It’s not that a military power grab was not a scenario foretold: back in January 2011, with the revolution ongoing in Tahrir and Mubarak still in power, the warnings were many: Be careful what you wish for! You may get a historical first: an authentic people’s revolution that turns into a coup d’etat, sixty years after a coup d’etat in 1952, by Colonel Nasser et al, that turned into a socialist ‘revolution.’
Today, the worst case scenario has come to pass: ahead of this weekend’s presidential election, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces- Field Marshall Tantawi and company- mounted a ‘soft’ coup, in one swift blow re-instating martial law, dissolving Parliament, ruling for the eligibility of their own candidate, Ahmed Shafiq, and announcing the formation of a constituent assembly of their choice to set a new constitution, new parliamentary eligibility rules, and the powers of a new president.
The military’s candidate, Ahmed Shafiq, is a former Air Force Commander, just like his role model Hosni Mubarak; just like Mubarak, he is a strongman whose mantra is ‘I or the Islamists’. In today’s Egypt, this slogan resonates with a wide swath of disillusioned, exhausted and intimidated citizenry, fearful of a Muslim Brotherhood takeover; they breathe a sigh of relief at the prospect of ‘back to the future’, carried along in a miasma of willful, collective amnesia about the corruption of the Mubarak elite and the brutality of his security forces, police and military alike. All over Face Book, they are giving thanks for sparing Egypt ‘the Iran scenario,’ even if it ends in a Turkey-style military takeover; over Iran, they will take Turkey any day. So would I.
But what if the alternative scenario is not Turkey, but Algeria? What if, by nullifying a parliamentary election in which Islamists won at the ballot box, the military will be risking a massive wave of protests and resistance that could lead to the kind of bloodbath Algeria experienced for a decade? Egyptians are not Algerians, the reassuring counter argument goes, with nothing like Algeria’s violence and tribalism. But then again, the conventional wisdom before January 2011, was that Egyptians did not revolt.
This weekend Egyptians may or may not go to the polls to elect a President whose powers are yet undetermined, in a country with no constitution, no Parliament, and under the heel of a Draconian martial law. A year and a half after a revolution that inspired the world, this is a bitter day for Egypt: the ideals of a revolution betrayed, the blood of the best and the brightest of its youth spilled in vain.