The Egyptian Military is the Problem, Not the Solution


In Heliopolis — which myriad footballers, celebrities, and political leaders call home — blood flows in the streets, and armed thugs wage war on their countrymen.

The posh suburb is home to incredible grandeur and wealth, and also Egypt's military and Republican Guard — the very institutions that have destabilized Egypt, and will continue to, unless they are brought under civilian control.

Egypt's military has had an outsize role in politics for 60 years. If Egypt is to see peace, a new constitution must put an end to its reign, and in the process, eliminate political violence once and for all.

Chaos has prevailed since Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated President Mohamed Morsi was ousted. On Monday, clashes between the Egyptian military and Morsi supporters took place just outside the Republican Guard headquarters, leaving at least 51 people dead and 435 injured. These confrontations bring the death toll from the protests, which began on June 30, to nearly 100.

Of course, the roots of the present turmoil extend far beyond the deposition of the controversial Islamist president. Mass protests and battles between the Egyptian armed forces and dissidents have plagued the streets of Cairo for roughly two-and-a-half years; my experience of the tumultuous Tahrir Square protests included being detained for a brief period in November 2011. Even so, the danger and discord in the Egyptian capital is greater now than at any time since the Arab Spring began. Several regimes have come and gone over the past few years of conflict and commotion, but, in addition to the violence, one constant remains: the military is the ultimate source of power.

The military coup that removed Morsi from office last Wednesday only reinforced the supreme position of the armed forces, which has been the central fact of Egyptian governance for the past 60 years. The revolution of 1952, which led to the presidency of Gamal Abdel Nasser, began with a military coup. Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak all served many years as high-ranking members of the armed forces. The Military Supreme Council took power after Mubarak's ouster, and the armed forces are currently in charge of the country. Between Nasser and Morsi, regimes ranged from pan-Arab socialism to Western capitalism, and from the security state to political Islam, but at all times, authority derived from military might (funded, in part, by the United States). Political slogans and rhetoric have merely veiled the continuous submission of civilian authority to military muscle.

Moving forward, the Egyptian people must focus on a new constitution. In addition to holding new elections — which are of little value — the interim government will oversee the drafting of a new constitution, which must establish the institutions necessary to promote a government that respects freedom, and include checks and balances that prevent the concentration of political power.

The most essential element will be the removal of military might from civilian political authority. The current constitution, drafted under Morsi's supervision, granted military leaders unquestioned authority over their budget. In order to disempower the military and avoid future interventions, the new constitution must yield authority over the military budget to the elected legislature, instead.

The only means of ensuring relative stability in Egypt is to ensure that all citizens — Muslims and Copts, secular urbanites in Cairo and rural farmers in Upper Egypt — have control over their own lives, and that no one group can use the government, or the military, to infringe on the basic tenets and practices of another.

Writers of the new constitution and forgers of the next Egyptian republic must heed the words of Dwight D. Eisenhower and "guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex."