role of army in Egypt\\\'s new politics (2)

08 اکتوبر 2011
Soumaya Ghannoushi
State of emergency vs democracy?
Recently, exploiting the climate of tension heightened by protesters\\\' storming of the Israeli embassy, the army has reactivated the state of emergency, announcing that it will remain in force until June of next year, dashing popular demands for a swift end to the draconian code, which formed the constitutional underpinning of Mubarak\\\'s dictatorship, serving as his chief means of stifling dissent since 1981. In an indication of the widening rift between the judiciary and the army, Tariq al-Bishri, a respected public intellectual and judge, who chaired the committee for the revision of the constitution, has responded by declaring martial law invalid as of September 20, 2011, as article 59 of the March 19, 2011, constitutional referendum stipulates.
If the state of emergency is one focal point of mounting political discontent, the elections are another. Having pledged to hold the elections this September, the SCAF has recently announced that they would instead be held in November, with no guarantee that the new date would be adhered to. The new, complex, set of electoral rules has not made things any better, with political parties demanding a vote exclusively based on the party proportional list system, and the army allowing individual candidacy as well. Critics insist the latter option is designed to enable remnants of the ousted regime to sneak back to power using money and tribalism. Such fears have been intensified by the enlarging of electoral districts\\\' sizes, making it difficult for people to vote and for candidates to organise election campaigns over huge areas and in different places with no geographical relation between them. The North Cairo district, for example, includes no fewer than five million citizens.
What is at stake for the army and what forms the backdrop for all
its decisions over the past eight months is a concern over its position and role in the political system currently under construction. The generals realise that there can be no return to the 1952 scenario, when the \\\"Free Officers\\\" seized power and controlled the political arena for more than two decades. But they seem unwilling to retreat to their barricades without securing the upper hand in matters pertaining to internal and foreign policy alike. It is not the day to day running of the country that the army is interested in. It is keeping the state\\\'s central nerves in its tight grip: strategic decisions, budgetary distribution, and - above all - ensuring that all that relates to the military institution is kept away from public scrutiny. That is the reason why the army has moved to lay down ground rules, or \\\"declaration of basic principles\\\", over and above the constitution and parliament, which would grant it sweeping authority and enable it to intercede in civilian politics, circumscribing the power of future elected officials.