Socialist Worker

Egypt's generals cling onto power

by Phil Marfleet, in Cairo
Issue No. 2283

For Egypt’s military rulers, the revolution has come to an end. Elections now under way will, they say, produce a new government.

This will restore order and “business as usual”. The demonstrators in Cairo’s Tahrir Square can go home. Strikers can return to their factories and offices.

Egypt is currently run by generals that make up the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf).

According to them, the revolution was all about securing a free vote and open elections.

The first round of the poll has now concluded. The generals are preparing to endorse the Muslim Brotherhood as the almost certain winners.

But the new government will be shackled by the generals. They have said that it will not have full power over the country.

The military will act independently of parliament, running defence and foreign policy.

Even the Brotherhood—which is desperate for positions in government after over 80 years in opposition—is anxious.

Mohamed Morsy, leader of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, says, “Scaf is trying to handcuff the new parliament.”

The Brotherhood wants to strike a deal with Scaf. But it knows that millions of Egyptians hate the generals and want radical change. Morsy accuses Scaf of wanting to “sidestep the will of the people”.

These disagreements hint at the real problems faced by the Brotherhood, which won 40 percent of the vote in the first round.


The generals intend to rule Egypt largely as before. They represent an alliance of top officers, senior officials and businessmen who were the real power behind former dictator Hosni Mubarak’s regime.

In return for maintaining a violent police state, the generals received all manner of privileges which they now intend to retain.

They also face a highly mobilised population which is unwilling to accept the austerity measures certain to be introduced by a new government.

Egypt’s economy is sliding fast and its foreign exchange reserves are diminishing. This raises questions about whether the state can pay for the imported grain that feeds Egypt’s 80 million people.

Government cuts to food subsidies would be lethal. They are also likely to produce new mass protests, directed this time against a new Brotherhood-led government.

Many Egyptians voted for the Brotherhood because they hoped it would introduce cleaner and fairer policies. Now it’s certain to impose austerity.

Brotherhood leaders have enough problems without being seen as creatures of the hated Scaf. That is why they hope the generals will give up their current powers.

Millions of Egyptians are watching events carefully. In the first round of the election, only 52 percent of those eligible voted. In many areas a majority of voters were not involved.

There has so far been no overwhelming electoral endorsement for any political current. Authority could quickly drain away from a government viewed as a creature of the generals.

Cairo is currently edgy and anxious. It is less than a month since military police killed 40 demonstrators in and around Tahrir Square.

Millions of people across Egypt still have scores to settle. They are watching and waiting. But their patience is limited.

Phil Marfleet is professor of international development at the University of East London.

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Tue 13 Dec 2011, 17:13 GMT
Issue No. 2283
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