Related article: Let’s have a revolution in Pakistan: Yeh, Yeh, Yeh! – by Razzak Memon
A Pakistani “civil society” activist recently tweeted that “people [are] dancing on tank with soldiers” to celebrate the revolution in Egypt. This (dancing on tanks with soldiers) reminded me of Pakistani pseudo-liberal civil society (Fake Civil Society – FCS) and right wingers (media and activists) welcoming Generals Ayub, Zia and Musharraf. The following is a collection of reports and extracts that shed critical light on the so called revolution (in fact a coup d’etat) in Egypt.
According to Robert Fisk:
So the Egyptian Revolution lay in the hands of the army last night as a series of contradictory statements from the military indicated that Egypt’s field marshals, generals and brigadiers were competing for power in the ruins of Mubarak’s regime. Israel, according to prominent Cairo military families, was trying to persuade Washington to promote their favourite Egyptian – former intelligence capo and Vice-President Omar Suleiman – to the presidency, while Field Marshal Tantawi, the defence minister, wanted his chief of staff, General Sami Anan, to run the country.
Mohamed ElBaradei, former UN arms inspector and ambitious Nobel Prize-winner, announced that “Egypt will explode” and “must be saved by the army”.
Analysts talk about a “network” of generals within the regime, although it is more like a cobweb, a series of competing senior officers whose own personal wealth and jealously guarded privileges were earned by serving the regime whose 83-year old leader now appears as demented as he does senile. The health of the President and the activities of the millions of pro-democracy protesters across Egypt are thus now less important than the vicious infighting within the army.
Yet if they have discarded the rais – the President – the military’s high command are men of the old order. Indeed, most of the army’s highest-ranking officers were long ago sucked into the nexus of regime power. In Mubarak’s last government, the vice- president was a general, the prime minister was a general, the deputy prime minister was a general, the minister of defence was a general and the minister of interior was a general. Mubarak himself was commander of the air force. The army brought Nasser to power. They supported General Anwar Sadat. They supported General Mubarak. The army introduced dictatorship in 1952 and now the protesters believe it will become the agency of democracy. Some hope.
Thus – sadly – Egypt is the army and the army is Egypt. Or so, alas, it likes to think. It therefore wishes to control – or “protect”, as army communiqués constantly reiterate – the protesters demanding the final departure of Mubarak.
A military communiqué yesterday morning called for “free and fair elections”, adding that Egyptian armed forces were “committed to the demands of the people” who should “resume a normal way of life”. Translated into civilian-speak, this means that the revolutionaries should pack up while a coterie of generals divide up the ministries of a new government. In some countries, this is called a “coup d’etat”.
Perhaps the shadow of the army is too dark an image to invoke in the aftermath of so monumental a revolution in Egypt. Siegfried Sassoon’s joy on the day of the 1918 Armistice, the end of the First World War – when everyone also suddenly burst out singing – was genuine and deserved. Yet that peace led to further immense suffering. And the Egyptians who have fought for their future in the streets of their nation over the past three weeks will have to preserve their revolution from internal and external enemies if they are to achieve a real democracy. The army has decided to protect the people. But who will curb the power of the army?
What role did the White House play in Mubarak’s resignation?
Defense Secretary Robert Gates spoke with Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who heads the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, just hours before Suleiman announced Mubarak’s resignation, and it was the military that likely forced Mubarak’s hand.
U.S. President Barack Obama said on Friday the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak reflected the will of the Egyptian people and called on the country’s powerful military to ensure a transition to “genuine democracy.”
Though the U.S. role in Mubarak’s resignation remained unclear, Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the military council that took control on Friday, spoke with U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates by phone five times during the wave of mass protests, including as late as Thursday evening.
Obama made clear the importance Washington places on its close ties with the Egyptian military, which relies on $1.3 billion in annual U.S. aid and is seen as the key to keeping the situation from descending into chaos.
“The military has served patriotically and responsibly as a caretaker to the state and will now have to ensure a transition that is credible in the eyes of the Egyptian people,” Obama said.
Pentagon officials have been tight-lipped about the talks between Tantawi and Gates though the U.S. defence chief has praised Egypt’s army as a stabilizing force during the unrest.
Who’s in charge of Egypt right now?
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. Vice President Omar Suleiman addressed the nation Friday, noting that President Mubarak had resigned and handed over authority to the council, which includes the chief of military intelligence, the heads of each branch of service, the chief of the General Staff, and most of the military’s other top officers. The council was formed by former President Gamel Abdel Nasser with the passage of Law Number Four in the aftermath of Egypt’s crushing defeat in the Six-Day War of 1967.
Voice of America has a useful summary of the key leaders on the Supreme Council, and The New York Times has a pictorial.
