Via NY Times.com, by David K. Kirkpatrick--click the link to read on
Gianluigi Guercia/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images, Egyptians protested outside the Swiss Embassy on Sunday. The country will vote in presidential elections in two weeks.
CAIRO — Two weeks before Egypt’s presidential election begins, the leading candidates are adopting a deferential tone toward the current military rulers even as the generals make clear that they expect to maintain much of their autonomy and influence after their pledged handover of power.
Fifteen months after the generals seized power at the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, how much they now submit for the first time to civilian authority will determine whether last year’s uprising lives up to its billing as a democratic revolution or amounts instead to a coup. It is among the most consequential questions for Egypt’s allies, like the United States and Israel, and for the next Egyptian president.
But one of the three leading candidates, Amr Moussa, a former diplomat, says the issue is too delicate to address publicly. Another, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, says he intends to consult closely with the generals over matters concerning the military rather than impose his will, including in the choice of a defense minister. The third leading contender, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a more liberal former Brotherhood leader who has been the most assertive toward the military, says he, too, intends to consult with the generals, and to initially appoint one of them as defense minister.
And advisers to all three candidates say they expect only limited scrutiny of the defense budget, at most by a special committee of Parliament.
The generals, for their part, sound confident that they will retain their influence, immunity and commercial empire, which includes operations like real estate development, consumer electronics and bottled water.
“The relationship between the people and the military is historic and eternal; it didn’t begin with the current Supreme Council of the Armed Forces,” Maj. Gen. Mamdouh Shaheen said in a news conference last week.
Since the British-backed monarchy, General Shaheen said, Egyptian constitutions have always assigned the military a role far larger than defending the borders. One journalist for Egypt’s state news media asked how the military could hand power to a new president without any assurance of what would come next.
“There is no worry,” General Shaheen said, noting that every constitutional revision since 1923 has included provisions for the military to take over in a “catastrophe.”
Policy makers in the United States have built close ties to Egypt’s military and consider the generals to be a force of stability, in particular in relations with Israel.
But the generals’ past insistence on preserving their political influence has also elicited calls from Washington for an expedited handover of power. There are worries that the specter of military power behind the scenes could fuel doubts about the government’s legitimacy and transparency, and thus continued instability.
Recent outbursts of violence underline that concern. At least 13 Egyptians were killed and hundreds were injured in the past five days in clashes with soldiers and their civilian supporters during demonstrations against military rule, adding to more than 100 deaths in similar clashes since the generals took over in February 2011.
Still, the generals and civilian political leaders all say they look forward to democratic accountability and the peaceful rotation of power. At their news conference last week, the generals repeated that they intended to leave power on June 30. They noted with pride that Egypt is now in the midst of the first competitive presidential election in its history, after free and fair parliamentary elections just a few months ago.
“If we wanted to commit fraud, we would have done it at the parliamentary elections,” General Shaheen said, brushing off suspicions that the military would sabotage the handover. “A military coup, is this our plan? After all this?”
The ultimate balance of civilian and military power, in public and behind the scenes, may take years to work out. And even amid the mounting dissatisfaction with the generals’ management of the political transition, the military retains its prestige. At the news conference, called to address last week’s deaths, Egyptian journalists repeatedly broke into applause for the ruling generals.
Mr. Moussa, for one, blamed the protesters in part for the recent deaths during attempts to storm the Defense Ministry. “I do not understand how some are attempting to break into the ministry,” he said at a campaign event on Saturday, in remarks quoted by the state news media. “Where’s the state and what is the point of this invasion?”
“Everyone is starting to think that there is complete chaos in Egypt,” he said, adding, “How could an Egyptian want to occupy the Defense Ministry?”
In a recent news conference, Mr. Moussa told journalists that their questions about the military’s future role were out of bounds. “I don’t think it is in the interest of the public or the future president to dive into the details at this time,” he said.