Muslim Brotherhood and Liberals Confront Military Rule in Egypt

Al-Ahram reports in Arabic that hundreds of thousands of Egyptians all around the country protested on Friday against the military remaining in power.

The Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi fundamentalists took the lead on the rallies, especially in Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo. But some liberal, leftist and youth organizations also joined in the demonstrations.

Euronews reports

The Muslim Brotherhood is annoyed with the Egyptian military because the latter has issued guidelines for the writing of a new constitution, which are largely secular in character. The Brotherhood hopes to implement its conception of Muslim canon law or sharia in Egypt, and now perceives the military as a barrier to this project.

In July when I was in Egypt, the shoe was on the other foot. The New Left movement, April 6, came out for a return of the military to their barracks. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) denounced April 6 and hinted that it would be prosecuted for taking foreign development money. The protesters almost fell down laughing, given that the Eygptian state receives $1.5 billion per year from the US.

At that time, the Muslim Brotherhood was in love with the military. I remember seeing Essam al-Arian, the number 2 man in the Brotherhood’s “Freedom and Justice” Party. speaking on television. He maintained that alongside the classical powers of the state (executive, legislature, judiciary), Egypt was fortunate to have a fourth power, which, he said, was like the backbone holding up the others. That power, he said, was the Egyptian military.

At that time, the military had scheduled the elections early, in September, a step that favored the Muslim Brotherhood because it is well-organized for contesting elections.

As the military has taken steps that angered the Brotherhood, that cozy relationship has faltered. The SCAF issued constitutional guidelines, which may make it more difficult for the Muslim Brotherhood to change Egyptian law further in a religious direction. And the miltary postponed the beginning of elections until late November, a step that benefits the secular opposition.

So the protests on Friday demanded not just that the military step down by next May but that it withdraw those constitutional guidelines.

The question of military rule has all along been the other shoe waiting to drop since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in February. The Egyptian military hopes for a co-existence with the civilian government once it is established next year. Friday’s protesters want a subordination of the military to the civil state.

The protesters, however, are themselves deeply divided on the reasons for their opposition to the military. The New Left minds its anti-labor policies. The Muslim Brotherhood (sometimes) minds its dictatorial tendencies.

What we saw in Turkey in the past decade is that if a party receives a large enough public mandate, its ability to stare down the military is much enhanced. Similar things could happen in Egypt, though likely it will be a long and drawn-out process.

9 Responses

  1. Juan,

    You’ve missed the biggest issue of this whole debate surrounding the ‘Ali Silmi Document’ which are the clauses stipulating no civilian oversight over the military and its budget as well as the general’s right to make decisions on major issues affecting the military.

    Naseem

  2. Juan wrote – “What we saw in Turkey in the past decade is that if a party receives a large enough public mandate, its ability to stare down the military is much enhanced. ”

    But that took 70-80 years to bring about with coups and several military juntas. Indonesian civil society seems to have reached an working relationship with the Indonesian military in a less than a decade.

    OK so the Indonesians are not Arabs, but nor are the Turks, Both Indonesia and Egypt have Colonial histories, whereas Turkey has an an Imperial history.

    I think Indonesia is just as valid as a “model” for Arab Democracies as is Turkey, Indonesia has the largest population of Muslims in the world and its a functioning stable democracy. Indonesia also doesn’t have a bunch of quasi-secular liberal elites in Jakarta trying to trade in sovereignty to a quasi super-state for a fistful of euros – like Turkey has in Istanbul.

    • I think to be fair you have to start the clock on Indonesia and Turkey in the same manner. The military actually took power in Indonesia in 1966, so it had a run about as long as most of the other dictatorships that have been falling more recently. We also don’t know whether the Indonesian people are really on top of the Army, just as we didn’t know in South Korea until after a few real elections.

      But the big issue with Indonesia’s army is that it committed three genocides and that had nothing to do with its eventual downfall. That is a disgusting comment on human nature. As long as the victims were the wrong ethnicity, the vast majority of Indonesians didn’t give a damn; it was another matter once the dictator was stealing their tax dollars.

    • I think you meant “like Turkey has in Ankara,” which is the capital, rather than Istanbul.

      But to the point about Indonesia being a possible “model” for the Arab attempt to establish democracy. I agree with you up to a point, but only up to a point. When Sukarno declared the Indonesian Republic in 1945, he established it with Pancasila as the official governing philophy. Pancasila (from the Sanskrit: Panca-five, Sila-principles) consists of: Belief in one God, humanitarianism, nationalism, social justice, and democracy. Thus, from the beginning as an independent country (although they fought the Dutch for four more years), Indonesia did not recognize Islam as a state religion, or even as the primary religion.

      Moreover, Islam came late to Indonesia, arriving in Northern Sumatra in the late 13th century, and in Java only in the 16th century. Prior to that, for centuries Java was in one form or another a Hindu-Buddhist state. Thus, Islam in Indonesia has absorbed the remnants of Hindu-Buddhist culture, and is a very syncretic religion, even today. This is a far cry from Islam in the Arab World.

      Although there are some calls for an Islamic state and the national introduction of Shar’ia Law in Indonesia, the vast majority of the population reject it. I think that by keeping Islam at bay, and treating it as one religion among others, has benefited Indonesia greatly, and is one reason that it has been able to make the transition from authoritiarianism to democracy without the clamor of fundamentalists and Salafists. I’m not sure that the Arab World is capable of making the transition as easily as has Indonesia. Their histories and cultures are really very different, and one cannot necessarily be the template for the other.

  3. Military control is predictable – it is the usual result of revolutions. Sometimes there are progressive elements in the military itself which bring down the old regime (as originally in Turkey), but they tend to be corrupted by power and money in short order.

  4. The Egyptian military own companies, sells all sorts of products, and is an economic giant. They’ve been in charge since the early fifties. They have the guns. Who’s going to control them? Some liberals might like seeing the military putting limits on what the Muslims can do. But it might be better to have the Muslims put limits on the military.

  5. What’s the problem with refusing imposed constitutional guidelines, whatever it is the reason for those refusing it, and disregarding whether it champions secularism or not?

    This reflects a clear distrust in the choice of the people -the essence of democracy- and confiscating their right to express their will in the constitution through their chosen representatives, whoever they may choose.

    This is in no way a healthy foundation for a new state. This brews a new revolution.

  6. In Iran, the military had been loyal to the Shah’s regime since the 1920’s, yet Khomeini’s people managed to purge it thoroughly in a very short time. How did they manage to do it? Can the Egyptians learn from this?

  7. yes. By keeping Islam at bay, and treating it as one religion among others, has done changes in Indonesia.

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