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Egyptians shouldn’t rely on the army to forge change

The guarantors for the Egyptian state’s survival are its governing institutions and the army

Dr. Fahmy Howeidy

Published: Updated:

The issue of the army’s relationship with politics has been brought up again in Egypt with the announcement by former Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi that he would run for president. There were analyses that Egypt was set to collapse and only the army could prevent it. We were also subjected to analyses about the army’s role and holding it responsible for the progress of society. Some went as far as to link Egypt’s future, role and presence to Sisi becoming president and running the country. Such ideas need to be reviewed and controlled in order to distinguish among what’s acceptable, rejected and despicable.

The issue is sensitive as some consider it a sanctity which must be protected by the utmost veneration and reverence. There are those who are army zealots and those who oppose the army’s role and are provoked by the word “military” and consider it a symbol of many evils. Moreover, our societies which lacked the democratic culture for so long began to see a contradiction between diversity and respect - although many repeatedly say that diversity does not ruin the amiability of a cause. However, the contrary is true on the practical level as diversity has become a source for ending amiability and increasing rivalry. There’s plenty of evidence from the past few years to prove this point. So when people disagreed with one another over politics, this did not only lead to the severance of relations within the same family but it also opened the door for violating others’ rights and insulting them. However, our disagreements over the army’s role does not diminish our respect for the army. Allow me to remind you that respect does not mean sanctification. Respect allows us to have reservations and criticize while sanctification considers any criticism as a sign of defecting from popular unity and harming national security.

A dangerous adventure

Saying that the army is the only guarantor for the Egyptian state’s survival places us on the path to a dangerous adventure. The army being the “sole” guarantor opens the door wide for sliding towards military fascism. This is because this exclusivity means there’s no other power in society that can restrain the army and limit its aspirations and practices.

Our disagreements over the army’s role does not diminish our respect for the army. Allow me to remind you that respect does not mean sanctification

Dr. Fahmy Howeidy

For around 70 years, Turkey lived under different levels of military fascism because the army considered itself the sole guarantor for the continuity of the republican regime. Turkey did not restore its well-being until the society toppled this system in 2002 and became the guarantor responsible for protecting the republic. The army continued to hold its vital role protecting borders and the country’s security. Whatever our opinion is of the recent practices in Turkey, dealing with these practices remained within the mechanism of democratic experience and did not involve the army.

The guarantors for the Egyptian state’s survival are its governing institutions and the army. The army however is not the only one to depend on. If these institutions become weak and fragile, the solution would be to work towards restoring their well-being and not cancelling them out and betting solely on the army. History teaches us that depending on military power alone was a trigger for collapse and not towards continuity and progress. This is because no matter how powerful armies get, they cannot be an alternative to the power of societies with its political, judicial, educational, institutional and other components.

In his article “Progress is the responsibility of the army” published in al-Shorouk News, our colleague Jamil Matar was more cautious and rightly said: “Most experiences in which armies themselves ruled and in which they handled ordinary political responsibilities ended in the worst case scenarios in failure or disasters. In the best case scenarios, they ended in obstructing political growth - in other words, they obstructed the middle-class’s ability to form civil parties and movements and to build the country and improve citizens. Experiences in which the armies ruled [have shown us] that they were occupied with governance and political problems and were [thus distracted] from their major role as an engine of progress and civilization.”

There are segments in Egypt always betting on the authority’s role. No one is denying the importance of this role but the big challenge we’re confronting is how to encourage society and how to mobilize its energy so it practices its role in achieving the aspired to advancement. I am probably not exaggerating when I say that evoking the army’s role represents the smallest effort while summoning the society and reviving its institutions is the biggest effort. We want loving the country to come before loving the army.

This article was first published in al-Shorouk News.

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Dr. Fahmy Howeidy has worked in journalism since 1958 for Egypt's Al-Ahram Foundation. He is currently the Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the Al-Ahram newspaper. Previously, Howeidy served as the Managing Editor of Kuwait's Al-Arabi magazine and of Arabia magazine, which is published in London, UK in English. He is now fully dedicated to contributing to Al-Ahram and has a column each Tuesday published in six Arab countries in Asharq Al-Awsat, Al-Majalla, and Al-Wafd Newspaper. Howeidy has had seventeen books published, including: The Quran and the Sultan, Awareness Forgery, In Order Not to be A Sedition, Islam in China, Iran from the Inside, Taliban, Establishing Due Rights, and The Crisis of Religious Awareness. Howeidy is a specialist in Arab and Islamic affairs.

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