How the Army Won Egypt’s Election
Jubilant chants echoed far beyond Tahrir Square when the Muslim Brothers’ candidate, Muhammad Mursi, was confirmed as Egypt’s first civilian president last week. Mursi’s election was lauded across the globe, and many are hailing today’s “transfer” of power as a triumph for democracy.
But there is little reason for celebration. In this latest grand spectacle manufactured by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the generals symbolically respected the people’s choice while using the election to further entrench their unaccountable political autonomy.
In February 2011, most analysts assumed that Mubarak’s government had collapsed. They were wrong. The regime never changed. It was reconfigured. The underlying centralized structures of the system that the military council inherited from Mubarak persist, and the generals have sought to preserve them. The recent election was just the latest attempt to formalize the generals’ executive authority while winning public legitimacy.
The military council exemplifies the highly adaptive quality of Egypt’s governing elite. Egypt’s senior generals have remade the ruling coalition by using centralized authority to neutralize newly included political forces and divide the increasingly marginalized protesters. In the process, the military has effectively prevented all groups from resisting its encroachment as a fourth estate.
This was possible because the state’s apparatus, while disrupted, held after Mubarak’s departure. The hierarchy within the vast and largely cohesive state bureaucracy resumed functioning as the effect of the protests subsided. The state media began accusing protesters of causing chaos, scaring tourists and being agents of foreign elements. The demands of workers, women and Coptic Christians were dismissed as special interests of secondary importance.
The security services were rebranded, and successive courtroom acquittals gave them a guarantee that their repression of fellow Egyptians would have no legal ramifications. As time passed, the post-Mubarak regime began to look and act like its predecessor. Buttressed by the machinery of the state, the military then sought allies to contain the power of future protests. High electoral drama has produced what political scientists call a “pact making” exercise.
Egyptians have gone to the polls five times since March 2011. Rather than elections’ producing real choices, though, the military has used them
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