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With General Tantawi in Charge, Not Much Has Changed in Egypt

Back in February, the mainstream media portrayed the events that occurred in Egypt as a demonstration for open democracy and as a departure from the norm of almost 60 years of military rule in the country.

Eight months later, however, we are already seeing signs of Egypt reverting back to the same system of government it has known since 1952 — full control by the military regime with one of its own as president.

General Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, Mubarak’s former defense minister and leader of the country’s ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), made a public appearance on Talaat Harb Street in downtown Cairo on September 26. Recorded footage of the event showed Tantawi meeting and greeting Egyptian civilians. What was different, though, was Tantawi was dressed in a civilian suit instead of military uniform, the first time he has ever been witnessed in this manner and was not visibly accompanied by bodyguards.

Several Egyptian media outlets have reported that state television accompanied the footage with text that described Tantawi as "fit for the leadership of Egypt." During one broadcast, a commentator said that state television represents all of Egypt, and added that Tantawi "is fit to lead Egypt in civilian clothing." If Egyptian state media is indeed propagating such a message, it indicates that the regime is seeking to rebrand Tantawi as a suitable candidate for a future presidential campaign.

This is nothing new for the world’s largest Arab country. In fact, that’s also how Hosni Mubarak rose to power in the early 1980s, and Anwar Sadat before him, and Gamal Nasser before him. All of them were military men who were chosen by the military regime to hold the office of the presidency.

While popular perception is that the public protests earlier this year were responsible for Mubarak’s ouster, the truth is that the protests only provided an excuse for the military regime to remove Mubarak themselves, who became just as unpopular with the military as much as he was with the general public.

Ironically, it was Mubarak who was trying to implement real change in how things were run in Egypt. Mubarak wanted to appoint his son, Gamal Mubarak as president of Egypt after Mubarak passed. Gamal was a civilian banker with no military background whatsoever. Had this occurred, it would’ve broken the tradition that’s been long preserved since the military took power in 1952. The SCAF wouldn’t stand for it and were looking to change the face of the regime without provoking the ire of the public masses.

Since then, however, the SCAF has abolished the Egyptian constitution, dissolved parliament, and broken up the ruling party. While it promised to hold elections and relinquish power to a civilian government within six months, the council has let multiple self-imposed deadlines pass without any follow up action. The SCAF does this because they know until they groom an acceptable replacement in their eyes to take over (Tantawi), the best organized and largest political party, the Muslim Brotherhood, is most likely to win a true democratic election in the country.

The council fears this because they know they are the only thing preventing the country from returning to war with Israel. A Pew Research poll conducted in April showed that Egyptians want the peace treaty reached with Israel in the 1978 Camp David accords annulled by a 54%-to-36% margin. The SCAF tried to counteract that with a poll of their own in June claiming that 67% of Egyptians want to maintain their nation’s peace treaty with Israel.

Whomever you choose to believe, it is evident that the SCAF will only be comfortable with one of their own as the face of the ruling regime, showing that fundamental change in the state government has yet to be seen going into the 60th anniversary of military rule next year.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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