Egypt, Washington Post And Magical Thinking

For the past 3 years Egypt has inspired a great deal of magical thinking, no where more so than the Washington Post. Typical of both its editorials and op-ed opinions is a recent piece by Emad Shahin, a thoughtful man unfairly targeted by the current Egyptian regime. The piece combines justified anger at the regime with unprovable and unrealistic assertions, such as “The key to stability is upholding essential democratic values and restoring civilian control over the political process.”  Clearly the year of Morsi’s rule does not prove that civilian control, if it was ever that, is a key to stability. Nor is there any indication that Egypt on June 30 2013 had a constitution or a political process that upholds essential democratic values. The op-ed also does not address why the military, with its experience of civilian politicians over the past three years, would feel that they are fit for anything other than leading the nation to disaster. In fact, the very title of the op-ed which threatens “radicalization” unless the Army bows out is likely to inspire increased resistance from the Army leaders who see their job as the preservation of the integrity of the state.

The reality of Egypt three years after the January 2011 events is that it is under a military dictatorship. Realistic thinking requires this simple recognition. It also requires recognizing that while this is hardly a good outcome, realistic alternatives are not demonstrably better. Any workable plan must not “demand” return to civilian politics, but rather define the stable means of doing so, given that legitimacy through Army supermacy has been the norm since the victory of the illiberal forces in the late 1940s.  It is especially important for those opposed to military rule to understand the thinking of the Army. It sees itself as a national institution since the Urabi revoluton of 1882. It sees that it has been coerced into politics by the imminent collapse of the country in 1952, 2011 and 2013. To simply label it as  “putschist” is not the beginning of a process, but the end of an argument.  To convince the Army to bow out of politics one must present civilian politicians who are able to inspire respect among those in uniform, convince the Army that they can rule, that they can make the hard decisions when necessary; in short that their well-cut suits do not cloth weaklings, nor that they are dismissive of those in uniform.

Arguably the Muslim Brotherhood fit that that description in March 2011. This may be precisely the reason why it seemed that the Army was in “collusion” with the Brotherhood. In fact, it was doing what was logical for what it saw as national interests. Had President Morsi been a cunning man, and one dedicated to civilian as opposed to Brotherhood rule, he would have seen that his highest duty was to finish his term in office and hand over that office to the next elected civilian politician as a way of establishing a continuous and legitimate process. All else is secondary, and he would have done whatever it takes to focus on the primary mission. But Morsi was neither cunning nor dedicated to civilian rule. So the generals are back, this time with less tolerance for the weak and griping civilian politicians.

To escape the land of magical outcomes, it is important to recognize that the civilians who wish to govern Egypt need to demonstrate the capability to do so. The first step in that process is to be able to negotiate with the Army leaders from a position of strength and in a manner that warrants respect.

— Maged Atiya

4 Comments on “Egypt, Washington Post And Magical Thinking”

  1. Dear Maged,

    Awesome approach to explain the reason of the hiatus between the civilians and the military. As you know, 18 years of active service in the Military Institution supports your point. But not as clear as you imply. The lack of trust is deeply rooted with the body of the institution. Middle-to-high ranks encountered enough life experience in the domestic way of life to tell with confidence who is a statesman and who is a vagabond.

    Considering the fact that the Egyptian Army officers are not a class by itself. So, the only egress for any civilian politician wished to govern Egypt is gain the minds and hearts of a well-experienced, tough, serious, robust and networked Body of the Military Institution not the leaders.


  2. nlyons says:

    The army, and its intelligence dept, could allow political parties and civil society to grow strong by ending its interfering by infiltrating, setting obstacles and weakening these non-military forces. It never did so, not under Mubarak or the previous rulers, and it only let the MB develop when it was suitable – political parties will need more independence, and of course more maturity, to establish themselves as an alternative, and that can only happen if the army lays off

  3. Amir Atiya says:

    Emad Shaheen is pro-MB person, if not a an active member. I read an article by him in May 2013 lambasting the opposition for their planned protests against Morsy. Now he is urging MB’s to protest.
    Washington Post (and many other Western media) is staunchly pro-MB. To the extent that they falsify facts. They give a completely unprofessional, and biased reporting. For example why do they always publish only articles from people against 30-6 revolution, and not get somebody from the other side. To me they are as bad as Aljazeera.

  4. Amir Atiya says:

    Also, another counter-example to WaPo’s piece is Lybia. It is now a civilian government that was voted into power. In spite of that, it is completely unstable. For example, just yesterday 7 Christians were killed there because of their faith. This shows the naivite of WaPo.

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