October 11, 2011 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 748

In Egypt, Criticism of SCAF Intensifies

October 11, 2011 | By N. Shamni*
Egypt | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 748


In the months since the Egypt's January 2011 revolution, the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has been progressively losing the support it enjoyed in the early days of the revolution, when the majority of the Egyptian people rallied around it believing it would advance and defend their cause. Over time, the SCAF has faced increasing criticism for failing to implement the goals of the revolution, and has been accused of being an extension of the previous regime. On July 8, 2011, mass demonstrations called for a "Second Revolution" against the SCAF, marking a significant turning point in relations between this body and the Egyptian people.[1] The SCAF also sparked public outrage when, on August 7, 2011, it appointed members of the military and the old regime to replace some of Egypt's regional governors.[2]

Recent criticism has focused chiefly on the claim that the military establishment has continued in the way of the old regime by reviving the Emergency Law, trying civilians in military courts, and delaying handing over the rule to civilian authority. Apparently, the Egyptian people has begun to realize that the military establishment, in power since 1952, will not readily give up its political power and economic strength, and that another uprising, this time against this establishment, may be necessary.[3] Several political parties are preparing for a million-strong demonstration set for October 7, 2011, that will call on the SCAF to either meet their demands or step down in favor of a civilian interim presidential committee that will run the country's affairs.[4]

The Military Is Part of the Old Regime – And Was Never Part of the Revolution

From the outset of the revolution, the armed forces were accused by some of representing Egypt's old regime rather than the revolution. Egyptian author 'Alaa Al-Aswany recently wrote in the independent Egyptian daily Al-Masri Al-Yawm that the SCAF had taken no real steps to defend the revolution: "We must remember that the Egyptian revolution did not [take] the rule into its hands and is therefore not responsible for what is happening. The only one responsible is the SCAF, which is standing in for both the president of the republic and the parliament during the interim period. The Egyptians rose up against Hosni Mubarak and toppled him, and when the army [joined the protesters] on the streets, the rebels celebrated their victory and returned home, believing that the SCAF would represent the revolution and realize all of its goals. This was a serious misreading [of reality].

"The military is part of the old regime and was never part of the revolution. We were wrong not to realize that the great national role of the Egyptian military is one thing and the political role of the SCAF is another. The SCAF was not revolutionary and did not oppose [the methods of] the Mubarak regime, not for a single day. It was simply a part of [this regime]. The revolution considered the ouster of Hosni Mubarak to be a giant step, but this was only the beginning of the uprooting of the Mubarak regime. The SCAF, on the other hand, considered Mubarak's resignation to be an unavoidable step in saving the old regime. We appreciate the SCAF's decision to refrain from helping the dictator against the will of the people. However, the SCAF has taken no real steps to defend the revolution [either]. The SCAF generals, up to the day before the revolution, considered the old regime to be the essence of the Egyptian state, and that is why they cannot take part in destroying the regime they were aligned with and part of."

The SCAF Is Incapable of Uprooting the Old Regime

"Notwithstanding its elegant diplomatic statements, it is clear that the SCAF does not agree with the revolution and its stance on change. Mubarak and the symbols of corruption are standing trial due to overwhelming public pressure that the SCAF was unable to withstand. But [the latter] then refused to meet the demands for change, and members of the SCAF gradually began even to detest the legitimate demands of the revolution... and to oppress the Egyptians through the military police and military trials. The crimes of the military police [include] defiling the honor of female protestors under the pretext that [the officers] wished [to verify] their virginity, torturing protestors and allowing their blood to be shed, and trying 12,000 Egyptian [civilians] in military courts. All these travesties prove that the SCAF's stance on the revolution will never be what its first statements [following the revolution] claimed it to be. Some of the SCAF's generals even accused a group of noble citizens of collaborating [with hostile foreign elements], while producing no proof [to back up] their false accusations.

"The SCAF's devotion to the previous regime is the true reason for the problems we are suffering: Instead of drafting a new constitution, the SCAF made do with amending some clauses in the old constitution and then holding a referendum on the amendments. Shortly thereafter, it turned against the results of this referendum and declared a temporary constitution with 63 clauses, thereby re-imposing the old form of political rule on the Egyptian people without consulting them...

