The grassroots Egyptian movement that marshalled millions into Tahrir Square on June 30 will call this great amassment of people power a revolution. The formidable bottom-up collection of petition signatures on the streets of Egypt was nothing short of an incredible show of popular will.
But when the dust settles and the euphoria of another night at Tahrir dissipates, I’m afraid people will wake up to the realization that they are effectively under a military regime. A coup d’état is not to be celebrated, regardless of the populist means Egyptians used to get to Tahrir.
Military regimes are rarely beacons of liberal values. They come from a cultural mindset to protect against and to destroy enemies of the state. Historically in Egypt, the military identified the Muslim Brotherhood and a number of its more radical offshoots as enemies of Egypt. This does not bode well for any transition.
Understandably many Egyptian supporters of the Brotherhood now feel robbed of participating in a free and democratic election. The impulse of many Islamists may be to lose complete faith in a democratic process. This occurred in Algeria in 1992 when Islamists who won free elections in a first round, were denied participation in government after a western-backed Algerian military annulled elections. Algeria saw a devastating civil war that ensued for a decade with tens of thousands killed.
Throughout Latin America, we witnessed similar coups d’état with Marxist parties identified as the enemy of state du jour. Today, Latin America is still healing the awful wounds of military dictatorship, missing persons of Marxist persuasion, and overturned democratic elections.
One doesn’t need to go into history to know how the military fared as government in Egypt. For a little over a year, the military ruled Egypt after it overthrew Hosni Mubarak in the January 2011 revolution. Under its watch, the military was vilified for its role in a number of crackdowns on protesters and its use of “virginity tests” on female protesters.
There remain dozens of young people imprisoned by the Egyptian military, which conducts its trials outside the civilian court system under the guise of great secrecy. These are no liberal democrats and I’m afraid the military’s so-called roadmap announced Wednesday will usher in a decade of instability.
The return of the military to power will not resolve the underlying economic problems facing the Egyptian people today. The frustration of people will continue after the dust settles and the streets and Tahrir Square are cleared.
What will happen when the military cannot meet the needs of the people? Militaries often resort to emergency laws to suppress liberties and get a state’s “house in order.” This is the risk that Egyptians have taken with this coup d’état. It’s not a moment to celebrate, but one to take with great caution.