What is holding the military council back ?

A few weeks ago I was invited to meet some members of the military council to exchange views on the situation in Egypt. I spent several hours with three of the generals and came away with an excellent impression. I sensed in them a thorough and profound understanding of domestic and foreign affairs and a real commitment to the revolution and to the nation, but I also felt that they were remote from the decision-making process and that their role was merely to convey various points of view to some higher authority. At that time, I still believed that the military council would fulfil the demands of the revolution as we expected it to do and as it promised us in its first communiqués. But six full months have passed since the start of the revolution and not a single one of our demands has been fulfilled ; in fact, it has sometimes seemed that the military council is pushing things in the opposite direction. Then came Friday, July 8, and the Egyptian people sent a strong message to those it may concern : millions of Egyptians came out across the country to call on the military council to fulfil the demands of the revolution.

Why has the military council been so late in fulfilling the demands of the revolution ? We know that there are forces in the region and in the world that are hostile to the Egyptian revolution and are pressing hard to abort it. Some of the ruling families in the Gulf States defended Hosni Mubarak to the end and are now putting pressure on the military council to prevent Mubarak from being put on trial at any cost. Perhaps their motivation is a kind of loyalty to their friend Mubarak, or maybe it’s because his sons Gamal and Alaa were partners with some Gulf princes in business ventures worth millions of dollars. But the most important reason in my opinion is that the Egyptian revolution will change the concept of governance in the whole Arab world. From now on the ruler will not be the symbol of the nation, the father of his people and the sheikh of the tribe, as he is viewed in the Gulf. Instead he will be a public employee and a servant to the people, who must be held accountable and tried if he errs. If this democratic concept of a ruler is transferred from Egypt to the Gulf, it will create multiple problems for the ruling families there. Israel too, with the United States behind it, is pushing as hard as it can to bring an end to the revolution, because a democratic transformation will make Egypt a strong state that leads the whole Arab world—a development that greatly troubles Israel. These foreign pressures, however strong they might be, do not explain why the military council has been slow to carry out the demands of the revolution, because the council—however much we may criticize its political performance—does in the end reflect the mentality of the Egyptian military, which has always jealously protected the nation’s independence and has been extremely sensitive toward any foreign interference in the national decision-making process.

So what is holding the military council back and preventing it from carrying out the demands of the revolution ? We should remember at this point that Hosni Mubarak was not just a despotic ruler who robbed and subjugated Egyptians and ran the country into the ground in every field of activity. Hosni Mubarak also set up a despotic system that conveyed a specific political vision. It consists of an absolute monopoly of power. In 1986 Mubarak appointed as interior minister the late Major General Zaki Badr, a man famous not only for his awesome ability to crush the regime’s opponents, but also for his great fondness of shouting obscenities and outrageously insulting everyone around him. Zaki Badr offended all Egyptians, but Mubarak, as usual, kept him in office until Badr made a speech in the Nile Delta town of Benha in January 1990 in which he insulted everyone in a way that exceeded all limits. El-Shaab newspaper published the text of the offensive speech, and Mubarak issued a decree dismissing the minister. The editor of el-Shaab, the late intellectual Adel Hussein, told me that he later met Hosni Mubarak at an event and that Mubarak accosted him and said : “Adel, don’t you ever imagine that what you published in el-Shaab was the reason why Zaki Badr was dismissed. It was me who dismissed him on my own initiative.” So Mubarak saw responding to public opinion as a form of weakness that diminished his prestige as ruler.