What does the Egyptian Constitution have to say about all this?
Not much. If Mubarak had maintained his title of president, his decision on Thursday to assign all powers to Vice President Omar Suleiman would have been consistent with Article 82 of the Constitution. Now that he has resigned, the nation seems to have abandoned any semblance of constitutional order.
Egypt’s Constitution was first adopted in 1971. Article 84 of the document states: “In case of the vacancy of the Presidential Office or the permanent disability of the President of the Republic, the President of the People’s Assembly shall temporarily assume the Presidency.”
Ahmad Fathi Sorour has been the head of the People’s Assembly since 1991 and would be in line to assume the presidency. However, like most of the politicians from the National Democratic Party, he has mostly served as a Mubarak puppet, and neither Mubarak nor the military favor him to lead the country through crisis.
What about Vice President Suleiman—wasn’t he put in power just yesterday?
He may be out of the picture. Even if the country’s Constitution were in effect, it wouldn’t say what happens to the vice president when his boss resigns. There’s no precedent for this sort of thing, since Suleiman was appointed less than a month ago and is the first person to have that job under Mubarak. But an Egyptian legal analyst who spoke with the BBC argued that when the president leaves office, the vice president goes with him.
Is the Muslim Brotherhood about to take over?
It’s hard to say. Mubarak would never allow a pollster to gauge the brotherhood’s support among ordinary Egyptians. The group won only 20 percent of the parliamentary seats in the 2005 elections, but that’s a poor barometer of their popularity, since the turnout was below 25 percent and President Mubarak took several legislative measures (PDF) to make it difficult for members of the group to get on the ballot. If the military holds elections this year and allows representatives from the brotherhood on the ballot, there’s no way of knowing how they’d do at the polls.
Even if the brotherhood did manage to gain power, it’s debatable how catastrophic that would be for the relationship between Egypt and the West. The group is claimed to have softened its Islamist tone in recent years. (Read Shadi Hamid’s take on the Muslim Brotherhood , and a FAQ on the Brotherhood’s political priorities from the Council on Foreign Relations.)
Is the Egyptian military religious or secular?
Mostly secular. Hosni Mubarak was an officer in the Air Force and has built the military in his own image. Mubarak viewed himself as a bulwark against the Muslim Brotherhood and would not have installed officers whom he suspected of having Islamist sympathies. Most Egypt observers view the Egyptian military as a secular force in Egypt.
That said, the Egyptian military is largely a conscript force, so there are undoubtedly Islamist soldiers scattered among the 470,000 people in its ranks. The man who assassinated President Anwar Sadat in 1981 was both a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and a first lieutenant in the army. In the 1990s, Ali Mohammed, a former major in the Egyptian army, helped plan the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. (Read Andrew McCarthy’s skeptical take on the secularism of the Egyptian military.)
What does all this mean for the Israelis?
They’re worried. Egypt was the first country in the Middle East to recognize Israel. Mubarak made some efforts to stem the flow of weapons into Palestine and helped maintain the embargo on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. Just a few days ago, Israeli politicians privately expressed doubt that the long-serving dictator could be overthrown by popular protests. But when President Obama urged Mubarak to step aside, pundits across Israel howled, and President Shimon Peres lamented the likely end of Mubarak’s reign.
It’s too soon to say how Israel will react to the resignation, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has forbidden his ministers from making public comments. Netanyahu himself has expressed concern that Mubarak’s departure could create an opening for Islamists to seize power.
Israel has survived seismic shifts before, though. Aluf Benn of Haaretz notes that Israel forged its peace with Egypt around the time that its former ally, the Shah of Iran, was deposed. It’s likely the instability in Egypt will motivate Netanyahu to strengthen ties with Jordan or even Syria, which might be looking to improve relations with the U.S.
Did U.S. intelligence drop the ball on this?
Some people think so. According to Marc Ambinder of National Journal and The Atlantic, most CIA analysts stationed in Egypt spend more time monitoring arms shipments, the Muslim Brotherhood, and young Islamic radicals than worrying about the stability of the 30-year-old Mubarak regime. In addition, cooperation between American and Egyptian intelligence has declined after it became publicly known that the U.S. was relying on the Egyptians to torture terror suspects.
If Mohamed ElBaradei took over the country, what would he do?
He’s a blank slate right now. ElBaradei has spent his entire career as an international diplomat with no involvement in Egyptian politics, so he hasn’t had to take many substantive positions (aside from opposing Mubarak’s prolonged rule). He has played his hand expertly so far, according to Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations. Mubarak has hobbled opposition figures through the years by harassing them with charges of corruption and libel. Because ElBaradei was outside the country and had no involvement in Egyptian affairs, the president wasn’t able to use those tactics against him in the same way.
