Over the past decades, toy shops in the Arab world have sold a children’s “military uniform” adorned with medals and military decorations. Arab shopkeepers named this outfit the “Jamal suit” [in reference to former Egyptian leader Jamal Abdul Nasser]. The aim of this, and many other things in Arab culture, was to promote the military regime and the idea that military regimes are worthy of praise and celebration. This is something that could particularly be seen in the Arab media which praised and extoled these Arab military regimes, that is – at least – until the passage of time revealed the reality of such regimes and the devastation they left behind. Today the entire Arab world is closely monitoring what is happening in one of the Arab world’s superpowers, Egypt, fearing the implications of this, particularly with regards to the escalating sectarian conflicts between the Muslim and Coptic community. This is not to mention the Coptic protests turning into a bloody confrontation with the Egyptian army which resulted in many people dying and being injured in a saddening and frightening manner.
The Egyptian army, in the eyes of the people, represents the country’s safety valve and the sole guarantor for the success of the revolution and the transition to a democratic stage in a simple, effective and reliable manner. However the Egyptian army today has become, in the eyes of an increasing number of people, an uncertain or ambiguous authority that is becoming more and more hardline and authoritarian. The Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) is the ruling authority in Egypt today, and it gives orders to the Egyptian prime minister – and cabinet – that are in control of the country in an executive manner. This explains why the Egyptian cabinet is weak and frail, and why its actions do not reassure anybody, particularly the manner in which it is dealing with the two most important and potentially dangerous issues in Egypt today, namely lawlessness and sectarian strife.
The state of lawlessness in Egypt today requires immediate action to deal with the “thugs” and all those harming Egypt’s security. This is action that would inevitably receive a positive response from a wide-range of people, because this [security] is something that they have been clearly and openly demanding for some time. As for the second issue, that of sectarian strife, this represents the more dangerous of the two issues, particularly as people in Egypt are very confused regarding SCAF’s reluctance to issue a law to govern the issue of places of worship. This is something that would regulate the relationship of the state with the issue of the construction of mosques and churches, and ensure that there are no disastrous transgressions or conflicts, such as the conflict taking place in Aswan today [regarding the rebuilding of a church], or the torching of a Church in Imbaba, Cairo, earlier this month.
We have heard many scenarios and claims that the Egyptian SCAF wants to remain in power and prolonging its rule for a period of no less than 24 months before any elections in order to sanctify the military presence in government and continue to run the country, in this manner. This would explain why there have been no cabinet reshuffles, and no changes in Egypt’s policies. Egypt is entering a dangerous economic state, with Egypt’s state income reaching unprecedentedly low levels, not to mention the increasing rate of unemployment, and the sharp decline in Egypt’s foreign exchange reserves. This is bringing Egypt into a state where it is on the verge of violence and chaos, the only solution to which would be the imposition of harsh solutions, such as emergency laws and other harsh measures that will be bitterly resisted by the people of Egypt.
The Egyptian SCAF has become a part of the problem that it should have been the solution to, and indeed has exacerbated this problem – from an operational standpoint as well as with regards to timing – therefore solving all of these issues will be akin to a mission impossible. Conspiracy theories strongly came to the fore to try to explain who is benefitting from this state of affairs and how, however what is clear is that the biggest loser from the status quo is Egypt as a country, as well as Egypt’s position in the Arab world.
This article was first published on Asharq Alawsat on Oct. 12, 2011