"Now there is a crisis in Egypt between two sides: the great revolution seeking to destroy the old regime and build a new country, and the SCAF, which opposes change with all its might. What is to be done? The solution lies in uniting the ranks of the revolution and demanding that the SCAF abolish the Emergency Law and put an end to trying civilians in military courts, as well as all emergency trials. The Treason Law must be implemented with an aim to prevent the remnants of the old regime from corrupting the next parliament.[5] The SCAF must then quickly hold elections to hand over the rule to a civilian government. If the SCAF refuses to carry out these legitimate demands, the Egyptian revolution will need to prepare for a second round, one which it is [already] ready to enter – and Allah willing, it will win this [round] just as it won before..."[6]

SCAF Criticized for Reactivating Emergency Law, Trying Civilians in Military Courts

The harshest criticism against the SCAF was over its reactivation of the Emergency Law following the September 9, 2011 attacks on the Israeli Embassy in Cairo and on Interior Ministry buildings in Giza. The lifting of Egypt's Emergency Laws was one of the revolution's primary demands, and for this reason the SCAF had not einstated them before. The decision to do so drew fire from various movements, parties and presidential candidates, who saw this as a return to the Mubarak era.

Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, former IAEA secretary-general and current presidential candidate, asked on his Twitter page: "Who gave the SCAF the authority to activate the Emergency Law or the authority [to hold] military trials?"[7] Another candidate, Islamist preacher Hazem Abu Isma'il, claimed that the SCAF was actually behind the attack on the Israeli Embassy and had orchestrated it in order to perpetuate its rule over Egypt for years to come. He said that Egypt's next battle would be between the people and the SCAF, which had planned the embassy attack so that it concluded in Israel's favor.[8] It should be noted that protests against the Emergency Law included a mass demonstration in Al-Tahrir Square on September 16, 2011, while a demonstration called "Third Egyptian Revolution of Rage" was held September 30.[9]

"The Third Egyptian Revolution of Rage, September 30 – An Indefinite Sit-Down Strike until the Military Regime Is Toppled"

Nasser 'Iraq, a columnist for the Egyptian daily Al-Yawm Al-Sabi', wrote: "Once again, those in power have proven that they cannot direct the country toward building a society of freedom, justice, democracy, and beauty. Their decision to activate the Emergency Law, which is the most infamous law in Egypt's history, unfortunately proves their inability to face the problems standing in the path of the wonderful Egyptian revolution...

"Whoever resorts to using the Emergency Law inadvertently proves that he has utterly failed to manage the country using regular laws, which [should] suffice the authorities in maintaining order and trying lawbreakers. [The SCAF's] continued failure forces us to repeat our great call against the current authorities, [the same call] the protestors in Al-Tahrir Square cast in the face of Mubarak – Get out!"[10]

'Imad 'Arian, a columnist for the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram, wrote: "The recent activation of [a state of] emergency and the [Emergency] Law is saddening because it is completely contrary to all the previous commitments [the SCAF undertook] to lift the [state of] emergency before the upcoming elections, as a guarantee of their fairness and an expression of political freedom. [The state of emergency declared by the SCAF] grants the Interior Ministry and the security apparatuses a new role of managing state affairs, [though they have] no right [to do so], and this is a new disgrace to be added to the greatest worries [facing Egypt]. The [SCAF's] language and its activation of [a state of] emergency are identical to the language and excuses the NDP used for 30 years to sanctify disreputable laws.

"Egypt's laws include clauses for dealing with hooliganism, drug trafficking, and all forms of negligence, loss of control, and deviance, without resorting to declaring [a state of] emergency. All we need now is to activate the security forces and police apparatuses, because it is no secret that Egypt is suffering from a neglect of [domestic] security... We must remember that, in the past, instating stricter punishments [like those specified by the Emergency Law] did not yield positive results..."[11]

SCAF Criticized for Extending Interim Period, Postponing Elections

Since the SCAF came into power, a major issue in Egypt has been the timing of parliamentary and presidential elections. Initially, the Muslim Brotherhood headed the camp that advocated holding the elections as soon as possible, while other parties supported postponing the elections so that they would have more time to prepare. Recently, many figures, from both camps, have expressed increasing concerns that the SCAF may continue to extend the interim period, as it has already done, and various forces in Egypt, including presidential candidates, have rallied around the demand to hold the elections as scheduled, starting November 2011.[12]

