A quick tour of stories covering the recent national elections in Egypt reveals a couple of standard news narratives (e.g., The Miami Herald worries that the election will be “polarizing, not unifying,” while The Economist explains the success of extremists as the failure of moderates, and NPR tells us they were “marred by violence”). We expect journalists to reduce complex events and processes to well known, easily digested narratives. What I find remarkable is the extent to which scholars who serve as news analysts tend to do the same.
In early February 2011 I observed a coup d’état in Egypt: subordinate military officers rejected Hosni Mubarak’s claim to rule the country, declared themselves sovereign, and placated the crowds in the street by promising elections. The scholars I saw on television and in print joined the chorus declaring that a revolution had taken place: the people of Egypt rose as one, toppled a dictator, and ushered in democracy. I found no mention of an Obama administration-supported coup that aborted what might have been a popular overthrow of a dictator. To be sure, Revolutionary Peoples’ Councils are hardly a foundation for the construction of government respect for human rights (think Robespierre’s Reign of Terror, Che Guevara’s show trials in Cuba, the 1979 Iranian Revolution, etc.). But I was nonetheless disappointed by the failure of academic commentators to distinguish between a situation where the military steps in from one where it refuses to do so.
Three recent posts about the Egyptian elections suggest that my pessimism may have been premature. Blogging for Foreign Policy, Scott Bleiweis shows promise with the title “Egyptians Wonder “Where’s the Revolution?”,” but then offers us this:
“That’s the thing with democracy, you never quite know how it will turn out. It’s too early to say whether this election will solidify democracy or signal a reversion to something else.”
But check out Ed Husain, blogging for the Council on Foreign Relations, and Mariz Tadros, blogging for African Arguments.
Husain writes “the military top brass… is only too keen to maintain control of the Egyptian economy and independence from civilian rule,” and Tadros offers:
“Egypt may be following one set of democratic procedures, but it is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a transition to democracy, irrespective of who becomes the next President.”
OK, is Tadros suggesting that the key issue is whether SCAF will step aside? Echoing arguments by others that the SCAF and the Muslim Brotherhood formed an alliance in 2011, Tadros contends that
“The foundations for a full and comprehensive hold on power are consequently in place. The Brotherhood is now seeking to mobilize support as the guardians of the revolution. Yet it is hard to forget that it was their informal entente with SCAF that led to the capture of the revolution by the military. The sad truth is that if the Muslim Brotherhood win, they are not going to be the last bastion in defence of the revolution, they will reproduce their own new strand of totalitarian rule – upheld in the name of God – and they seem to assume a monopoly in representing him.”
It turns out that it is not difficult to find Egyptians who are concerned about the SCAF coup and dubious that it will step aside. I am partial to this SCAF Remix, but A Year in the Life of Egypt’s Media provides considerably more information.
I don’t think Hussain or Tadros have ever talked to an Egyptian military officer. Don’t know about Bleiweiss. The SCAF is counting down the days until it gives up day-to-day administration of Egypt. This analysis is missing the narrative that has prevailed within the officer corps that connects defeat (June 67) with being a “political army” as opposed to the “victory” in October 1973 and returning to the barracks.
Thanks for the perspective: if you can link to any of that discussion it would be great. I tend to be somewhat that policy debate and action are strongly linked, but in any case my critique is definitely not based on any knowledge of such debates (nor any particular knowledge of the Egyptian military), but instead is theory driven (e.g., the work by Bueno de Mesquita & Smith informs my post: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/10/opinion/10DeMesquita.html).