Egypt’s Generals Shun Democracy Again

The military council ruling Egypt moves to appoint its own members to a committee that will rewrite the nation’s constitution.

It was only one week ago that Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, suppressed for decades, was celebrating a glorious victory. Millions of Egyptians lined up to participate in the first of three rounds of voting for a new Egyptian parliament. Three days and millions of ballots later, Egypt’s election authorities declared the Islamist movement the ultimate victor with a vote share of around 40 percent. The al-Nour coalition, representing a fundamentalist Salafist strain of Islam, won nearly a quarter of the vote. Egypt’s liberal parties, in the meantime, came in a close third place. But regardless of whose party ended up with the most votes, it was clear from the onset that all Egyptians won. The election was the fairest and cleanest experienced in modern Egyptian history.

All of these feelings are spoiled by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the group of military men that have effectively been running the country since they pushed their former boss out of Cairo last February.

Egypt’s top generals have long been the elite class of society, using their positions behind the scenes to formulate Egypt’s foreign policy while grabbing a big slice of the nation’s industrial output. The resignation of Hosni Mubarak, who was an Air Force pilot himself, threatened to jeopardize many of those perks — even if popular approval of the army soared as a result of their siding with the protesters. And while the common Egyptian is still sympathetic to the army command, often considering them the only public institution that they can trust, Egypt’s military council had made things very difficult throughout the period of transition.

Trying to hang on to executive power for an extended period of time was the latest argument used by Egyptian protesters to retake the streets of Tahir. The objective of the strike was clear: pressure the military council to hand over its authority immediately to a civilian government.

Like the previous mass protests in Tahir, violence between demonstrators and security forces occurred, killing forty people in the process. The generals backed down after these clashes, perhaps alarmed that ordinary Egyptians were beginning to equate the military with the old Mubarak machine. Presidential elections, which were delayed by a year, were moved back to its original date of April 2012.

The generals are at it again though, this time appointing a civilian council made up of technocrats, former politicians, union leaders, artists and intellectuals that will be responsible for vetting candidates for the Constitution writing committee.

For some reformers and secularists who lost big time in the elections, the army’s decision to steal back some of the thunder away from the Islamists in the future parliament could not be a better gift. Despite the Muslim Brotherhood’s record of caring for the poor and establishing a system of social services for Egyptian citizens, many (most evidently women, civil rights activists and nationalist candidates) are concerned that the Brotherhood will reinvent itself once it takes power. Add the Salafists to the mix and liberals around Egypt are questioning whether the progression of their country will be stalled or turned back.

Diluting the parliament’s power to appoint who serves on the Constitutional Assembly, as was originally promised by Egypt’s generals, kills that sentiment for the time being. Unfortunately, the generals are breaking their promises to the majority of Egyptians who actually voted for an Islamist politician.

Egypt’s people must be asking themselves a number of questions. Is the military intent on staying forever? Why is it interfering in the democratic process? And what is the purpose of voting if the representatives that are put in office are powerless to do the people’s work or forced to defer their role to an unaccountable body of military men?

These are all fair questions. Without answers, each question makes the journey toward a new and democratic Egypt the slightest bit longer and rockier.