Column by Michael Kleen.
Exclusive to STR
For the 79 million people living in Egypt, the protest movement that led to the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak in early February was an earth-shattering event, and the enthusiasm of the crowds in Cairo’s Tahrir Square was echoed by many here in the United States. Now that the dust has settled on the “Egyptian Revolution of 2011,” however, enthusiasm has been tempered by questions about whether the status quo was really overthrown. At best, those who expected democracy to break out in Egypt were a bit premature. At worst, they enabled the continuance of the regime of oppression because they put their faith in the military establishment to achieve their goals.
Let’s get one thing clear: What happened in Egypt was not strictly a revolution; it is more accurately described as a coup d'état. A coup d'état, according to most textbook definitions, is “the sudden, extrajudicial deposition of a government, usually by a small group of the existing state establishment—typically the military—to replace the deposed government with another body, either civil or military,” while a revolution is “a fundamental change in power or organizational structures that takes place in a relatively short period of time.”
There was a fundamental change in Egypt, but that change resulted in the installation of a military junta and the suspension of the constitution and parliament. Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, a former supporter of the deposed Egyptian president, was installed as head of state. This was a textbook coup d'état, whether it was supported by the masses or not.
Imagine that it is late January 2007, when as many as 400,000 protestors gathered in Washington, D.C. to protest the war in Iraq. Rather than simply return home to watch “Gilmore Girls” and drink Fair Trade coffee, the crowd instead swarmed the White House and demanded that President Bush resign. After several tense days, Bush announced that he was handing power over to Vice President Cheney. Then, the next day, the Joint Chiefs of Staff announced that Defense Secretary Robert Gates was assuming the presidency, the Constitution was suspended, and Congress was dissolved “for the next six months.” Afterwards, one of the protestors named his daughter after Facebook.
That scenario is the equivalent of what took place in Egypt, yet I suspect there would not be much celebrating in the streets of the United States. We may have been relieved that we no longer had to listen to George Bush’s stuttering folksy wisdom, but I suspect we would have been anxious as to the intentions of our new rulers. Would they make good on their promises to hold elections, or would the junta simply retain power? After all, there would be nothing to prevent them from doing so. Furthermore, if elections were held, what is to say that the same senators and representatives wouldn’t be elected all over again?
Since the February “revolution” in Egypt, events have demonstrated that those who expected democracy to break out overnight were sorely mistaken. Egypt’s new military rulers have taken steps to punish the old Mubarak regime, that is certain, but the hated State of Emergency remains in place. Furthermore, subsequent events have shown that the military junta has no tolerance for protests of the kind that brought down former President Mubarak. In March, the military tried to clear protestors from Tahrir Square, resulting in dozens of injuries and hundreds of arrests. Again, in April, violence broke out in the square, resulting in several deaths. According to ABC News, soldiers backed by armored vehicles swept into the square around 3 a.m. and fired continual barrages into the air with automatic weapons to intimidate protesters. The situation remains tense.
The idea of the Egyptian military as a “defender of democracy” was always absurd. The role of a modern, standing army is to protect the continuity of the State. President Hosni Mubarak and his National Democratic Party was never the problem. Mubarak and his party were simply administrators of a State, the apparatus of which remains in place whether or not another group of administrators takes their place. Jacob G. Hornberger put it best when he said, “Replacing one dictator with another dictator doesn’t bring freedom to a society.” Freedom will never be achieved in Egypt until the State apparatus is dismantled. The Egyptian military stands squarely in the way of that fundamental change, because that change would endanger the existence of the State itself.