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Back to the Military: Egypt’s Third Republic

The ouster of the first democratically elected president was led by the Tamarrud Movement and supported by state institutions and social groups including the police force, a substantial part of the judiciary (represented by the Judges’ Club), religious groups including those led by the grand sheikh of Al-Azhar and the Coptic pope, the non-Islamist opposition, and even the strong Salafi Nour Party.53 Just as was the case in February 2011, these state and social groups would not have managed to displace the president had the military not provided protection and support. In a perfectly choreographed televised meeting that gathered representatives of all these forces, then minister of defense General Sisi announced the ouster of Morsi, the suspension of the 2012 constitution, and the appointment of Chief Justice Adly Mansour, head of the Supreme Constitutional Court, as in?terim president of the country. Egypt embarked upon a second transitional period, albeit under tighter control by the military.

Although the direct reintervention of the military received unprecedented domestic public support, the government’s dispersal of Morsi supporters’ sit-in and the killing of hundreds in Rabaa Square were heavily criticized, especially at the international level. The crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood was met with strong condemnation from some Western and Middle Eastern capitals,54 and resulted in deterioration in bilateral relations with the United States. To show its disapproval of Morsi’s ouster, the Barack Obama administration suspended the joint exercises with the Egyptian military, delayed the transfer of fighter planes for almost two years, and threatened a revision of the $1.3 billion annual military aid to Egypt.55 Only in 2015 did the United States authorize the delivery of the F-16 planes. It also revisited the aid terms, preventing the Egyptian military from future cash flow financing and putting more constraints on the kind of weapons to be sent to Egypt.56 Betting on Egypt’s geostrategic importance, Sisi capitalized on the tension between Cairo and Washington to push for the renewal of the historical military cooperation between Egypt and Russia while intensifying economic, military, and political cooperation between Egypt and the Gulf States.

Six months into the second transitional period, the military announced its support for General Sisi’s presidential bid.57 Even prior to Sisi’s ascension to the presidency in June 2014, the military became the economic powerhouse of the country,58 winning the major construction projects financed by the wealthy Gulf States.59 The emergence of ultranationalist rhetoric in response to international criticisms of the post-Morsi transitional period has glorified the military as the guardian of the nation and supporter of the people’s will. In this context, the Sisi regime has managed to either neutralize nonsupporters or coercively silence voices of contention, especially from youth movements, through legal measures that restricted demonstration rights. The rhetoric picked up steam of its own as Islamist militants waged terrorist attacks against state officials, including officers and judges, and against Egyptian society more broadly. A strong media machine has played a role in Sisi’s efforts through self-censorship and by waging campaigns against regime critics, who were often labeled as supporters of terrorism. The military’s execution of large state projects, such as the digging of the Suez Canal’s second branch, promised material benefits for Egyptian society and enabled the military and the presidency to maintain a certain level of economic growth, thus fostering charismatic legitimation of authority.

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