2011-03-11 Who's running Egypt?

“The exceptional circumstances and putting the Constitution on hold are no grounds for dictatorship rule or and tyranny,” said Khaled Ali, head of The Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR) in a statement yesterday. On Thursday, 10 March 2011 ECESR filed a lawsuit against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) on behalf of named plaintiff, journalist Rasha Azeb and others. The lawsuit seeks to put an end to the trial of civilians by military courts. Azeb, who writes for al-Fagr newspaper, was one of six journalist assaulted in Tahrir Square and then taken before a military court.

Formally it is the army, meaning the SCAF that holds power for a 6 month interim period after Mubarak. The real struggle for power that is going on now will determine the success or failure of the Egyptian revolution. This lawsuit is just one small fight in the revolution's many arenas. Much has been accomplished but much remains to be done. Most of the forces that empowered the old regime are still entrenched in the Egyptian military and civilian society and they will coalesce into a new form of the old tyranny if they are not throughly rooted out.

In point of fact Egypt has been a military dictatorship under Mubarak for 30 years and even before. Since Mubarak was ousted 11 February, the army took over directly and the military dictatorship continues. The night before, on 10 February, Mubarak made his last defiant television appearance. He was widely expected to step down then, as he had been expect to on each of his other two appearance on Egyptian state TV since January 25th. Instead he threw the hook again, promised to leave office when he was damn well ready and to die on Egyptian soil. His speech was followed minutes later by a very threatening new VP and longtime head of state security Omar Suleiman, who promised "to return normalcy to the country."

Suleiman had been positioned to takeover from a resigned Mubarak and carry on business as usual, and it might have worked if Mubarak had resigned in that first speech right after he had appointed Suleiman his first vice president in 30 years but now the people weren't going to buy into that. Politically he was dead and physically he came close to being dead. We now also know that Suleiman was the subject of an assassination attempt in which two people were killed in the first days of February.

The morning after Muburak's defiant speech, a whipped Omar Suleiman announced that Mubarak was out. Mubarak has not been seen publicly since. He's reported to be in a coma. Suleiman hasn't been seen since either, although a few days later a representative of the SCAF said the role of Suleiman would be determined by the SCAF. With that, the two most important figures in the old regime were out of power. That left only Prime Minister Ahmad Shafiq of the triumvirate of old military men that had been running Egypt. The protester had been demanding his removal too. On 3 March, they got it.

So who's running Egypt now?

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) runs the army and so by extension they run Egypt but they run it under revolutionary conditions. These are conditions where the masses are politically mobilized and the army rules with their consent on an interim basis and there is a split within the military where the lower ranks, meaning also the the vast majority, support the people's demand for a complete cleansing of the old regime. This means that the old leadership still hangs on to power but their exercise of that power is limited and the struggle to complete or overthrow the revolution continues on this new basis.

The SCAF has five members. Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the defense minister, is the head guy. The other members are Lt. Gen. Sami Hafez Enan, the military chief of staff; Vice Adm. Mohab Mamish, commander of the Navy; Air Marshal Rada Mahmoud Hafez Mohamed, commander of the Air Force; and Lt. Gen. Abd El Aziz Seif-Eideen, commander of the Air Defense.

Tantawi has been very visible and very public and acting as Egypt's head of state in recent days. Only Monday, he sent a letter to His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan reaffirming bilateral ties. Tuesday he met with President Omer Al-Bashir of the Sudan in Cairo.

On the other hand he was absent when the SCAF met with 27 leaders of political parties to discusses proposed constitutional amendments, the transitional period, and mechanisms for conducting parliamentary and presidential elections. Bikyamasr reported

Head of the SCAF, Hussein Tantawi, was not present at the meeting but the council was represented by four other members.

The meeting was attended by the head of the liberal al-Wafd party, Al-Sayyed el-Badawi; the Muslim Brotherhood’s General Guide Mohammed Badie; Ossama Ghazali Harb, leader of the Democratic Front Party; Abu el-Ela Madi, head of al-Wasat Party; Hamdeen Sabbahi, head of al-Karama Party; and other prominent opposition politicians.

Reporting on the SCAF attitude towards it's presumed transitory duties.

Wafd Party President al-Badawi said the SCAF voiced its commitment to and support of a peaceful handover of power to a civilian government.

Amina el-Nakash, the Vice President of Al Tagammu` party, said the SCAF called on Egyptian citizens to cooperate with the army to restore stability and order in Egypt, and vowed to prosecute corrupt elements and enforce law.

