Monday, July 1, 2013

Why Egypt's Army Issued a Deadline

The Egyptian Army has issued a deadline to President Morsi. Either he commences serious negotiations with the protesters who oppose him, or in 48 hours, the Army will take ''certain measures'' to ensure Egypt's stability. This is major news - the Army's decision to intervene in this political crisis exerts serious pressure on Morsi's Government (potentially existential pressure). There are a number of reasons why I believe the Army has decided to take such aggressive action.

First, the Army recognizes that it remains the most trusted institution in Egyptian political life. Allowing the protests to grow in scale and anger would risk a societal collapse. The Army knows that retaining their privileged social position necessarily requires engagement with the protesters- their popular power is too significant to ignore. The Egyptian Army is an astute political actor - its leadership are fully cognizant of the fact that institutions derive their power from the consent of the people. That's why they abandoned Mubarak when they did and in large part, that's why they're taking this action now.

Second, the Army believes that up until this point, they've granted Morsi wide latitude in terms of governing flexibility. This factor is important- it informs the Army's confidence in issuing Morsi with an ultimatum. It's obvious that the Army believes Morsi has severely jeopardized their acquiescence to his rule. In this sense, the Army believes that their deadline is justified in the interests of the Egyptian people. Up until now, the Army has been anxious to avoid perceptions of being a malevolent anti-democratic force. From their perspective, they've tolerated a lot already. Now they've had enough.

Third, (and this is the major point), the Army has never trusted the Muslim Brotherhood. The Army is deeply uncomfortable with political Islamism (at least in the form that the Brotherhood adopts). As a result, with Morsi's behavior growing increasingly controversial, these protests have provided the Army with an authorizing cover of legitimacy to re-balance power away from the MB. The Army has always wanted two major things from Morsi - civil stability and the retention of the Army's privileged power. From their perspective, he has now failed on both counts. He's fired senior Army officers and now, as the Army themselves put it, ''the national security of the state is in severe danger''.

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