all.
So now there are two former Egyptian presidents behind bars, both removed by an army that says it wants to stay out of politics and simply “contain the situation.” How long before there is a third?
Over the last two years human rights reports have been littered with accusations of unlawful killings by Egypt’s security forces, torture in military jails and thousands of unfair trials of civilians in military courts.
But memories are short and the chief of the armed forces, Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, was in no mood to jog them when he declared, on June 23: “There is more honor in death than watching a single Egyptian harmed while the army is still around.”
And in case any Egyptian — including the women who were detained by the military and subjected to forced virginity tests — should think of questioning that statement, the general added a blunt warning: “Repeated insults against the army and its leaders and its symbols are an insult to Egyptian nationalism and to the Egyptian people as a whole. ...The army will not stay silent against any insult directed at it from now on.” In other words: Don’t even think of criticizing us.
In truth, not many Egyptians will. For one thing, a number of Muslim Brotherhood TV stations have been taken off the air, and millions are ecstatic at President Mohamed Morsi’s removal.
But the euphoria may be short lived.
The generals’ plan is to bring Egypt’s politicians together, write yet another constitution and hold elections. Don’t hold your breath on that one.
While you can shuffle the political cards in Egypt, there are still only two cards that count: the Muslim Brotherhood and the military. “That’s the same this week, just as it was last week,” said one Egyptian commentator.
The opposition, too, is the same as it was last week — ineffectual, disunited, incapable of articulating any realistic vision for the future of Egypt and often accusing Morsi of stealing the presidential election.
Morsi didn’t steal his election. Nor did the Muslim Brotherhood. They won each and every vote — both referendum and election — during the last two and a half years.
But to many Egyptians, none of those victories excuses the subsequent failures, excesses and abuses of power that came with the Morsi administration. Throughout his year-long rule Egyptians continued to be tortured in police cells. They saw their economy in free fall, the press under sustained attack and their society being re-engineered to an Islamic blueprint.
Hardly capital crimes, but reason enough in the eyes of the generals and many millions of Egyptians to bring a swift end to the country’s first free democratic experiment.
People I respect in Egypt tell me there was no choice. Western states can survive a bad leader — the institutions are strong enough to rumble on whoever is in charge. Egypt, by contrast, was collapsing around Morsi; the entire machine was faltering, his closest allies jumped ship.
But here’s my concern.
This democratically elected president is more than just a man — he’s a symbol of a state and the principles that underpin it, even if millions don’t like him.
You elect him — you live with him. Unless, of course, he is charged with serious crimes along the way. Get rid of him for any other reason and, however popular the move on the day, you’ll pay a price.
The next set of politicians to serve Egypt will face the same, virtually insoluble issues that confronted Morsi’s administration. They may well fail.
Do you get them a taxi every time the crowd appears in the street below their office? Should they shudder every time a tank crew switches on its engine and a fighter jet flies past?
What do you call that state of permanent uncertainty, of weak and collapsible institutions, run by even weaker public servants, watched over by an interventionist army, with a constitution and legal mandates just waiting to be torn up when protesters demand it?
Let’s hope no one calls that “democracy.”
Tim Sebastian is a television journalist and chairman of The New Arab Debates.
For Op-Ed, follow @nytopinion and to hear from the editorial page editor, Andrew Rosenthal, follow @andyrNYT.
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