Egypt's Army Must Now Continue Down Mubarak's Path

As long the state of emergency in Egypt prevails, the military can manage affairs of state unfettered by any legal problem, dissolve parliament, call new elections and form a government far from being a civilian democracy.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

The revolution in Egypt is still incomplete. For now, it has resulted in a paradox. The dictator-president has indeed stepped down, but the protesters who demanded democracy are now getting a state under control of the military, an institution that by its very nature is far from a civilian democratic animal.

Even so, the joy of the protesters and their supporters is flowing free. Once again, the public of a Middle Eastern country has succeeded in instigating a non-military revolution - with no help from the outside. Once again, despite the fact that a similar revolution occurred in Iran 32 years ago, and despite the fact that the Lebanese public succeeded removing Syrian forces from their country in 2005, and despite the fact that in Kuwait, like a true democracy, the parliament has a lot of power.

Protesters and Egyptian Army soldiers celebrate after the news of the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, who handed control of the country to the military, Feb. 11, 2011. Credit: AP

The next phase will be determined by the behavior of the military, who for now are the rulers in Egypt. At the moment, it looks like the army doesnt have the ambition to govern Egypt, preferring instead to establish a civilian regime that will be dependent on the military establishment. The military will continue with the structure that has existed since the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, which moved to establish a republic in Egypt and determined that the president can't rule with total independence. The military coup of that year also determined that the president must take the military into account, a move that was made to diffuse presidential power.

The military will continue to be the body to decide what is legal and what is not in Egypt. Its officials will be the ones to determine what to do if the protests continue after Mubarak's resignation, and on the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood opposition groups. They will in short, define the nature of the law.

In the interim, the civil movements - including the traditional opposition parties, the young, the Muslim Brotherhood, the professional unions - must decide how they will react to this opportunity that has fallen into their laps. Will they manage to build a coalition of the religious and secular, left-wingers and businessmen, who together can agree on a competition for parliament and government? Or can we expect to see the spirit of Tahrir Square fall apart with a series of settlings of political scores? Will the judicial system by inundated by a deluge of lawsuits against officials and politicians of the old regime, even before there has been any kind of consensus about the desired character of the state?

At the same time, the military leadership will have to deal with some tough judicial problems, and decide when exactly to end the current state of emergency. And thus arises another paradox: For as long as the state of emergency prevails, the military can manage affairs of state unfettered by any legal problem; it can dissolve parliament, call new elections and form a government. In essence, a democratic process can be crystallized under the auspices of a military which is able to dictate who exactly participates in that process.

As long as the military is ruling the country, we can expect that relations between Egypt and Israel will remain unchanged. But even after rule of the country is handed on to a civilian regime, the agreement between Israel and Egypt will continue to be a cornerstone of Egypt's position in the Middle East, and in its relationship with the United States.

The peace agreement with Israel changed Egypt. Thanks to Sadat and Mubarak, Egypt went from being a state that follows to being a state that leads. In the absence of institutions which will define Egypt's foreign policy at any point in the near future, the safest thing for the army is to continue on the path delineated by Mubarak.



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