Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

Cook examines developments in the Middle East and their resonance in Washington.

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Military ‘Soft Coup’ in Egypt Has Precedent

by Steven A. Cook
June 21, 2012

Police stand guard during a protest against the military council outside Egypt's parliament in Cairo (Suhaib Salem/Courtesy Reuters).


This is an excerpt from an article published here at The Christian Science Monitor on Wednesday, June 20, 2012. I hope you find it interesting and I look forward to reading your comments. 

The days of coups d’état around the world are over, or so many observers have told us in recent years. Militaries have been domesticated, the people will not tolerate martial law, national stock markets would swoon if officers toppled civilians, and the opprobrium of the international community would be intense.

All these factors were to have made the sight of tanks and troops in the streets the stuff of grainy old photos of a bygone era. Indeed, coups have been relatively rare with perhaps the exception of places in Africa and tiny islands in the South Pacific.

Yet the Egyptian military’s recent constitutional decree indicates that when the interests of the officers dictate, they are more than capable of using a combination of coercion, prestige, and their own sense of national duty to undermine legitimate governments and political processes.

There is a debate whether a June 17 decree, issued by Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (or SCAF), was actually a coup. After all, they did not deploy troops to sensitive locations. They did not take over the television station (it was already in their hands). They did not arrest politicians and they did not issue a numbered communiqué declaring a new order – all hallmarks of coups from all over the world.

Moreover, Egypt’s officers acted after the Supreme Constitutional Court issued a ruling declaring one-third of the seats in the People’s Assembly void and the head of that court asserted that without those seats the parliament could not function.

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  • Posted by Keith Wheelock

    Last spring I forecast that there was a 20% probability of a representative Egyptian government not strongly influenced by the military within five years. I stand by this prediction.

    My basis goes back to 1958. While researching my book NASSER’S NEW EGYPT: A CRITICAL ANALYSIS, Ihave various meetings with President Nasser. In 1958 I gave him a copy of Djilas’s THE NEW CLASS, which documented the corruption and economic inefficiencies of Tito’s ‘new class’ in Yugoslavia. I urged Nasser to read it, since it reflected what was occurring with the Egyptian military’s ‘new class.’

    Clearly this Egyptian military/security forces new class has mushroomed greatly since 1958. A recent article guessed that the Egyptian military and security forces control about 30% of the Egyptian economy. I severely doubt that this ‘new class,’ including its civilian partners, will willingly give up this privileged position and permit a rigorous investigation of how this group has enriched itself.

    This is the struggle that I foresee after the recent presidential election (results not yet certified) and the prolonged crafting (and re-crafting) of a constitution. The strongest justification for a continued dominant military role is the desire for ‘security,’ including a more stable economic situation. I anticipate military crackdowns on local demonstrations and a steadfast effort by the military to circumscribe the authority of whomever might emerge as part of a ;transitional government.’ For the moment I stand by my 20% prediction.

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