Robert Fisk: Is the army tightening its grip on Egypt?

 

Share
Related Topics

Two days after millions of Egyptians won their revolution against the regime of Hosni Mubarak, the country's army – led by Mubarak's lifelong friend, General Mohamed el-Tantawi – further consolidated its power over Egypt yesterday, dissolving parliament and suspending the constitution. As they did so, the prime minister appointed by Mubarak, ex-General Ahmed Shafiq, told Egyptians that his first priorities were "peace and security" to prevent "chaos and disorder" – the very slogan uttered so often by the despised ex-president. Plus ça change?

In their desperation to honour the 'military council's' promise of Cairo-back-to-normal, hundreds of Egyptian troops – many unarmed – appeared in Tahrir Square to urge the remaining protesters to leave the encampment they had occupied for 20 days. At first the crowd greeted them as friends, offering them food and water. Military policemen in red berets, again without weapons, emerged to control traffic. But then a young officer began lashing demonstrators with a cane – old habits die hard in young men wearing uniforms – and for a moment there was a miniature replay of the fury visited upon the state security police here on 28 January.

It reflected a growing concern among those who overthrew Mubarak that the fruits of their victory may be gobbled up by an army largely composed of generals who achieved their power and privilege under Mubarak himself. No-one objects to the dissolution of parliament since Mubarak's assembly elections last year – and all other years -- were so transparently fraudulent. But the 'military council' gave no indication of the date for the free and fair elections which Egyptians believed they had been promised.

The suspension of the constitution – a document which the millions of demonstrators anyway regarded as a laissez-passer for presidential dictatorship – left most Egyptians unmoved. And the army, having received the fulsome thanks of Israel for promising to honour the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, announced that it would hold power for only six months; no word, though, on whether they could renew their military rule after that date.

But a clear divergence is emerging between the demands of the young men and women who brought down the Mubarak regime and the concessions – if that is what they are – that the army appears willing to grant them. A small rally at the side of Tahrir Square yesterday held up a series of demands which included the suspension of Mubarak's old emergency law and freedom for political prisoners. The army has promised to drop the emergency legislation "at the right opportunity", but as long as it remains in force, it gives the military as much power to ban all protests and demonstrations as Mubarak possessed; which is one reason why those little battles broke out between the army and the people in the square yesterday.

As for the freeing of political prisoners, the military has remained suspiciously silent. Is this because there are prisoners who know too much about the army's involvement in the previous regime? Or because escaped and newly liberated prisoners are returning to Cairo and Alexandria from desert camps with terrible stories of torture and executions by – so they say – military personnel. An Egyptian army officer known to 'The Independent' insisted yesterday that the desert prisons were run by military intelligence units who worked for the interior ministry – not for the ministry of defence.

As for the top echelons of the state security police who ordered their men – and their faithful 'baltagi' plain-clothes thugs -- to attack peaceful demonstrators during the first week of the revolution, they appear to have taken the usual flight to freedom in the Arab Gulf. According to an officer in the Cairo police criminal investigation department whom I spoke to yesterday, all the officers responsible for the violence which left well over 300 Egyptians dead have fled Egypt with their families for the emirate of Abu Dhabi. The criminals who were paid by the cops to beat the protesters have gone to ground – who knows when their services might next be required? – while the middle-ranking police officers wait for justice to take its course against them. If indeed it does.

All this, of course, depends on the size of the archives left behind by the regime and the degree to which the authorities, currently the army, are prepared to make these papers available to a new and reformed judiciary. As for the city police, who hid in their police stations before they were burned down on 28th January, they turned up at the interior ministry in Cairo yesterday to demand better pay. That the police should now become protesters themselves – they are indeed to receive pay rises – was one of the more imperishable moments of post-revolutionary Egypt.

Now, of course, it is Egypt's turn to watch the effects of its own revolution on its neighbours. Scarcely a family in Egypt was unaware yesterday of the third day of protests against the president in Yemen and the police violence which accompanied them. And it is remarkable that just as Arab protesters mimic their successful counterparts in Egypt, the state security apparatus of each Arab regime faithfully follows the failed tactics of Mubarak's thugs.

Another irony has dawned on Egyptians. Those Arab dictators which claim to represent their people – Algeria comes to mind, and Libya, and Morocco – have signally failed to represent their people by not congratulating Egypt on its successful democratic revolution. To do so, needless to say, would be to saw off the legs of their own thrones.



React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

KS1 Teacher

£21500 - £31500 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Would you like to work...

Java Developer - web services, XML and API

£330 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Lond...

Maths Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Reading: Maths Teacher required to teach Furthe...

Primary teachers required for schools in Norwich

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary teachers requ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Brooks Newmark  

If Brooks Newmark is ‘sick’ what does that say about the rest of us?

Simon Kelner
Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi where Mohammad Asghar is being held  

Mohammed Ashgar: A Briton on death row in Pakistan who the Government must act to save

David Morrisey
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style