Steve Negus has a post up on the Arabist in which he offers a glimpse of optimism in the face of the stalled Egyptian revolution (aka the SCAF sponsored counter revolution.) Clearly, the hopes and goals that were adopted by the Egyptian masses more than nine months ago have not been met. The Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF – the interim governing agency) has resisted real reform, extended the emergency law and has prolonged the election period. Moreover, the interior ministry has not been truly reformed and media is once again being censored. Negus, though, points to five gains that have yet to be repealed by the SCAF counter-revolutionary forces:
3) Egypt’s political discourse has become increasingly liberal. The demands of the January uprising have hardened the consensus that Egypt needs to have a democratically elected government. And we’re not talking about the “democratic transition” offered by Mubarak, where Egypt may be allowed to elect their 20 years down the road, if conditions are absolutely perfect — pretty much everyone has agreed in principle that the next government must be fairly elected under the supervision of an independent judiciary. And with the exception of a few Salafis, pretty much every group insists that the government be “civil” — ie, not an Islamic state. You may or may not believe that the Muslim Brothers would not establish a theocracy if given the chance. But in order to implement a radical agenda, a would-be radical vanguard party usually needs to pitch itself as offering a major alternative to the current order. Very few Egyptian politicians seem to have calculated that there is a market for religious radicalism.
The revolution also seems to have strengthened the consensus in favor of individual rights — leading Islamists have acknowledged a right for Muslims to convert out of Islam, for example, while Coptic activists have become more vocal in demanding that the Church should no longer have the capacity to regulate their personal lives, in particular their right to divorce.
(Read the other five, but I chose this one as a blurb due to an absurd conversation I had last week with a commenter that was convinced that Egypt was becoming a dangerous fascist state led by the Muslim Brotherhood and that “Egypt is populated by assholes.” Classy.)
Negus concludes that:
None of these successes is irreversible. None are cast-iron guarantees of fair and democratic elections. But they are major obstacles in the path of any would-be strongman who wishes to reestablished an entrenched and lasting autocracy.
The entire post was a pleasant reminder that the revolution did accomplish something (in addition to inspiring the people of other Arab countries.) Yet, for all those who are lamenting the counter-revolutionary policies and tactics of SCAF, I am not sure many believe that Egypt has another ‘entrenched and lasting autocracy’ in its future. The military thrived under the Mubarak regime. In addition to the billions of American aid dollars that poured into the military, military leaders have gradually acquired a massive ‘economic empire‘ comprised of private organizations estimated to be worth billions. A truly civilian government would predictively find a conflict of interests in the military’s sprawling economic grip on the country and be able to oversee the military’s budget. In other words, the military has clear economic motives (both private and organizational) to resist a completely civilian government.
That being said, there is little reason to believe that the military is about to install a new dictator. Rather the military is trying to shape the evolution of change in order to create fundamental guarantees to its privileged position in Egyptian society. If SCAF can ensure its independence from a civilian government (something the military effectively enjoyed under Mubarak) through a constitutional clause, it would be unsurprisingly to see the military ease its struggle against the Egyptian people. SCAF does not necessarily want a new Mubarak, but wants to ensure that its massive interests (that were gained under Mubarak) are not challenged.
That being said, the gains mentioned by Negus are very clear and very important victories for the Egyptian people. And while the military is striving to ensure a variety of non-democratic assurances, the creation of a new autocracy (i.e. a new dictator) is unlikely.
Photo from The Alexandrian