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Egypt’s Military Dictatorship Rears Its Ugly Head

hussein-tantawiby Jacob G. Hornberger

The Egyptian people are learning firsthand why America’s Founding Fathers were so opposed to standing armies. Our ancestors understood that standing armies are a grave threat to the freedom and well-being of the citizenry. Thus, it’s no surprise that the U.S. Constitution failed to grant to the federal government the power to establish a standing army.

Over the weekend, the Egyptian people elected a new president. The two contenders in the presidential runoff were Ahmed Shafik and Mohamed Morsi.

Shafik is a former air force general who served as Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister. He pledged to restore “order and stability” to Egypt, which, of course, would mean the same type of military police state under which the Egyptian people have suffered for decades.

Morsi is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, a powerful religious group that was outlawed by the Mubarak dictatorship.

Morsi ended up winning the election.

Not that it matters though because a couple of days before the election, Egypt’s military dictatorship’s supreme court ordered the dissolution of Parliament. The military then declared martial law, which entitles the military to take people into custody without judicially issued warrants, cart them away to concentration camps and military dungeons, torture them, and execute them perhaps after some sort of kangaroo tribunal (i.e., the same types of “emergency” powers now wielded by the U.S military and the CIA).

But that’s not the end of it. Prior to the announcement that Morsi had won the election, the military issued an “interim constitution.”

Now, mind you, the purpose of a constitution is to establish the government and to enumerate the powers of the government. Yet, here we have a component of the government — the military — issuing the constitution and, even worse, a constitution that establishes that the military shall remain in charge of the country. According to the New York Times, the interim charter “gives them control of all laws and the national budget, immunity from any oversight and the power to veto a declaration of war.”

What about a permanent constitution? Well, it was supposed to be drafted by a panel selected by the Parliament. But that plan is obviously out the window given that the military has now dissolved the Parliament. The military has appointed a 100-member panel to draft it. It’s still not clear how many army generals, colonels, or retired military personnel compose the military’s new 100-person constitution panel.

One thing is for sure though: The Egyptian military is not about to relinquish its power over the Egyptian people. The Egyptian national-security state considers itself the foundation of Egyptian society. Having thrived off tax revenues and military-owned commercial enterprises, the military considers itself the permanent, privileged, sacrosanct foundation of society. As far as the military is concerned, everything else is subordinate to its exalted, controlling position in society.

After all, their reasoning is that the military (including the national intelligence force) is absolutely essential to Egypt’s “national security.” Thus, the military is not about to permit a government to come into existence that has the power to dismantle or even reduce its role in Egyptian life. In the military mind, if Egypt were to dismantle or even subordinate the power of the military, national security would be gravely threatened. The country would almost surely fall to the communists, the terrorists, the drug dealers, invaders, or other such forces.

That is what so many Egyptians have yet to come to grips with. The problem was never Mubarak. The problem was Egypt’s military dictatorship.

Where will all this end?

One possibility is that the Egyptian people will simply submit to military rule. If that’s the case, they can kiss away any hope of ever achieving a free society. No matter how much people might convince themselves otherwise, there is no way that a people can be considered free who live under a military dictatorship, especially one that considers itself the permanent, controlling, exalted force in society.

Another option is violent revolution, one intended to oust the military dictatorship from power and install a government that subordinates or even dismantles Egypt’s national-security state or at least relegates it to a subordinate role.

Another possibility, of course, is peaceful civil disobedience, but my hunch is the military dictatorship will either ignore it or come down hard on such resistance, which would end up placing the citizenry in the same quandary: whether to submit or violently revolt.

A fascinating aspect of all this is where the U.S. government and especially the U.S. national security state will come down. Historically, the U.S. government has loved Egypt’s military dictatorship, a love that has been manifested over the decades with billions of dollars in U.S. foreign aid. Moreover, over the years the Pentagon and the CIA have established loving relationships with their counterparts in Egypt’s national-security state. Why, the Egyptian national-security state was even chosen to be one of the U.S. national-security state’s rendition-torture partners in the “war on terrorism.”

Thus, there’s little doubt that the Egyptian military’s actions in the past few days to maintain its control and to maintain “order and stability” within the country have encountered enthusiastic approval, even if somewhat subdued, within friendly elements of the U.S. government.

But given the U.S. government’s vocal opposition to the Syrian dictatorship’s oppression of the Syrian people, it will be fascinating to see how the U.S. government reconciles that position with a support of the Egyptian military dictatorship’s oppression of the Egyptian people, especially if the Egyptian people begin violently resisting the tyranny under which they are suffering.

Hopefully, what is happening in Egypt will encourage the Egyptian people to ponder why America’s Founding Fathers opposed standing armies. Perhaps it will cause the American people to do the same.

Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of the Future of Freedom Foundation.

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