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Opinion: The army’s role in the Egyptian crisis | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Supporters of President Mohamed Mursi wave to a military helicopter passing over them during a protest in Alexandria to counter anti-Mursi protests elsewhere in Alexandria, July 2, 2013. Source: Reuters/Asmaa Waguih

It is unlikely that we are seeing in Egypt that which we have seen in Pakistan; generals seizing power at every national political crisis. No more generals will rule Egypt. Even former presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar al-Sadat and Hosni Mubarak engaged in civil governance once they left the military. Pakistan has been dominated by the military, which to this day continues to govern, both publicly and secretly.

When the January 25 revolution erupted, Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi—then-defense minister and commander-in-chief of Egypt’s armed forces—could have prolonged Mubarak’s governance for a few weeks or months, or even aborted the revolution. However, it was Tantawi who acknowledged the aspirations of Egyptians on the streets, and he responded to them by toppling the president and forming a military council for governance.

It then became clear that the military was not prepared—it had neither an administrative plan for running a state, nor a political agenda for governance. The armed forces became the target of various political forces, and thus it chose to escape by holding presidential elections before a new constitution had even been drafted. The military handed governance to Mohammed Mursi, who beat their retired companion, Ahmed Shafiq.

The Muslim Brotherhood misread the military’s capability. This is because they thought the military had been neutralized when its two most powerful figures, Tantawi and Sami Anan, agreed not to touch the defense budget. What will the military—which appears to suffer from a justified sensitivity—do now that they fear being accused of staging a military coup?

Instead of dealing with the presidency as a new experience to Egyptians, the Brotherhood has implemented the practices of the former presidencies; taking over prominent state positions in an operation dubbed “Brotherhoodization.” This has scared political parties, and caused concern within the military that blood will be spilled on the streets.

The army has promised a roadmap to overcome the crisis. This means that it has to specify a date for new presidential elections. The most difficult, but necessary, task is to convince Islamist parties to participate in the political process, and reassure them that they are part of Egypt’s present and future.

This is a necessity since the Brotherhood may refuse to accept constitutional amendments, early elections, or the potential new government. This would certainly make transition difficult. The Islamists—the Brotherhood and Salafists—have proven that they are a large political force that is hard to ignore.