From Omar Ashour –
The challenges facing the country following the Arab Spring go back to the era of President Nasser and before.
“The coup leader – the hero Mohammed Naguib – gave an example of humility by refusing promotion to the rank of ‘lieutenant-general’…This proves that the army does not want power, just the general good,” wrote Egypt’s renowned historian, Abd al-Rahman al-Rafai, in al-Akhbar newspaper on 1 August 1952.
His statement did not stand the test of time.
By February 1954, the humble general, who acted as Egypt’s first president, was removed by younger, more power-hungry officers led by Colonel Gamal Abdul Nasser.
Egypt back then, as it is now, was divided.
One part of the country wanted a parliamentary democracy, a return to constitutionalism, and the army back to its barracks.
Another part of Egypt wanted a strong, unchecked charismatic patron who promised land and bread.
By November 1954, the latter part not only crushed the former, but also destroyed its demands. Basic freedoms and parliamentary constitutionalism were among the casualties.
Nasser did deliver on some of his promises, including land confiscation and redistribution, and confronting the United Kingdom, the former colonial power, in 1956.
But the cost was the establishment of an officers’ republic: a state where the armed institutions are above any other, including the elected ones.
The July 2013 coup could lead Egypt into several bleak scenarios.
When elected institutions are removed by military force, past patterns show that the outcome is almost never favourable to democracy: outright military dictatorship, military-domination of politics with a civilian facade, civil war, civil unrest or a mix of all of the above.
A few highlights include Spain in 1936, Iran in 1953, Chile in 1973, Turkey in 1980, Sudan in 1989, and Algeria in 1992.
The July coup is a backward step for democratic civilian-military relations.
Even more worrying are its regional implications.
The message sent by the coup to Libya, Syria, Yemen and beyond is that of militarising politics: only arms guarantee political rights, not the constitution, not democratic institutions and certainly not votes.
In the end, what remains certain is that no democratic transition is complete without targeting abuse, eradicating torture, ending exclusion, and annulling the impunity of security services, with effective and meaningful civilian control of both the armed forces and the security establishment.
This will always be the ultimate test of Egypt’s democratic transition.