The general rule in Egypt

The generals’ willingness to submit to civilian authority will determine whether last year’s uprising lives up to its billing as a democratic revolution

Written by New York Times | Published: May 8, 2012 3:50:53 am

David D. Kirkpatrick

Two weeks before Egypt’s presidential election,the leading candidates are adopting a deferential tone toward the current military rulers even as the generals make clear that they expect to maintain much of their autonomy and influence after their pledged handover of power.

Fifteen months after the generals seized power at the ouster of Hosni Mubarak,how much they now submit for the first time to civilian authority will determine whether last year’s uprising lives up to its billing as a democratic revolution.

But one of the three front-runners,Amr Moussa,a former diplomat,says the issue is too sensitive to address publicly. Another,Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood,says he intends to consult closely with the generals over matters concerning the military. The third leading contender,Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh,a more liberal former Brotherhood leader who has been the most assertive toward the military,says he,too,will consult the generals..

The generals,for their part,sound confident they will retain their influence,immunity and commercial empire,which includes operations from real estate development to consumer electronics and bottled water. “The relationship between the people and the military is historic and eternal,” said Gen Mamdouh Shaheen. Since the British-backed monarchy,he said,Egyptian constitutions have always assigned the military a role far larger than defending borders. “There is no worry,” Shaheen said,noting that every constitutional revision since 1923 has included provisions for the military to take over in the event of either a natural or man-made “catastrophe.”

Last week,the generals repeated that they intended to leave power on June 30. They noted with pride that Egypt is now in the midst of the first competitive presidential election in its history,after free and fair parliamentary elections just a few months ago.

“If we wanted to commit fraud,we would have done it at the parliamentary elections,” Shaheen said. “A military coup,after all this?”

In a recent news conference,candidate Moussa when asked about a “safe exit” for the generals—meaning immunity from prosecution over corruption accusations or other misdeeds—said he wanted to talk about a “safe exit” for Egypt.

Morsi pledged that if he was elected he would consult closely with the generals over the appointment of a defence minister. “Consultation,and not one side forcing its opinion on the other,” Morsi said of his plans to work with the generals.

Aboul Fotouh has insisted publicly that the president should have the right to name a civilian defence minister if he chooses. He also has called publicly for the military budget to be included in the national budget. And he has said explicitly that he,too,would consult the generals on policy decisions in areas that concern them.

“We are against the military having any role outside its duty of securing the safety of the country,” Aboul Fotouh said. “That doesn’t mean isolating the military from politics,which is what Mubarak did by not sounding them out on political matters. There’s a difference between the military having a political opinion and forcing this opinion.”

Unlike the other candidates,he has questioned the wisdom of allowing the military’s commercial businesses to compete against private enterprises. But he has also left the door open for the generals to preserve some of those ventures.

“No one’s against the military having economic activities,but to serve itself only,not to compete with the private and public sector,” he said.

Gen Mohktar el Molla defended the military’s commercial empire. “When I help with the economic development through building roads or bridges and so on,it’s for the interest of the people,” he said.

As for charges of wrongdoing,they had been handled privately by military courts,the generals said. “The prosecution finished,” Molla said,“Whoever is convicted will be punished.”

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