Presidential candidate Hazem Abu Isma'il harshly criticized the SCAF for extending the interim period, which was scheduled to terminate at the end of September 2011. At a September 26 convention, he said: "I will let my hand be cut off before I agree to a document allowing the SCAF to remain [in power] until the end of April. In accordance with its own commitment, the SCAF has just 24 hours [to meet our demands], and we have but one demand: the announcement of a clear timetable for the transfer of power and for holding elections to the People's Council, the Shura Council, and the presidency. I do not know what will happen if this does not occur within 24 hours... We have suffered for seven months... and we will not allow [the SCAF] to remain [in power] for another seven months."[13]

Columnist Nasser 'Iraq wrote: "Seven whole months have gone by since the revolution successfully overthrew the head of the [previous] regime and his corrupt retinue. Nonetheless, those who have been eating from the tree of power and who have since been running the country in their distorted way and with their hesitant decisions, have rejected the correct ideas proposed by many political forces in order to make it through the interim period safely and swiftly. Seven months have gone by, and we still do not know when we will have an elected parliament or president. We do not even know if our political regime will be presidential or parliamentary, or something in between.

"We must not forget that the SCAF, which took power on the evening of February 11 [2011], announced that it would remain in power for only six months. That is to say, it should have handed over the rule in August, which is not what happened... And unfortunately, even today no one knows when the members of the military [plan to] reassume their [military] role and their hallowed duty of protecting the borders of the homeland against the enemies. And how numerous the [enemies] are!..."[14]

The day after the large demonstration of September 30, the SCAF met with representatives of the various parties in a bid to resolve the crisis. It was decided that the SCAF would consider lifting the Emergency Law and would amend the Elections Law, and that the presidential elections would be held only in late 2012 after the drafting of a new constitution.[15] Representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood party who attended the meeting accepted the new timetable; in fact, senior Muslim Brotherhood official Sobhi Saleh said that the circumstances in Egypt made it suitable for the SCAF to stay in power until 2013.[16] However, several days later, the Muslim Brotherhood party announced that it was opposed to the SCAF remaining in power until after the drafting of a new constitution, cautioning that the SCAF was likely to lose its standing if it insisted on clinging to a political role.[17] An October 5 Muslim Brotherhood announcement stated that postponing the presidential elections contradicted prior SCAF statements in which the latter denied that it was to remain in power until 2013. The Muslim Brotherhood called for presidential elections to be held immediately after the parliamentary elections, entreating the SCAF to fulfill its previous promises and warning that if it did not, Egypt would deteriorate into an undesirable situation.[18]

Many others, however, opposed the new extension of the interim period, including presidential candidate and former Arab League secretary-general 'Amr Moussa. He said that if the interim period did not end by mid-2012, the consequences would be dire, including declining security and increased political tension.[19] Presidential candidate Muhammad Salim Al-'Awa announced that he was suspending his elections campaign because there was no point in campaigning for an election so far in the future.[20]

Controversy Over Drafting Guidelines for New Constitution

Another public debate centered on the SCAF's support for the government's decision to set out guidelines for Egypt's new constitution. The country's Islamists, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, oppose this formulation of "supra-constitutional" guidelines, as they call them, saying that the drafting of such guidelines is the exclusive right of the future elected parliament. Muslim Brotherhood official Sobhi Saleh said that, just as it fought foreign occupation, his movement would fight against any attempt by the SCAF to force such principles on the Egyptian people, and that the SCAF had no right to do so, as an interim regime.[21]

Qutub Al-'Arabi, a writer on the Muslim Brotherhood's official website, claimed that the decision to formulate guidelines reflected the SCAF's preferential treatment of Egypt's liberal streams: "There is no justification whatsoever for issuing a document of guiding, or supra-constitutional, principles. There is likewise no reason to formulate guidelines for appointing the members of the committee [tasked with] drafting the constitution, or for placing any constraints whatsoever on the election of parliamentary representatives... The SCAF has a chance to justify anew the [political] credit it was granted by the people, now that [the people's faith] in it has eroded, due to its unclear positions on the issues of the constitution and [Egypt's] identity, and following the trial of civilians in military courts. The SCAF has a chance to [win back the people's faith] if it issues a clear announcement reaffirming its respect for the people's choice, and if it denies outright any intention to issue a document of constitutional guidelines or even a document [of criteria] for electing/appointing the members of the constitution [drafting] committee.

