- By Mohamed El DahshanMohamed El Dahshan is a development economist and a nonresident fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.
What a waste of ink and pixels. On Monday, with much brouhaha, Egypt commemorated 60 years since the deposing of King Farouk by a military movement that called itself "The Free Officers." That movement went on to dominate the country both politically and economically for the following six decades. As the leading figures in the movement died off, they propped up new protégés (such as Hosni Mubarak) to take over from them.
Newspapers from the time demonstrate that — contrary to the popular belief in the benefits of hindsight — there was more lucidity in analyzing events then than there is today. On July 24, 1952, the front page of flagship newspaper Al-Ahram read, "The Army is conducting a peaceful military movement." The accompanying story explained how the group had deposed a number of senior officers, taken over ("protected") public utilities, and named a new prime minister, Ali Maher.
But the view of the event changed as time went by, and the coup (which enjoyed considerable tacit approval from the population) was rechristened as a "revolution." It is remarkable how similar many of the objectives behind the 1952 coup are to those of the January 2011 revolution — proof that even the highest of ideals can fail.
The deposition of a foreign royal family should have benefited the Egyptian population. And in many ways, the 1952 coup brought numerous achievements: free education, redistribution of land to farmers, and so on. Replacing an aristocratic elite with a military one, however, was not one of them.
Since taking control, the military has provided itself with huge social and economic perks, creating (and controlling) an economic empire shielded from government and parliamentary oversight. But the military has also viewed the nation as its own playground; virtually every senior officer who retired was given his corner to play with and guaranteed a major civilian post. Legislation was passed allowing them to augment their inflated military pensions with an illogically large civilian salary.
Today, nearly all state governors, numerous mayors, city council presidents, deputy ministers, and directors of state-owned companies are former officials with no particular skills aside from the ability to bark orders at soldiers, and with no qualifications other than their status as former officers loyal to their superiors.
The Lying Officers Campaign, a group of activists who are demanding justice for military crimes against protesters since the revolution, has put together a striking map (a still image is shown above) pointing out where former officers are currently holding positions of high office. You don’t need to understand Arabic to realize that they are, literally, all over the map.
If new president Mohamed Morsi is serious about dismantling the old regime, and standing up for the ideals of the revolution, he should begin by removing the military dominance of civilian life, and thus finally allow for the decolonization of Egypt.
It’s too optimistic a demand to make, though; he, too, will disappoint us. He has neither the political backing nor (more importantly) the will to confront the army. His relationship with the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (an all-powerful Mubarak-appointed military body, which remains in power despite the election of a civilian president) is tense. Moreover, as demonstrated by his attempt to reconvene parliament after his election, he is only willing to stand up to the military if it benefits his political party and helps establish his authority.
Once again, Egypt’s revolutionaries — and their ideals — are on their own. On July 23, they commemorated the first anniversary of the death of 23-year-old Mohamed Mohsen, killed during a march in Cairo’s Abbaseya square while heading for the Ministry of Defense to protest military impunity. As of yet, no one has been prosecuted for this crime.