Hosni Mubarak always monopolized decision-making, and he never thought he was required to explain his decisions to the people. He would appoint and dismiss ministers at will without giving reasons, and none of his ministers had any authority, which made them more like secretarial staff than real officials. We can see here that the military council is applying the same concept of power as Mubarak did. After Mubarak stepped down as president, constitutional lawyers unanimously agreed that the constitution had lapsed with the fall of the regime and that a new constitution should be written through an elected constituent assembly. But the military council took a unilateral decision and set up a committee to amend the old constitution, then held a referendum on the amendments and went beyond the referendum result to proclaim an interim constitution. Then, again and again, the military council has taken unilateral decisions that at the very least do not reflect the wishes of the public or the thinking of the revolution. The council formed a government in which at least half the ministers were part and parcel of the Mubarak regime. And when it reshuffled the provincial governors, lo and behold, all the new governors were men from the Mubarak regime, some of them from State Security, which abused and dehumanized Egyptians. Instead of sending them to trial, the military council was rewarding them by appointing them to governorships. The military council has also retained Yahya el-Gamal as deputy prime minister, although everyone is unhappy with his performance, and has appointed a foreign minister who was always declaring that Mubarak was the best leader in the history of Egypt. In spite of dozens of calls to purge state institutions of the remnants of the Mubarak regime, the military council has ignored these calls until the counter-revolution has gained strength and started to put pressure on Egyptians in order to carry out acts of sabotage and create chaos. Most unfortunately, the military council is repeating Mubarak’s famous formula : “Say what you like, write what you like, while the ruler does what he likes.” Just as Mubarak was always remote from the Egyptian street, responding only too little too late, the military council, more than a day and a half after millions of Egyptians demonstrated to press the demands of the revolution, sent us Prime Minister Essam Sharaf to give us a confused and jumbled speech that ignored many of the basic demands and used rhetorical expressions that reminded Egyptians of resolutions by the old National Democratic Party.

Another feature of the political vision set up by Mubarak’s regime is the nominal independence of state institutions. Hosni Mubarak would always repeat that Egypt was a state with institutions and that he would never interfere with the independence of the judiciary, but at the same time we all knew that he was the sole arbiter of everything that happened in Egypt. He was the supreme head of all institutions and controlled the judiciary through the judicial inspectorate that reported to the minister of justice, whom he appointed. Mubarak put such pressure on the judges that they became instruments of his power. Most judges rejected the pressures but some judges accepted and supervised the rigging of elections. Documents have emerged that prove that some judges cooperated with the State Security Investigations department to issue specific rulings in some cases. Despite repeated requests from senior judges to purge the judiciary, six months have passed since the revolution and the military council has not taken a single decision in favour of judicial independence or to purge the judiciary. On the contrary, it has left untouched the public prosecutor’s office and the public prosecutor himself, who (with full respect for his person and his position) was famous in the Mubarak era for political arrangements that often prevented him from acting on the dozens of complaints submitted by people who had been tortured by police officers and also prevented him from inspecting State Security premises or police stations in a way that would have prevented the mistreatment of Egyptians that was rampant inside them.

Further, Mubarak’s political vision maintained a practice of lashing out at regime opponents while crowing about democracy. In Mubarak’s time, the security agencies became so brutal that tens of thousands of Egyptians were subjected to abuse and torture in State Security premises and police stations, while Mubarak never missed an opportunity to crow about the democratic transformation Egypt had seen in his time. Today we find the military council in its statements lauding the revolution and asserting the rule of law, while at the same time referring thousands of civilians to military courts. You only have to take part in a demonstration or a sit-in to be arrested and face a military court that might throw you in military jail for years. At the same time, we see those who killed, plundered and abused Egyptians on trial in civilian courts.

In the end what is holding the military council back and preventing it from fulfilling the demands of the revolution is the fact that it is following the same policies Hosni Mubarak followed in wielding power. The way the military council has run Egypt since the revolution has been totally unrevolutionary, which could drive the country to a dead end and a dangerous confrontation. The millions of Egyptians who carried out one of the greatest revolutions in history were content to leave their revolution in the hands of the military council, but after six months, they have discovered that nothing has changed, so they have come out on the streets to call for fulfilment of their demands, but the military council does not seem willing to comply. The demands of the revolution are clear. We have written them out and voiced them dozens of times, and all of them are simple and legitimate : social justice, a clean sweep, and democratic reform. We have a right to know where Hosni Mubarak is and how his health really is and why he is not being treated like any other prisoner. We have a right to know where Gamal and Alaa Mubarak are and to send someone to check that they are really in prison. The police force must be purged of corrupt officers and murderers and all state institutions must be completely purged of Hosni Mubarak’s followers, with fair open trials for all the killers and corrupt officials, starting with Hosni Mubarak and his interior minister, Habib el-Adli. Social justice must be implemented by setting a minimum wage that guarantees the poor a decent living and a maximum to prevent the theft of public money.

These are the revolutionary demands that we will not abandon, whatever the sacrifices. I hope the military council listens to the voice of the people before it is too late. The Egyptian people, who sacrificed hundreds of dead and thousands of injured for the sake of the revolution, are fully prepared to sacrifice more blood and more lives for the sake of freedom.