The Egyptian army moved to consolidate its newly-seized power today by neutralizing the political institutions of Egypt, at least for the moment:
The Egyptian military consolidated its control Sunday over what it has called a democratic transition from three decades of President Hosni Mubarak’s authoritarian rule, dissolving the country’s feeble parliament, suspending the constitution and calling for elections in six months in sweeping steps that echoed protesters’ demands.
The statement by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, read on television, effectively put Egypt under direct military authority, thrusting the country into territory uncharted since republican Egypt was founded in 1952. Though enjoying popular support, the military must now cope with the formidable task of negotiating a post-revolutionary landscape still basking in the glow of Mr. Mubarak’s fall but beset by demands to ameliorate hardships that percolated across Cairo on Sunday.
Since seizing power from Mr. Mubarak on Friday, the military has sought to strike the right note, responding in words and action to the platform articulated by hundreds of thousands in Tahrir Square. But beyond more protests, there is almost no check on the sweep of military rule, and while opposition leaders welcomed the moves some have quietly raised worries about the role of the army in Egypt’s future.
This is actually good news, at least from the American perspective. We want a transition to democracy, but one that doesn’t involve chaos and radicals from the Muslim Brotherhood to seize control in the midst of it. Egypt needs some time to allow alternative voices of democratization to organize into competing political parties that will keep the Ikhwan from asserting its current organizational advantage over other voices that the Mubarak regime suppressed more successfully.
The Obama administration seems to have belatedly realized this as well. They have recovered from their demands for an immediate transition to democracy and apparently have instead begun quietly acquiescing, at least, to transitional control by the army in the form of Omar Suleiman’s de facto regency. This gives the US the best chance to influence events, since the army gets a significant subsidy from the US, as well as acting as a brake on Islamist ambitions. The White House should be hoping that Egypt’s army will eventually position itself as a bulwark against radicalism in a democratic state, in the same manner as Turkey.
However, that depends on whether Omar Suleiman is a reincarnation of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk rather than a successor to Hosni Mubarak. There are few examples of military coups resulting in the birth of democracies; Ataturk’s was one of the few. Usually when armies seize power, they keep it, which is exactly what happened in Egypt in 1952, resulting in Nasser’s elevation to president-for-life in 1956. And in 1952, Nasser and the other leaders of the revolution ostensibly intended to establish a democracy in Egypt, too.