A prominent political analyst in Lebanon says that Egypt’s ruling military junta is a continuation of the Mubarak regime because it’s serving the interests of the United States.
After assuming power following the ouster of the US-sponsored ruling dictator Hosni Mubarak on February 11, Egypt’s ruling junta has faced strong opposition from protesters across the country.
Fresh waves of protest have engulfed the capital Cairo and several major cities since November 18, with protesters demanding an end to the military junta’s rule in post-revolution Egypt.
Press TV has conducted an interview with Hesham Saffeddine, managing director of prominent Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, to further discuss the issue.
What follows is an approximate transcription of the interview.
Press TV: Mr. Saffeddine, you’ve been in Egypt, you’ve followed it very closely, do you think that the first protests were very successful in letting Mubarak step down? Do you think that now it’s even more difficult? We’ve seen more sacrifices from the Egyptian people to finally see civilian rule.
Saffeddine: Well, first let me just maybe talk a little bit more about why this happened over the weekend. One of the reasons the crackdown happened is that there were a number of people who were protesting in Tahrir because they were injured in the earlier clashes that happened.
And security forces actually raided the camp and started beating them up and people were enraged that the same kind of practices that were being used by the Mubarak regime is now taking place again.
This also mushroomed and inspired much larger protest movement about the swift transfer of power from military to civilian rule. I think that what happened today is a revival of the spirit of Tahrir that was happening before.
I was in Egypt a couple of weeks ago people were a little bit feeling down. They were depressed. They were feeling that they were not having enough pressure on the Military Council.
However an ultimate transfer of power is not going to happen unless the other forces that are present, which is mainly the organized political forces – these are the Muslim Brotherhood and some other parties – are willing to join fully the street movement and pressure the Military Council to transfer power. The current process is going to take place through elections- that’s the idea. And we can talk more about this.
Press TV: The head of the Military Council has said that there will be elections, free and fair elections in 2012, but he didn’t clearly state whether rule will be handed over from the military.
Saffeddine: The Military Council headed by Tantawi has been very, very both secretive and hesitant to give any specific deadlines about elections in general.
One of the sticky points, one of the big sticky points between the Muslim Council and the Muslim Brotherhood and other forces is the presidential election. So there was a small concession quote-unquote by the council for those elections. Yes it’s true that they haven’t made any clear statement about when that will happen, but they did give a clear deadline.
Although, ultimately, even if there is an election we still don’t know whether Tantawi will not run for president, he hasn’t said that explicitly. There was a campaign running on his behalf in Egypt. We also don’t know to what extent, what kind of powers the new parliament that is going to be elected is going to have, vis-?-vis the Military Council. So, all these arrangements are still not clear at all.
The only major development in that regard is a deadline for presidential elections, which he didn’t do before. And he actually met with the Muslim brotherhood and with Amr Moussa before he came on television, and probably that was the deal.
Press TV: Does it seem that the Military Council is taking advantage of the contrasting ideas between all the parties, they’re non-unity and things like that? What is happening in this regard?
Saffeddine: Let me first clarify that the idea of a deal is not a backroom deal but an ongoing negotiation process that tends to take place both between the different parties that exist in Egypt and sometimes between the parties and the Military Council.
Moving on to the question that you’ve presented, up until now it’s very true, actually, that most of the bickering that has been going on inside Egypt has been happening between the different political parties. And I think part of the reason for that is the willingness of certain parties, for example the Muslim Brotherhood, to sometimes engage with the Military Council without initially building a united front against the council.
And I think the reason for that – and it’s a complicated picture, I’m not trying to essentialize it – is that there are different agendas. For instance, some of the radical elements of the revolution who are present, mostly in Tahrir most of the time, are not simply concerned about having an election. They want to make sure that this transfer in power does not result in a weak parliament; it doesn’t result in reproducing the same kind of liberal politics that has been governing Egypt for a long time.
The Muslim brotherhood, I think in my humble opinion, generally speaking, has a different route. They might think that if we go the election route, initially, we can slowly build up power enough to perhaps challenge the council.
