The soft coup in Egypt over the past week shouldn’t have surprised anyone. The only reason it wasn’t harder and faster was because the secularist generals know the Muslim Brotherhood has a friend in the White House.
Egypt’s armed forces are an elite class with special power, privileges and important economic interests it wants to retain. Despite everything that was at stake over the recent chaotic months, the generals couldn’t simply send in the tanks to do a Tiananmen Squaredance on the dissidents. The whole world was watching; the loyalty of the troops wasn’t guaranteed; and the Obama administration was cheering on the Islamic revolution. Instead, ailing President Hosni Mubarak, a long-standing U.S. ally who was put on life support Tuesday, was thrown under the bus, a transition government was set up and reforms were promised.
Appearances to the contrary, the military was never serious about surrendering power. The main problem the generals have been facing is time. They are trying to wait out President Obama. They know there is a U.S. election in November that may elevate Republican Mitt Romney, who isn’t fixated on ensuring the success of the Muslim Brotherhood. At the same time, they cannot be certain Mr. Obama will be defeated and thus cannot simply reassert military rule overtly, risking future billions in U.S. aid.
The generals have bided their time, keeping their hands on power during the “transition” period and taking action to maintain stability when necessary. The parliamentary elections, stretched over three months, showed larger than expected gains by the Islamist parties, particularly the Salafist Al-Nour party. The Egyptian military brass hoped radical ascendance would awaken the United States to a dangerous strategic future in the region, but the Obama administration characteristically hailed the troubling outcome as a popular triumph.
The parliament alone wasn’t a threat to the military’s power, but once a president was elected, the generals would be expected to hand over control fully. With a Muslim Brotherhood candidate leading the race, this couldn’t happen without terrible consequences, so the playing field had to be changed. This explains last week’s rapid sequence of events: Parliament was dissolved by Egypt’s high court; the military council asserted power to choose who would write the new constitution; and, when it appeared the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi would win the presidential race, an edict of broad new military powers was declared to minimize the president’s authority.
The timeline for writing the new constitution is geared toward getting past America’s presidential election. The handover of power scheduled for the end of June will be symbolic only; the new president will take office with limited ability to take action. Throughout the summer and fall, the Egyptian constitution will be written, debated, rewritten and voted on. By the end of the year, Egypt’s generals will know whether they have to maintain this liberal charade for another four years or there will be a new American president they can deal with.
The Washington Times