In contrast to Tantawi's very public role, the other four members have had a very low profile. A Google search on each of them turns up no English language news on any of them by name since the SCAF took over except for a piece the NY Times did on General Enan this Thursday. This article noted that many in the Pentagon consider General Enan "Our man in Egypt." While he never trained in the U.S. like some of the younger officers, he has made frequency trips to the U.S. and led delegations of some two dozen senior Egyptian military officers to Washington on odd numbered years. He was on one such trip this January when he had to rush back to Egypt to respond to the outbreak of protests on January 25th. He was having breakfast with two old American friends at the Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City when he got the call. He had to cancel dinner with Adm. Mike Mullen, but they keep in touch. In fact the last time they had a chat on the phone was yesterday.

Pentagon officials remain in daily contact with the new military rulers, who are described as overwhelmed and alarmed that no potential candidate for president

General Enan has been mention as a possible presidential contender in the past but now the SCAF has promised that none of it's members will run.

The United States is definitely attempting to bring it's influence to bear in shaping the new Egypt. Apart from all the Pentagon connections and $1.3 billion USD for the Egyptian army, Hillary Clinton and the U.S. State Department are now waving around $150 million USD for activists. A high powered delegation of U.S. officials visited Cairo last month with the money to help shore up the economy and provide technical assistance but they left without finding any Egyptian pro-democracy groups that wanted their help.

Next week Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to be in Egypt herself. She will also travel to Tunisia and meet with the Libya opposition.

Are there cracks in the military?

While the Egyptian army has presented itself to the outside world as a monolith with one unified command, signs of a sharp internal struggle have been noted by careful observers. While most soldiers are conscripts and junior officers represent a younger generation, the senior officers like those on the SCAF are very closely tied to the old regime, the Pentagon and benefit financially from the network of army businesses known as Military, Inc.

Signs of cracks in this command structure showed themselves most decisively on the night of 30 January when Mubarak ordered the army to massacre the protesters in Tahrir Square, the senior command accepted and passed on the orders but the officers in square refused. The protesters had always been careful to befriend and support the soldiers who had been posted there, now they were refusing to fire on the protesters.

The next day the SCAF promised that force would not be used to remove the protesters from Tahrir Square. At the time the proclamation was seen as support for the protesters. It now appears that it was meant to quell a mutiny in the ranks. Later rumors emerged of mutinous officers being persecuted and even executed.

Another indication of sharp struggle in the military took place on 25 February. Ahram online reports,

The second dramatic shift in the minds of the military was subtler, though on close inspection it becomes practically self-evident. Friday night hundreds of military police launch a vicious attack on the protesters who had decided to resume their sit-in in Tahrir sq, on the grounds that most of the revolution’s demands had yet to be met. For the first time since they were ordered onto the streets nearly a month ago, the military found itself risking the hard-earned goodwill of the people. A shift did take place, however, sometime between the attack on Friday night and the next day, when the army issued a profuse, and for the military, remarkably uncharacteristic, apology for the previous night’s attack, immediately released all those who had been arrested in the course of the attack, and pledged never to attack Egyptian civilians again.

And though the army blamed the Friday night attack on low-ranking officers who were acting on their own initiative, only the hopelessly gullible could give any credence to this excuse, though most have been happy to turn over that particular leaf. Since the apology it’s been a week of one concession after another: a 4-hour meeting between the military council and 17 representatives of the Coalition of Youth Movements, in which promises are made that the military will respond to the revolutionary demands, and that Ahmed Shafiq’s cabinet will be dismissed “before the elections.”

And things have moved very fast since that last weekend in February.

3 March Ahmad Shafiq steps down as PM and Essam Sharaf is appointed to replace him. Sharaf was suggested to the SCAF by the Coalition of the January 25th Revolution Youth in earlier meetings with the SCAF. Sharaf had been Minister of Transport under Mubarak and a professor of Engineering at the American University of Cairo.

He had very publicly joined the revolution when he spoke to a crowd of over a million at the sixth Friday protest in Tahrir Square. “If you want me, I will stay. If you do not want me, I will step down and join you”, he told the crowd. The protesters have celebrated the dismissal of Ahmad Shafiq as PM, who was a military man from the old regime and the appointment of Sharaf who the protesters regard as a ‘son of the revolution’

4 March The SCAF, taking a lesson from the revolutionary youth, announces on it's own Facebook page "The referendum on the proposed amendments to the constitution of the Arab Republic of Egypt will take place on March 19, 2011."

