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The Stunting Role of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces After the Revolution: Interview with Jadaliyya Co-Editor Mohamed Waked
During our trip to Egypt we had the fortune of meeting and interviewing a number of distinguished journalists, bloggers, and activists, as well as a host of other Egyptians from all walks of life. Our coverage of Friday, May 27, protests can be found here and here. Today, we begin publishing the video interviews we conducted, starting with our own Jadaliyya Co-Editor, Mohamed Waked. Mohamed is a researcher and an activist who led and participated in the mobilization leading up to the Egyptian revolution. He was also arrested in the process by the Mubarak regime.
Here, Mohamed addresses succinctly the role of the increasingly notorious Supreme Council of the Armed Forces in Egypt, responsible to a considerable degree for holding/rolling back the fruition of the apparent gains of the Egyptian revolution. This effort by the Supreme Council and its allies extends to politics, civil society, economics, and foreign policy. Mohamed breaks down these efforts in a manner that lays out the challenges ahead for those who intend to struggle for building an Egypt that sheds the oppression, corruption, incompetence, and coercion associated with the previous leadership/regime.
[Below is both the English translation/transcription and the video (Arabic) of the interview. The interview was conducted by Bassam Haddad and Ziad Abu-Rish, then translated and transcribed by Hanna Petro. It was also reviewed by Ziad Abu-Rish and Hesham Sallam. Thanks to Hanna for volunteering to make this interview available to English readers.]
English Translation/Transcription of Interview
Bassam: Thank you for this interview. We are happy to see you in Cairo, and we would like for you to discuss the role of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces with us. Would you please give us an idea about the role played by the Supreme Council [of the Armed Forces]?
Mohamed: First of all, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces [SCAF] is currently the ruling entity. It occupies the roles of president of the republic and parliament. It holds both the executive and legislative powers at the same time. At the outbreak of the revolution, one of [the latter’s] attributes was that it was not able to rule. A revolution occurred, deposed the sitting president, but did not succeed in arriving to power. The army then came to power by delegation from Husni Mubarak. [01:10]
This is an important characteristic of the stage we are currently in. We would not have been able to arrive at this stage had any of the revolution’s institutions, movements or establishments been able to come to power. [01:30]
When the Council came to power on the 28th [of January], the police force [had] crumbled. A strange situation ensued when the police crumbled. The entire country of Egypt had no police. The police was afraid to come out. [The Council] pursued officers [and we have spoken to many of them] asking them to return to work. “No we shall not,” they said, “we are getting beaten [up].” The collapse of the police force put the Council in a very dangerous situation. It took at least two months to get the police officers to return again. [02:00]
The officers of the Central Security Forces returned to their villages. Suddenly, you had a highly despotic, autocratic regime, [previously] dependant on a police force that is one million and two hundred thousand strong, lose this force without being able to restore it. So the army deployed to secure [the streets] under the instructions of Husni Mubarak. When Husni Mubarak left, he relinquished power to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. [02:34]
When the Supreme Council seized power, the police force had not yet returned. You had the army taking a hold of power in Egypt as well as grasping the legislative power by entrustment from Husni Mubarak without being accompanied by the police [02:49], while only being comprised of 400,000 individuals, whereas to keep Egypt at bay as Mubarak had necessitates 1,200,000 people. This is what delineated the current situation.
Many steps were involved from the time [the Council] seized power until the present. First, [the Council] constitutes the executive and legislative bodies simultaneously. Since it came to power, the army did not want to clash with the protestors and vice versa (meaning the [protesters with] the military council), because both sides would lose. The military council would not have been able to keep its autocratic control of the country without the police forces and the popular forces could not clash with the police. The often-repeated slogan of this phase was: “The people and the army are one hand.” Since you would not want them to hit you, and they would not want you to hit them, they would say: “inta habibi” [“you are are my buddy”]. Despite that, a large segment of the Egyptian people apotheosize the army for historical reasons related to the Nasserist period. In this fashion, they came to power and “the people and the army are one hand.”
[The army] was supposed to sponsor the revolution, or so it claimed. It quickly became apparent that there were many problems and that it did not intent to effectuate real or fundamental change. All they intended to do was to change a few figures, detain a few businessmen, throw them in prison and that was the end of it. “You had your revolution and we ousted the guy” was the tale they wanted to plug. Clashes between the two sides were inevitable; it was just a matter of time. These clashes happened incrementally over several phases. For example, in the last three to four months, at least seven to ten thousand people (and the count differs) were tried by military courts for different reasons which include hooliganism [baltaga]. The sentences [that were given] varied between three and five years. [05:03]
In comparison with Husni Mubarak’s C.V., this number and these sentences made him look like an angel. They put seven thousand people behind bars in three months with extremely repugnant sentences after one court date only. If you were really lucky, they would give you two court days. This is the beginning of the friction. This shows you the extent of the friction … When people look at Egypt now, they see Midan al-Tahrir [Tahrir Square], but there are many [other] clashes at the national level. This reached a point where they saw it necessary to arrest ten thousand individuals and to issue a sentence after one or two court dates. A sentence of three to five years; this is no joke! This shows you the extent of the tension between the Supreme Council and the people. Some people differentiate between the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the army, because the army is something and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces is something else. I’ve come across this reasoning in some instances, but I don’t want to pursue this any further [in this interview].