"My advice to the SCAF and its top commanders is to treat the various groups and forces among the Egyptian people evenhandedly. It is unreasonable for the SCAF to only listen to the voices of the liberal forces by holding dialogues and meetings with some [of their] intellectuals and writers, as if this were the only force with writers and intellectuals among it, and as if the other streams – and especially the Islamic stream – have no such figures... Throughout 60 years of oppression, the Islamic elite has been prevented from appearing in the official media outlets – and even now, this elite is besieged by the country's media and liberal forces. The unjust treatment of this group [only] intensifies when the SCAF excludes it from its numerous meetings with writers and intellectuals..."[22]

A solution to the crisis over the constitutional guidelines seems imminent following the SCAF's meeting with representatives of the parties. At this meeting it was decided to include the constitutional guidelines, as well as criteria for appointing the members of the constitution drafting committee, in a "Charter of Honor." It was specified further that the principles set out in this document would not have the status of "supra-constitutional" principles.[23]

*N. Shamni is a research fellow at MEMRI.


[1] See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series Report No.708, "The Egyptian Protests: A Second Revolution – Now Against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces," July 15, 2011, The Egyptian Protests: A Second Revolution - Now against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

[2] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No.4078, "Uproar in Egypt over Government Appointment of Regional Governors from Armed Forces, Old Regime," August 15, 2011, Uproar in Egypt Over Government Appointment of Regional Governors from Armed Forces, Old Regime.

[3] See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series Report No.663, "Chronicle of a Doomed Uprising: The Egyptian Revolution as a Microcosm of the Arab Masses' Quest for a Share in Power and Resources," February 7, 2011, Chronicle of a Doomed Uprising: The Egyptian Revolution as a Microcosm of the Arab Masses' Quest for a Share in Power and Resources.

[4] Al-Ahram (Egypt), September 25, 2011. Demands have also been raised to amend Egypt's Parliamentary Elections Law to allow more party candidates to run at the expense of independent candidates, in order to limit the number of independents from the former ruling party, the National Democratic Party (NDP), which was disbanded following the revolution.

[5] Egypt's Treason Law allows charges to be brought against individuals accused of corrupting political life. Many in Egypt have called for this law to be implemented against members of the previous regime so as to bar them from returning to politics.

[6] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), September 20, 2011.

[7] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), September 26, 2011.

[8] Al-Dustour (Egypt), September 11, 2011.

[9] Al-Ahram; Al-Masri Al-Yawm; Al-Shurouq (Egypt), September 13, 2011. See also the Facebook page of this event, which has over 16,000 "likes":

[10] Al-Yawm Al-Sabi' (Egypt), September 20, 2011.

[11] Al-Ahram (Egypt), September 21, 2011.

[12] Al-Dustour (Egypt), September 17, 2011. It should be noted that Egypt's parliamentary elections were originally set to begin in September, but the SCAF has decided to hold elections for the People's Council and Shura Council separately and in three stages. As for the presidential elections, they are to be held only after the drafting of the new constitution. It has been decided that a committee to draft this constitution will be formed in 2012 and will work for in six months. Thus, Egypt is expected to remain without a president at least for another year.

[13] Al-Yawm Al-Sabi' (Egypt), September 27, 2011.

[14] Al-Yawm Al-Sabi' (Egypt), September 20, 2011.

[15] Al-Ahram (Egypt), October 2, 2011.

[16] Al-Yawm Al-Sabi' (Egypt), October 2, 2011.

[17] Al-Yawm Al-Sabi' (Egypt), October 4, 2011.

[18], October 5, 2011.

[19] Al-Ahram (Egypt), October 4, 2011.

[20] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), October 4, 2011.

[21] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), September 26, 2011.

[22], August 18, 2011.

[23] Al-Shurouq (Egypt), October 3, 2011.

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