The transition that was never meant to take place

More than a year after the revolution began, the Egyptian military still offers the unimaginative choices of the past.

    The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces announced new amendments to the Constitutional Declaration, including items some critics say strip the new president of most of his powers and transfers them to SCAF [EPA]
    The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces announced new amendments to the Constitutional Declaration, including items some critics say strip the new president of most of his powers and transfers them to SCAF [EPA]

    Cairo, Egypt - Much has been written about the Egyptian revolution and the so-called transition period. Many have refuted the former and somehow acknowledged the latter. But in the frenzy of reporting and analysis, much has been left out, and the terminology has come to mean different things to different people.

    So what is meant by all the analysis and talk of a "stupid", "messy", "mismanaged" transition process?

    First, if you deny the revolution ever happened, as some do by calling it an uprising or a revolt, then there is no transition period or handover process, and there should be no expectation of one. I will argue that there has been a revolution and that if you understand the revolution, you would also understand that there has been no transition process.

    This is a revolution because the fear of Pharaoh has been shattered. It took a few thousand years, but we finally did it. This is a revolution because the people have realised that they have rights, including the right to a better future. Also, in spite of the sudden eruption of Islamic power, people no longer want to accept their fate as "having been written" and therefore "so be it".

     What is SCAF?

    A 'second' revolution

    So far, this has not been a revolution in the sense of removal of the regime and political system; it looks like that is what's coming next. It has been said by many that we had our second revolution earlier in May 2011, when the people demanded the "purification" of the system - and particularly, the Ministry of Interior, local councils and the state media. They also demanded that the families of the martyrs get their rights and that the country's emergency law, in place for 30 years, be removed. Ironically, it was also demanded that the powers of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) be checked.

    On June 2, 2012, many proclaimed the beginning of our real second revolution, both in packed Tahrir Square and across the country. Why? Because the people could not understand the (unacceptable) verdicts on Mubarak, his family and his henchmen. It was really then that many more people realised that they had been fooled, and that the same could happen in the coming elections.

    Importantly, many people by this time had decided that the Muslim Brotherhood had done such a bad job in the People's Assembly that they would not vote for them for the presidency. When they heard the court's verdicts, they were furious and decided that they could not vote for a candidate representing a system with "blood on their hands". So, many voted not because they believe in the Muslim Brotherhood or Mohamed Morsi, but rather to punish the old system, which had escaped justice and was still clearly in place.

    Power and control

    While many people have been carried away with the euphoria of revolution, some of us refused to fall down the long, slippery amusement park slide created by SCAF. Many jumped on this roller-coaster of a ride and became so caught up in the moment that they forgot how they got to this point in the first place.

    So let's go back to the beginning. Pharaoh finally fell by the will of the people, but the rest of his power structure and his generals remain in place. What many have forgotten - or perhaps do not know - is that the generals were going to overthrow Pharaoh anyway. The peoples' timing was fantastic: instead of appearing as the junta that overthrew their leader (and one of their own), they suddenly became "defenders" of a revolution.

    SCAF was going to overthrow Mubarak because they rejected his son, the Prince Regent Gamal Mubarak, and to those inside the military establishment, it was clear that they would not accept him as their next president. Why? Simply because no one outside the military had ruled Egypt for at least the past 60 years, and they were not going to change that even for the son of a military man. We should not forget that we have a history of overthrowing our leader. Or - let me rephrase that - we have a history of members of the power elite overthrowing their leader so they can gain power. Pharaohs did it, Nasser did it, many say Mubarak did it, and now SCAF was/is doing it, but the people got in the way.

    SCAF clearly did not want to risk reducing the control they have over the country, and wanted even more power. The Egyptian military controls at least 30 per cent of the economy and use conscripts for cheap labour. They also receive billions of dollars from the US that they are not held accountable for, nor do we know what exactly they do with it. Their budget is kept secret - so far they have refused to even allow elected legislators to examine it. Finally, they receive huge salaries, benefits, immunities and so forth.

    As Henry Kissinger once said, "power is the ultimate aphrodisiac". Perhaps it is for some people, but it can also bring with it huge amounts of wealth - particularly in the developing world. That, again, is something we have seen in Egypt. Though Nasser died a poor man, his family and those around him were not; though Sadat and Mubarak came from very humble backgrounds, they amassed huge fortunes at the expense of the country and ultimately the people. All the leaders were from the army, and as in the days of old, they rewarded the army handsomely for their support and loyalty.

    With that in mind, when was the last time a ruling dictatorship or junta proclaimed that "the people have spoken, let us now relinquish the power and money we gained illegitimately by preventing the people from having the voice they have now". SCAF has also been accused of human rights violations and of orchestrating a "soft coup", so they are probably a little concerned about being put on trial if they ever actually implement a transition. If SCAF were prepared to overthrow the Pharaoh to keep and to expand their privileges, are they really going to give up their gains and privileges because of a so-called "free" election?

    Out with the old, in with the old

    "People suddenly realised they deserve better than this false choice, forced on them in the name of democracy."

    SCAF has played politics, some would argue for survival; can they really hand over power to a genuine representative of the people and the revolution? They literally decided who would run in the elections and who would not. They allowed people and then prevented people from running - some of whom should have been allowed to - and they allowed people to run who, according to regulations, should not have run. They have given freedoms and then taken them away when they felt it necessary. They waited until the last minute on all decisions to keep people confused and their anxieties high - to keep them too busy to really do careful analysis of the situation. They throw in a fuel shortage for good measure before any major issue or crisis. They timed everything well to keep us constantly on our toes and disunited as we fight each new battle and forget about the war.

    SCAF waited until they thought the population was sufficiently fatigued with the revolution and too busy with the coming run-off election, and then finally a sentence on Mubarak and associates was passed. They also introduced draconian laws under which the military now has the right to arrest and prosecute civilians (many consider this worse than the emergency law that came to an end just two weeks before).

    SCAF also dissolved the first freely elected People's Assembly in the past 60 years and they allowed Ahmed Shafiq to participate in the election in spite of the Political Isolation Law, which prevents former members of Mubarak's regime from running. They also amended the interim constitution to usurp more power and guarantee their immunity and overall control through the use of force if need be. They made room so that they can have oversight in the formation of the new constitution, and limited the powers of the new potential president. All this in the space of two weeks - and sadly, it became clear to most that even the judiciary was in their pocket.

    On June 2, it became crystal-clear for many still in doubt and blinded by hope that they are, in fact, facing the same threats as before, orchestrated as before: continuity of the old and unwanted failed regime or the threat of an Islamic state. People suddenly realised they deserve better than this false choice, forced on them in the name of democracy.

    The Egyptian people have realised that "a leopard can't change its spots". In spite of all the actions taken by SCAF, whether one sees them as genius or folly, it is SCAF's inability to adapt and their hunger for power without compromise that is their Achilles heel. One and a half years into a revolution, they still offer the unimaginative and outdated choices of the past - it's us or extremism; us or chaos - both of which they bred.

    Hisham Wahby is an assistant professor of political science in Egypt and is currently pursuing a graduate degree in international human rights law at Oxford University.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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