Secondly, it started making constitutional amendments, the purpose of which is to maintain the status quo. They gave us nine articles to amend. They issued a constitutional memorandum (that was agreed to) on the basis of holding a referendum. Then, they issued a constitutional memorandum with sixty two articles. Do you agree that while you were going to cast your vote on the nine articles, they [then] issued a memorandum with sixty two articles? That means you’re talking about fifty something articles, fifty three articles that you were not consulted about which they piled on and later claimed that the referendum accepted the sixty two articles. This is an important point because after this, they started to write repressive laws which caused a degradation of central democratic rights, like the right to strike. When one says that they wrote a law criminalizing workers’ strikes, on what basis is this law written? They tell you on the basis of the constitutional memorandum. In said memorandum, there is an article that sates that the right to protest, demonstrate and strike is a citizen’s right, under the form determined by law. I don’t remember the exact wording, but under the form determined by law. Alright? There is another article which states that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces is the entity that legislates. These are two of the fifty two articles that we were not asked to cast our vote on. They forced [these articles] on us and said that we had agreed to them. These two laws helped [the Supreme Council] to issue a law criminalizing workers’ strikes. If you were to conduct a strike which resulted in production stoppage (whether coincidentally or purposefully) for the company you worked for, you would be imprisoned for a year and I don’t remember the amount of the fine, but it is around twenty or thirty thousand pounds. If the strike resulted in vandalism—for example if a worker broke the company’s billboard—you would be imprisoned for a year and fined half a million pounds. A worker that strikes because of his three hundred pound salary would be [now] asked to pay a fine of five hundred thousand pounds.
This law - That which allows them to issue such a law is the two articles from the constitutional memorandum that were not part of the referendum. The first laws they issued were: a criminalization of hooliganism and a ban on strikes and protests. These are all repressive laws. What does the law that bans strikes and protests tell you? This law penalizes everyone that engages in (a), (b), or (c) while the state of emergency is in effect. This means that this is an emergency law, to be removed with the state of emergency and to be imposed with the state of emergency. This is a second emergency law. One of the main demands of the revolution was to remove the old state of emergency. Instead of removing it, they made a new one to be based on the constitutional memorandum which [the Supreme Council] put in place at their own discretion. The constitutional memorandum allows [the Supreme Council] to put this law in place, but it also created the articles which we were never consulted on.
What is important now is the relationship between the Council and the people. It is a strained relationship, which is revealed by the magnitude of the arrests, [as well as] the size of the occurring protests—the last of which was the Israeli embassy protest. This is also shown by the nature of the laws issued. All of the laws which were issued are repressive. There is no law mandating a redistribution of income or another that makes one happy or another that is forward looking. No. They are all punitive laws, severely punishing ordinary people. At the same time, it is shown by whom they imprison and who they are lenient with.
If one talks about Husni Mubarak and the businessmen, [we are told something to the effect of that we have to give them their chance, [that] they have toe xcercise their rights in front of an ordinary judge in a just courts. [10:00] This and a long list of beautiful prose composed in liberal lingo that mandates that everyone must be equal in the eyes of the law and that everyone must excercise their rights and opportunities. Ahlan wa Sahlan!
Take a look at those who are protesting: the activists. [The Supreme Council] takes them to military courts. The nature of the tension becomes apparent to you. Businessmen are judged under “regular” law and are let out on bail. Charges against them do not stick because they gave them months - at least a month until they started to detain them. By then, [the businessmen] had engineered their documents. [But] if you participated in a demonstration, you would be beaten up and charged after one hearing.
I was at a conference and one of the lawyers there spoke of someone that was charged for a crime he had committed three days after he was detained. But since he was an activist, there were no issues [raised]. If it had been a businessman, they would say, “let’s take a look at the evidence. We must poke and prod, and did he commit this and did he not commit that?”
What is more important is that the law does not help you to try anyone for political corruption, for a political crime, for engineering the emergency law. One should supposedly be able to try such a person for a political accusation. Nothing in the entirety of Egyptian law allows for that. Despite the fact that they are legislating and trying to enact a reconciliation law with businessmen, they tell you that businessmen would pay a fine for the theft they committed (or anything resulting from [the businessmen’s] corruption) and we would [then] let them go. This is a kind of reconciliation. They can legislate about that, but they cannot enact a law to combat political corruption. They cannot pass a law to address what happened in the People’s Assembly.
The falsification of elections over the course of thirty years, and those who participated in the oversight committees are well known. Their names are known. You cannot try them. You cannot try any of -
In conclusion, the nature of rule is tense [given that] the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces is trying to reproduce the same regime in all its shapes and forms to the extent that they leave many of the [old] figures [entact]. Hossam Badrawi, the ex-Secretary General of the National [Democratic] Party attended the most recent national dialogue, which they [SCAF] sponsored. They are coming to discuss the future of Egypt. They’re trying to recreate the system as is while also producing new parties (in form). Even it’s treatment of the Muslim Brotherhood is in line with the old method by which the Brotherhood only enters the center of the parliament (else they will most likely be beaten up) so that they only receive thirty percent of the vote. It’s the same tale as 2005, the elections of 2005.
This reproduction of the regime is more or less identical. There are a few things they cannot do in the same way. And at the same time, it assaults all those who struggle against labor and class issues, those who resist colonialism, and those who resist Israel. We have evidence. No, not evidence. We have precedents, a precedent indicating that anyone in the previous groupings can be severely punished. The enacted laws relating to these areas are all laws which serve the purpose of making an example of those who fight within these areas. As far as others are concerned, ahlan wa sahlan. The politics of the economy remains as is. The official justification for the law that criminalizes strikes is the mode of production: so that businessmen will not be afraid. Even the official criminalization of workers is to preserve the interests of Husni Mubarak’s businessmen.
This puts the Council in an extremely embarrassing situation. On the one hand, it cannot repress in the old ways because it does not have as much power as the old regime. On the other hand, it wants to recreate the same regime. [So] the situation in Egypt is tense and God knows what we will come to and who will prevail. The goals of each side are well known, and there is no doubt that the [Supreme] Council of the Armed Forces is trying to recreate the old regime.
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