ElBaradei’s inscrutability has enabled hopeful protesters to unite behind him. On the other hand, it has also encouraged skeptics to accuse him of harboring nefarious plans. Anne Bayefsky of the Hudson Institute, for example, thinks ElBaradei will work to make Egypt a nuclear power.
Hussein Tantawi, head of Egypt’s Higher Military Council
Egypt’s Defense Minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi is the head of the Higher Military Council that took control of Egypt after Hosni Mubarak resigned his post as president on Friday.
Here are some facts about Tantawi:
He was born on Oct. 31, 1935 and joined the armed forces in 1956.Tantawi holds the rank of Field Marshal and has served in the government of Egypt as minister of defense and military production since 1991 and a general commander for the armed forces since 1995.
Tantawi has served in three wars against Israel, starting with the 1956 Suez Crisis and both the 1967 and 1973 Middle East wars.
He was appointed deputy prime minister, in addition to his post as defense minister, after Mubarak sacked his cabinet in a failed attempt to calm mass protests on Jan. 29.
His military background and seniority had led to speculation he could be a possible runner for presidency, though some analysts said he had limited support among the armed forces’ rank and file.
Here are some details of Egypt’s military, which totals around 468,500 active personnel, plus a reserve of 479,000:
Numbers: 280,000 – 340,000 including conscripts.
Main Battle Tanks – 3,723, including 973 A1M1 Abrams tanks.
Reconnaissance vehicles – 410.
Armoured Infantry Fighting vehicles – 610.
Armoured personnel carriers – 4,160.
Artillery pieces 4,480 (including 492 self-propelled, 962 towed).
Mortars – 2,528.
Air Defence surface-to-air missiles – at least 2,100.
Tactical surface-to-surface missiles – over 42.
Numbers: 18,500 including conscripts.
Submarines – 4 tactical patrol submarines.
Surface combatants – 10
Patrol and coastal combatants – 41
Numbers: 30,000 including 10,000 conscripts.
Combat capable aircraft – 461. 165 fighter aircraft — 26 F-16A, 12 F16-B, 74 C- MiG-21F and 53 Mirage D/E.
Helicopters – 4 Commando electronic Intelligence
125 Electronic Attack helicopters
There are also 150,000 Air Defense Command troops and 397,000 paramilitaries comprising Central Security Forces, National Guard and Border Guard forces.
Tantawi now de facto leader
Tantawi has been Egypt’s minister of defence since 1991 and in January, Mubarak also named him deputy prime minister after he sacked his cabinet in a failed bid to quell the protests that eventually brought him down.
Tantawi and Suleiman, who Mubarak only recently named as his vice-president, were for years the only active-duty military officers in Mubarak’s cabinet. Suleiman was a minister without portfolio and also headed Egypt’s intelligence agency. Both were believed to wield significant influence in the cabinet.
Tantawi appears to be the man in charge for the moment. He is well known to the U.S. government and has made many visits to the U.S. Ahead of a 2008 visit, Francis Ricciardone, then the U.S. ambassador to Egypt, sent a cable to Washington that described Tantawi as both “charming and courtly” and “aged and change-resistant.”
He described Tantawi and Mubarak as “focused on regime stability and maintaining the status quo through the end of their time.”
Ricciardone added an observation that tellingly foreshadows recent developments. Both men “simply do not have the energy, inclination or world view to do anything differently.”
The cable was among the hundreds of U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks in November 2010.
Also in that release was another cable sent by current Ambassador Margaret Scobey six months later that was even more damning of Tantawi.
In Cairo mid-level Egyptian officers can be heard “openly expressing disdain for Tantawi” and referring to him as “Mubarak’s poodle,” she wrote. The officers complain that as defence minister, Tantawi is incompetent and “reached his position only because of unwavering loyalty to Mubarak,” Scobey’s cable said.
The defence ministry reportedly fires “officers it perceives as being ‘too competent’,” because they may pose a threat to the regime, the cable explains. It was a similar situation in the military itself. For years, “the regime has not allowed any charismatic figures to reach the senior ranks.”
Suleiman expected to fade from view
As for Suleiman, U.S. officials told NBC News that they expect him to now fade from view. According to NBC, the officials said that by asking Egyptians to halt their protests in his first speech following Mubarak’s Feb. 10 address in which he was still refusing to resign, Suleiman “cast his fate with Mubarak and that hurt him with his military colleagues.”
The Egyptian constitution stipulates that when a president resigns, it is the speaker of parliament (Ahmad Fathi Sorour, a Mubarak acolyte) who takes over, but what has happened in this case is essentially a military coup — although a popular one.
The constitution also requires that elections be held within 60 days, but it seems likely that the military won’t respect that clause either.