Clearly things were moving fast and probably too fast for some people in State Security because they started destroying their records. Up until this point the State Security buildings had been under the careful protection of the army. Something must have spooked them because now they were busy burning and shredding.

5 March, Saturday, protester found out about the destruction of the security files and took over the State Security headquarters in Cairo's Nasr City neighborhood. They immediately started making the secret files public with their own WikiLeaks style website Amn Dawla Leaks. On Sunday, State Security buildings in other cities, including Minya, Marsa Matrouh, Suez, and Assiut, were also occupied by protesters.

On Saturday the website DEBKAfile came out with the headline Gates on urgent mission to Cairo as military rulers lose grip in which it claimed

Barack Obama Saturday, March 5, asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates to set out for Cairo without delay on an emergency mission as the unrest in Egypt veered out of control, DEBKAfile's exclusive sources report from Washington. Friday night, thousands of protesters seized control of the headquarters Egyptian security police (Mahabis Namn El Dawla) in Alexandria, Cairo and the nearby 6 of October town, shutting down its operations across the country.

In the last hours, information reaching Washington indicated that control was slipping out of the hands of the Egyptian military junta ruling the country since Hosni Mubarak's overthrow;
Military young leaders are believed to have executed a coup and displaced the veterans.

Although a twitter message also put Gates in Cairo, the Pentagon hasn't acknowledged such a trip, however he did show up on Monday morning on an unannounced visit to Afghanistan. That was convenient as he could have easily stopped over in Cairo on the way.

Also on Sunday, the newly appointed PM Sharaf announced his new cabinet. The swearing in was set for Wednesday but they had to go to work almost immediately. Before that day was done the newly appointed Minister of the Interior was on the phone to a TV talk show talking about the record destruction and promising "the ministry will hold any State Security officer who violated the rights of the people accountable."

Apparently the swearing in the the new PM and his cabinet couldn't wait till Wednesday. It was done on Monday 7 March. Tantawi swore in the new interim cabinet headed by Prime Minister Essam Sharaf. Only three members of the new interim cabinet are holdover from the Mubarak regime.

Demonstrators clashed with thugs as 3,000 protesters tried to gain access the State Security headquarters in Cairo's Lazoghly Square on Sunday. The army fired into the air to dispense the crowds. They detained 29 protesters but later released them and requested that any documents taken from the headquarters be returned to the army.

The question of just what to do with State Security is one that is very important now. State Security has long been the most oppressive and most corrupt organ of the old regime. Under Suleiman, State Security grew into a grotesque apparatus of 350,000 people, almost as large as the army, but unlike the army which was designed to protect the nation, State Security was designed to protect the regime from the people. It was so renowned for it's generalized use of torture that it's services were out-sourced worldwide including by the US CIA.

Given it's history, it's easy to see why the protesters want the old apparatus completely dissolved. However others would like to keep it around but modify it in some way. Essawy promised in his talk show interview that his new ministry will limit the function and powers of State Security to combating terrorism only. But according to the government run al-Ahram newspaper, PM Sharaf is planning to remove State Security from the Minister of the Interior and the Attorney General from the Ministry of Justice and put both under the direct supervisor of the PM and his cabinet.

Also on Monday demonstrators stormed the State Security headquarters in Assiut and in the northern Sinia city of El-Arish, thousands demonstrated, demanding the dissolution of State Security and the release of political prisoners. Amidst these continuing demands, the new Attorney General ordered the detention of 67 State Security officers and policemen pending an investigation into the burning and shedding and documents.

9 March, Wednesday, the SCAF approve a new draft law to fight crimes related to thuggery, intimidating citizens or disturbing the peace. This new law includes the death penalty for acts of thuggery which lead to the death of a victim. This law will be a new tool in the hands of the police and on Wednesday the cabinet announced that the police and security personnel would be returning to the streets on Thursday. They have been absent since they were withdrawn after the first Friday protest on January 28th.

Prime Minister Sharaf urged citizens to “cooperate with the police and support them in performing their duty.” This announcement came as thugs associated with the Mubarak regime demolished tents belonging to demonstrators sitting-in in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

Amidst all these changes Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradai, the former head of the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog agency announced he will run for president in elections to be held later this year.

At this point the answer to the question "Who runs Egypt?" is anything but settled. This is the nature of revolution. Author and activist Khaled Khamissi summed it well on Wednesday after protesters fought off Mubarak loyalists armed with knives and machetes

There is a power struggle between partisans of the revolution and remnants of the Mubarak regime ... But I have faith that we will overcome.

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