The council itself, the Military Council also represents a set of interests. These interests, I don’t think it’s simply a matter of communication. These interests first are local and they have to do with the huge business interests that the military has and the huge relationship of the military to the economy of Egypt. The second one, of course, is regional and global.
Press TV: Do you think that the coming of power by the Military Council was like a coup to overthrow Hosni Mubarak and take the helm of power?
Saffeddine: Well, I don’t think it was a coup, per say, it was a continuation. A better understanding is that it was a continuation without the head of the regime. Let me go back to some important points.
First of all, the question of a national front; and then second, the question of elections itself because there’s always this repetition about ‘we have to go to elections, because the solution is the election’, per say.
If you look at the map of Egypt today, if you look at the number of parties that have sprung up since the revolution, if you look at the number of seats being contested by allies, some of the people running in this election that’s happening soon, there are hundreds of people running in this election.
They’ve reduced this revolution to this idea that we just have to elect people to this parliament. We still don’t know what are some of the powers of this parliament. They won’t be the ones writing the constitution. We have to ask why did the Muslim Brotherhood, for instance, not support coming down to Tahrir Square?
Sometimes we have conflicting messages. The youth have a different view from the people in power. The negotiation taking place is not in a structured format – they will meet with them, then they will come up with a decision.
So, I think all of these things tell us that the Military Council is unlikely to relent to this pressure unless we get to this idea of a very clear program which does exist, actually. The Egyptian people have sacrificed for this. But the political formations have not been able to capitalize on it. Only the existing ones, which are the Muslim Brotherhood and some of the young liberal parties are working on that.
A lot of the revolution, by the way, moved away from the street into the associations, into the universities. And in those places there is a lot of struggle, but there aren’t any real outcomes.
Press TV: How do you look at the army’s alliance with the United States? How is this affecting how it deals with its people?
Saffeddine: Well, it’s affecting it on two levels. First, it’s a political one; and then we have the economic one.
Politically, the Egyptian army – since the peace treaty with israel – despite the great patriotism that exists among its ranks, has been entirely linked to the US policy in the region. We saw that even as late as the spy exchange that took place recently. Hamas was able to get a better deal than the Egyptian Military Council which was very surprising to me.
So, there’s a dependency on the United States in the sense that the Egyptian army is a very important army, it’s one of the largest in the world. It possesses a real threat to israel if there is a political decision. And in that sense, they cannot maneuver regionally without having to deal with the United States. By the way, Sami Anan, who is the second in command in the Military Council, is known to be very close to the US, and he’s probably pulling some of the strings.
The second part is economic. The military, as my colleagues and people have said, has a lot of business inside Egypt. Even that was mentioned by Tantawi in his speech. He repeated a very famous clause that Mubarak has used, that investments are running out of Egypt. And these investments will affect the military’s well being, it will affect members of the military, and that is also linked to the US. It’s linked to the military aid.
Until now, the Egyptian military is very much, actually, still within this kind of fear of influence of the United States.
Press TV: How could political parties try to detach from this dependence on the United States? Can they do some kind of national dialogue in order to build something which contrasts with this?
Saffeddine: Usually when you want to decouple yourself from a certain dependent ally or other power, you look for other alternatives. And that’s some of the things the Egyptians are talking about. Why can’t we, actually, strengthen our relationship with Turkey? Why can’t we reopen our dialogue with Iran? Why can’t we talk with other countries and try to slowly decouple this dependency on [the US]?
As a matter of fact, as we know, the Egyptians have an amazing history of agriculture, of industry. Egypt itself is very rich with resources but it’s a misallocation.
It’s a question of how do we actually plan the economy in a way that we can get away from that? It’s not easy at all. The globe itself, the entire globe is dependent on this system.
It’s politically realigning yourself with different allies and trying to rebuild your economy in a different way. Then again, it requires a political decision. And that means unifying the political parties themselves so that they can stand in the face of the nation.