Sightings of the Egyptian ‘deep state’

Issandr El Amrani writes: The turbulence that has hit Egypt since mid-November seems, at first glance, mostly a testament to the poor performance of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) in handling the transition away from the rule of Husni Mubarak. Having assumed power on February 10, the SCAF moved quickly to attain the stamp of popular legitimacy through a March 19 referendum on constitutional amendments. Since then, however, the conclave of generals has stumbled over the flawed logic of its own plan for the transition, as well as ad hoc decision making and a high-handed, dismissive attitude toward the new politics of the country. The SCAF’s plan, in brief, was to engineer a restoration of civilian rule that shielded the army’s political and economic prerogatives from civilian oversight, and perhaps bolstered those roles, yielding a system not unlike the “deep state” that prevailed for decades in Turkey. Such was the system in Egypt, in fact, under Mubarak.

As a return to civilian government looms, with Parliament set to reopen and presidential elections scheduled for no later than July 2012, the SCAF is no closer to securing such behind-the-scenes dominance for the military and is much further from winning popular consent to that arrangement. Indeed, for much of the political class and a not inconsequential slice of public opinion, the violence of the early winter has reduced the military’s moral authority to a level unseen since its defeat at Israel’s hands in 1967.

In some respects, this delegitimization is not unlike the erosion of Mubarak’s authority over the 2000s: Just as the deposed president, once deemed untouchable, became the butt of activist and media scorn from late 2004 onward, the military now finds itself subjected to unprecedented criticism and scrutiny. The difference is that the SCAF’s fall from grace is occurring at an accelerated pace, propelled by the new faith in participatory politics unleashed by the January uprising and the army’s own bungling. [Continue reading…]

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