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Dr. Charles G. Cogan Headshot

Egypt: the Return of the Deep State

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To help understand what is going on in Egypt at the moment, it is worth looking again at the result of the June 2012 presidential runoff. From a multiple field of candidates in the first round, two leaders emerged for the runoff, which surprisingly was very close. Mohammed Morsi, of the Freedom and Justice Party, the political expression of the Muslim Brotherhood, won with 51.7 per cent of the popular vote. His opponent, Ahmed Shafiq, won 48.3 per cent of the popular vote.
I remember being surprised at the time by the number of votes gained by Shafiq -- a former general and the last prime minister under the Mubarak regime. The Egyptian revolution of January-February 2011 represented a revolt against that regime. How was it, then, that a Mubarak man got all those votes?
What the runoff revealed (or should have) was that the non-Islamist constituency in Egypt was considerably stronger than was generally thought. But Mohammed Morsi acted as though he had won an overwhelming victory and exhibited the "winner take all" mentality that is so prevalent throughout the region - ramming though a constitution that was offensive to the non-Islamists; declaring himself to be above the judiciary; and making government appointments that largely went to Islamists.
After the huge disavowal of Morsi this past June by the millions of people demonstrating in Cairo, the military acted, removing Morsi and his government. The "deep state" - the bureaucracy, the military and the security services which is a legacy of the Mubarak regime - re-emerged. (Suddenly, for example, the traffic police began to function again.)
Morsi as an elected civilian president has been unique in Egyptian history. Military takeovers have been the norm in the modern era: Naguib, Nasser, Sadat, Mubarak. Though Mubarak likely would have been removed anyway, as he had been in power much too long, he made the fatal mistake of grooming his son Gamal, a civilian, as his successor, irritating the military and introducing an unwanted dynastic succession.
In the Egyptian revolution of early 2011, the watchword was that "the army and the people are one hand." This myth has been blow to bits by the gunning down of hundreds of mainly Muslim Brotherhood supporters in three major incidents since the military takeover in early July.