Egypt: Mixed signals from the military

There have been quite a few dramatic events in Egypt recently, in particular the storming of Amn al-Dawla (State Security) headquarters and the posting of documents on the web. The military has removed a Mubarak-appointed prime minister Ahmed Shafik, and Interior Minister Habib al-Adly is on trial. On the downside, an activist arrested at a recent Tahrir Square protest was sent before a military tribunal and given a five-year prison sentence, and the military has announced a timetable for prime ministerial and presidential elections that many of the newly-formed Egyptian parties say gives them little chance to organize.

What seems to be happening is that the military wishes to carry out some reforms — but at their pace, without pressure from below. Certainly they seem to have accepted that the Interior Ministry in general, and State Security in particular, were a disgrace. But they have very little patience for unpredictability (witness their early response to the wave of strikes) and for having their hand forced by events. In other words, they’re behaving as one would expect a military junta to behave, and they’re used to being on top of the chain of command. Hopefully, they have little appetite for wielding power directly — presumably, they don’t want to be the targets of a second revolution. But there are some uncomfortable parallels to other circumstances in Pakistan, Egypt, and elsewhere, when officers have seized power with grand promises of relinquishing it, and, frustrated with their inability to herd civilian cats, have cracked down on civil society in the name of keeping order.

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