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Egypt's one safe path: reach out to revolutionary forces

Egyptian Defense Minister Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi should not run for president to safeguard the role of the military institution and keep the country on the path to democracy.

Egypt is living in a state of anticipation these days, waiting for a decision from the regime: Will Defense Minister Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi run for president as a representative of the military institution, putting the military and the army at the forefront of the political scene and on the frontline of confrontations? Or will the authorities preserve the military institution and choose for Sisi to remain as defense minister?

I would like to express an opinion here that I would argue many civilian revolutionary and youth forces and their supporters share with me, even if they cannot express it in light of the one-sided nature of the media today.

To begin with, I would d like to stress to the regime and everyone, that we, as youth members of civil revolutionary movements and post-revolution parties, know well that there is no link between Sisi — or any other civilian figure — being president and the way the regime treats us, whether through accommodation or repression. We are not oblivious or under the illusion that a civilian president will have any real impact on the authorities and the means of political repression — whether through the security institutions or the prosecution and the judiciary. Therefore, our advice that Sisi not run for president does not stem from a fear that the regime will oppress us if he becomes president. The regime can choose whether or not to use oppression regardless of whether or not Sisi is president. Rather, our advice stems from our fears for the military establishment, for Egypt and for the democratic path, which is the only secure path for Egypt. 

It is no secret that if the president comes from the military, this will place responsibilities on the army that are outside of its jurisdiction. It will also distract the military's focus from its primary responsibilities and even put it in direct confrontation with citizens and all of their demands, whether factional or general. Moreover, in the event of a worsening economic situation, the burden of making many difficult and painful decisions — such as removing subsidies and taking austerity measures — will fall on the president from the military institution. Many predict that this will lead to protests that the only way for the regime to deal with them is through an attempt at oppression, because they do not have much to offer right now.

This is what happened in the 1960s during the era of the liberation movements in Africa, when the armies took the weapons they used to confront the colonizer and used them to oppress citizens who were waiting for the fruits of this liberation and for an imagined prosperity far removed from the reality of life. An ambiguous and negative status for the military establishment is a trap that must be avoided. While some may claim that this status will give the army a sense of responsibility toward the nation, there is a simple response: Nothing will prevent the army from providing all the assistance and help it had planned to give the nation in the presence of a civilian president from outside the military. Who would be able to prevent — or even attempt to prevent — the army, as a national institution, from offering a helping hand to the country and its citizens, especially since the constitution safeguards the defense minister and the military establishment as a whole? The president being a civilian figure would put the army in a position of support rather than one of responsibility, which is a much better position and leads to greater love and rapprochement between the army and the people. Consequently, the question arises: Would the real purpose of Sisi running for president be a sense of responsibility toward the nation or a military takeover of political power?

Also, in light of the current situation, it is necessary to address the issue of confronting terrorism, the Muslim Brotherhood and their demonstrations and protests, which most often are not peaceful. I want to stress that the ultimate goal of the Muslim Brotherhood and the groups that support it — which announce that they carry out terrorist attacks — is for the military establishment to lead the scene and for a member of the military to rise to the head of the state. This only reinforces their view that what happened was a coup by the military aimed at taking power. Moreover, it represents a continuation of the bilateral historical syndrome of a conflict between the military and political Islam over power.

Thus, everything that will be done to combat terrorism — whether we agree or disagree that it is actually aimed at combatting terrorism — and portrayed as an attempt by the military, which plays a political role, to oppress its political rivals. Moreover, the military institution heading the political scene will make it easier for the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters — both internally and externally — to criticize and defame the military. This is another trap that should be avoided. On the other hand, if there is a civilian president, and thus the security file is in the hands of the security establishment headed by the military, then everything that needs to be done to "fight terrorism" will still occur, but under the orders and responsibility of a civilian president.

There are two other things that the military establishment must consider before it is too late: the Ministry of the Interior and the new "sycophants," whether from the old regime or those who got involved in politics after the revolution. These two things represent the biggest risk to the authorities and to Egypt as a whole, regardless of whether or not a representative from the military runs for president.

If the security establishment reverts to systematic repression and violations — including falsifying charges, random arrests, hubristic practices against citizens and seeking revenge against those who carried out the revolution — this will inevitably lead to more tension and, sooner or later, to a popular anger. What the interior minister provides citizens in terms of security and fighting terrorism does not in any way require this extent of violations. The current situation of the Interior Ministry is something that harms the nation more than it helps it, and the coming days will prove this. The right choice, at this moment, involves re-evaluating and rehabilitating the police force institution. Regardless of how strong its resistance is — and regardless of the fragility of the security situation — if it refuses to do this, the current regime will meet the same fate as its predecessors.

As for the new "sycophants," the military establishment, led by Sisi, must realize that it is in the interest of both Egypt and the military to build a true pluralistic and democratic system in Egypt. The military should not control the political institutions as a party and implant itself within these institutions to control them, as the Hosni Mubarak regime did.

True national competencies can flourish in cooperation with the military establishment and the regime, yet they will never flourish if they are controlled by the regime. These competencies should work with the regime for the sake of the nation's interests, yet they should always choose the nation's interests over those of the regime. As for the new "sycophants" that facilitate the regime's control of these competencies, they are not actually competent figures, but rather of average talent. Thus, their only way to be a part of the political scene is to flatter and please the authorities, hoping that this will lead to future gains. These are not the people the authorities and the military institution should be surrounding themselves with. Rather, they represent the real danger to any regime over the ages. The government should work with the component figures among the revolutionary forces and the youth, instead of trying to control or oppress them. The better the regime treats them, the more it will help Egypt. Let's get out of this disaster where the government relies on "people we can trust instead of people who are competent."

I have listed several traps facing the path of the regime to be built, the path of Egypt and the path of the military establishment. I referenced the one way that I think is the only secure path, and hopefully someone will listen before making a decision and before it is too late.

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