Cairo's Junta Tightens its Stranglehold on Power

As Egypt rushes towards elections on November 28, Cairo's interim junta has moved to ensure its authority - and budget - are protected.

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Gabe Kahn.,

Hussein Tantawi
Hussein Tantawi
Official Photo

As Egypt's first electoral contest since the February 11 ouster of President Hosni Mubarak approaches, the interim ruling junta has moved to silence critics and polish its public image, Al Masry Al Youm reports.

Activists and politicians in Cairo fear the military, which used its status as a revered public institution to step in and assume power in the vacuum left by Mubarak, will refuse to submit to whatever government emerges from parliamentary elections slated to begin November 28.

Concerns came to a head last week when the military-backed interim government laid down parameters for writing Egypt's future constitution, which included Cairo's generals selecting 80 per cent of the membership for the constitutional committee.

The parameters also state that Egypt's defense budget would be kept secret and the military would be the "guardian" of the constitution, raising the possibility of corruption and intervention in legislative and presidential affairs.

The Egyptian military's power highlights the bizarre dissonance of Cairo's 'Arab Spring,' in which a popular uprising against Mubarak's 30-year police state resulted in military rule.

But millions of Egyptians, worried about rising radicalization amid a flagging economy, support the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces as a powerful force for stability that can not only maintain order, but address the challenges of the future.

State television and newspapers have portrayed Field Marshal Mohammad Hussain Tantawi in a flattering light, echoing portrayals of Mubarak during his rule, including coverage of the ‘Egypt Above All' movement that has pasted posters of the field marshal across Cairo.

And, last month, a video clip of Tantawi taking an evening stroll in a business suit without his bodyguards gave rise to speculation he would run in the next presidential elections - in 2013.

Since Egypt's independence from British colonial rule in 1952, its three presidents — Jamal Abdul Nasser, Anwar Sadat and Mubarak — have come from senior military ranks.

But critics say the military's current demeanor brushes aside pretensions of a civil state that may have existed in the past and baldly telegraphs a move towards military guardianship.

Tantawi denied he would run for office — insisting the military has no interest in holding power after parliamentary elections —  but he will remain at the helm until presidential elections are held.

Observers say that gives him plenty of time to change his mind, and note a political cabal who’s funding has not been publicly declared is campaigning for Tantawi to seek office.

The interim junta's move to consolidate its hold on power has resulted in silence from Western leaders who previously applauded Mubarak's ouster and the seeming momentum in Cairo towards democracy.

At the core of Western unease, analysts say, is the fact that the military — heavy addicted to US military aid dollars — represents a strategic and economic status quo oriented towards cooperation with the West.