For the first time in Egypt, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) is in a confrontation with the youth. The popular calls for criminal trials, new prime ministers or election pledges have quietened down. The main demand is now the end of military rule and the transfer of power to a civilian government. Although this is a logical and expected demand, the really confusing question is why the protesters have decided to target the military council now, with only a few days left before the promised free parliamentary elections, which were a key revolutionary demand.
Firstly, we must properly examine the dynamics of SCAF. It has two glaring defects: the first being that it doesn't have a specific, popular political project, and the second being that it does not have a strong character to lead it, not even an eloquent orator. Even the prime ministers, including Kamal Ganzouri, have been weak personalities.
Early on it became clear that SCAF was unable to develop a clear plan for the transfer of power. The Council even failed to establish itself in the position that it wanted, namely to become the “police of the revolution and the historic transition”. Egypt, a country which has often idolised its leaders, cannot find a single charismatic character, with attractive rhetoric, amongst the military leadership. At a time when all revolutions are being led by outspoken preachers, the council seems to consist only of military professionals with no political gravitas at all.
I wrote about this few months ago, in an attempt to analyze the reasons behind SCAF’s inabilities. The Council finally moved to put a proper political program in place, thus putting an end to former president Hosni Mubarak's era, and establishing a new period of history for Egypt. However, just as SCAF was about to emerge from its dark tunnel, the youth suddenly returned to their court, namely Tahrir Square, demanding the removal of the military and the immediate transfer of power to civilians. Accordingly, many people were puzzled by this and wondered why now, just a few days before the promised elections?
In my estimation, the only logical explanation is that the powers unlikely to be successful in the forthcoming elections, such as the youth, want to enact a significant change by forcing the military council out and forming a transitional civilian council. This way they can still participate and remain in the game, something they feel entitled to, being the protesters who led the revolution in the first place. This also explains why the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest and most organized opposition group, disagrees with the protesters and is siding with SCAF for the first time. Unlike the youth parties, the Brotherhood has a sizeable chance of winning the elections; and might win the majority in parliament. Then it would be able to create a new constitution and fight the battle for the presidency. The Islamists want parliamentary elections first, whereas the youth want to remove the military first, while the SCAF generals are incapable of directing public opinion.
Theoretically, it would be beneficial for the weaker and less organized powers, such as the youth coalitions and some national parties, for the military council to remain in power, as a guardian of the constitution. But it seems that SCAF has failed to promote its role as such. The latest confrontations with the youth in Tahrir Square have further complicated the issue, with the death toll rising at a faster rate than during the confrontations with security forces in the days of the uprising against Mubarak. I believe the situation will become more serious because the target today is Field Marshal Tantawi himself and the members of the military council. This means any potential confrontation is inherently fraught with danger.