Through manipulation, Egypt's military comes out ahead
By Abdel Rahman Youssef
Cairo – No one in Egypt has come out on top over the past two years except the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), both its old and current versions. Ever since the 2011 revolution, the political arena has witnessed intense political mobilization during which SCAF’s popularity rose in the aftermath of Hosni Mubarak’s ouster, before declining progressively.
Their popularity rose again when Field Marshal Tantawi and others were dismissed and replaced by General Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi, director of military intelligence at the time. Before the June 30 protests, SCAF’s approval rating had reached 94 percent while the Muslim Brotherhood’s rating was at 28 percent and the opposition’s at 38 percent, according to Zogby polls. As such, no voice is louder than that of Sisi’s in Egypt’s political arena today.
How did SCAF do it? Perhaps the beginning was not planned. The January 25 spark was ignited by a revolting youth and the solidarity of the people who were moved into action by years of corruption and tyranny.
The military abruptly found itself before a surprising scene, one that they soon realized was an opportunity to get rid of Mubarak’s plan for hereditary succession.
The second phase, which was no surprise to SCAF, began by halting the revolutionary tide and protecting their former commander, leaving Mubarak’s men to move around freely. Even the former presidential chief of staff Zakaria Azmi continued to go to the presidential palace. On January 25, the military did not see a revolution but mere events that would soon return to the status quo.
On 30 March 2011, the constitutional declaration was issued after an earlier referendum. General Mamdouh Shahin, SCAF’s legal and constitutional adviser, affirmed during a TV interview that the constitutional declaration would see the light whether passed or not. SCAF’s autocratic stand came after the Egyptian public split on the referendum.
SCAF needed a political partner that would fit their hierarchical make-up and intellectual structure. They found what they were looking for in the Islamist movements, specifically the Brotherhood, which took on a reformist rather than revolutionary path. Thus began the divergence and discord between the Islamists and revolutionary movements.
After the clashes on Mohamed Mahmoud street, SCAF’s popularity plummeted to its lowest levels and the Islamist movements were silent on the crackdown against protesters. Some Islamist forces justified SCAF’s behavior while others refused to hold it accountable.
This was the second round of manipulating adversaries. Using Islamist forces, the revolutionary youth were demonized and pushed aside, allowing the former to win parliamentary elections. At that point, the old regime began to show its claws after it had succeeded in causing trouble. Ahmed Shafiq’s nomination for the presidency symbolized this phase.
Thus began a soft conflict between SCAF and the Brotherhood during the elections, especially with the complementary constitutional declaration that chipped away at the president’s powers. It was the Brotherhood, represented by Mohamed Mursi, versus the old regime, represented by Ahmed Shafiq. Mursi won by a slim majority.
The military did not support their allies among Mubarak’s men. They invested instead in Mursi’s victory, the loyal soldier inside the Brotherhood who could be bargained with, undermined, and easily burned.
The next phase began when Sisi assumed his new position as commander of the armed forces. Mursi believed the change would alter the mentality of SCAF. However, this new phase consisted of pitting the Brotherhood against the remnants of the National Democratic Party’s power centers. The Brotherhood was deceived into believing that they could defeat these forces single-handedly.
The youth again distanced themselves from the Brotherhood after a partial rapprochement in the face of Shafiq. The opposition moved to confront Mursi, but its efforts either failed or were foiled, making it look just as bad at management as the Brotherhood. In the meantime, the armed forces remained calm as they watched an all-out war that exhausted other forces, paving the way for the June 30 protests.
SCAF’s last move consisted of recruiting the help of the “Couch Party,” those silent citizens who fear instability most. Calling on the army became the solution for all parties and the tables were turned on Mursi.