Egypt military tries to woo wider public to keep power

Anthony Shadid reports: Some call it the silent majority. In Egypt these days, the preferred term is the Party of the Couch. And in that ill-defined constituency, sometimes more myth than reality, Egypt’s ruling military has staked its credibility as it seeks to fend off the greatest challenge yet from protesters seeking to force it from power.

Drawing on sentiments pronounced Friday in the grittier parts of Cairo, even just a few blocks from the protests in Tahrir Square, and in a defiantly nationalist rally near the Defense Ministry, the military is offering either a canny read of Egypt’s mood or yet another delusional estimation of its popularity, a mistake that has bedeviled so many autocrats. With a mix of bravado and disdain, it has hewed to a narrative first pronounced after it seized power from President Hosni Mubarak in February: It bears the mantle of Egypt’s revolution.

“Egypt is not Tahrir Square,” Maj. Gen. Mukhtar el-Mallah, a member of the 20-member military council ruling since February, said in a news conference this week. “If you take a walk on other streets in Egypt, you will find that everything is very normal.”

In much of Cairo, and elsewhere in Egypt, the military has found a receptive audience for that message in a country buckling under a stagnating economy and a lurking insecurity. Even as it promises to surrender power by June, it has deployed all the platitudes of authoritarian Arab governments: fear of foreign intervention, fear of chaos, and fear of the rabble. One doctor quipped Friday that the sole change since the revolution was an extra digit added this year to cellphone numbers.

“If the military goes, who will inherit power from them?” asked Mohammed Abdel-Aziz, 61, sitting before his watch store in Cairo’s Opera Square. Mr. Mubarak made the same bet, only to depart in disgrace in a helicopter 18 days after protests began in January. The lesson then was that a revolution is not a referendum, and the symbolism channeled by Tahrir Square represented a dynamic long dismissed by Arab rulers. The revolution was sometimes conflated with the square itself, so much so that Essam Sharaf, who resigned as prime minister this week, declared in a visit there in April that “I am here to draw my legitimacy from you.”

But back then, there was the military to force Mr. Mubarak’s departure. The question these days is, Who will force the military to relinquish its power?

Firas Al-Atraqchi writes: While Egyptian political parties attempt to gain an edge in the growing vacuum of governance since the resignation of the interim cabinet, it is the people of Tahrir Square who are outmanoeuvring them to win the hearts and minds of the rest of the country.

There are four stories to be told in Tahrir: tear gas suffocation and death; extreme police brutality; incredible acts of sacrifice, and the foundation of a new social contract.

To some, the scenes broadcast through Al Jazeera Mubasher Misr or local networks might at first appear apocalyptic, but I think that is a bit too morose an analysis.

There are those who have told me in recent days that the country is being destroyed bit by bit. I disagree. What I have seen emerge from Tahrir and beyond is evidence that the country is being slowly reconstructed. Bit by bit.

Something remarkable happened in the past days. Civic responsibility has become the norm, not the anomaly. During the regime of former President Hosni Mubarak, Egyptians slipped into a comfortable malaise as the rights and freedoms of the individual and their roles in developing the country were forcibly siphoned into a black hole.

The Egyptian regime, aided by its Soviet-style propaganda State media, convinced the average Egyptian that staying at home was the best option while the authorities took care of everything. From subsidizing food staples to idolizing the security forces as the benevolent protectors of the nation, the citizenry were rendered impotent.

But events in Tahrir Square, to some extent in January/February and more so in the past week, have forced the foundation of a new social contract along the lines of how nations were formed during the Greek city-state era.

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