The most important question about Egypt is what will its constitution look like. Will there be full civilian control or will the pro-US military dictatorship carve out areas where policy is not subject to democratic accountability.
The New York Times has reported that the pro-US Egyptian military dictatorship has committed to deny Egyptian democratic accountability over foreign policy. According to the Times, that would make it less difficult to sustain the US' close partnership with Egypt.
The new majority is likely to increase the difficulty of sustaining the United States’ close military and political partnership with post-Mubarak Egypt, though the military has said it plans to maintain a monopoly over many aspects of foreign affairs.Jimmy Carter, almost certainly in communication with the Obama administration, after later meeting in private with Egypt's dictator expressed his opinion to reporters that civilian control should be limited.
“ ‘Full civilian control’ is a little excessive, I think,” Mr. Carter said, after describing a meeting he had Tuesday with Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, leader of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, or SCAF.A second question about Egypt is how long will the dictatorship be able to stall the process of transferring power to civilians. By stalling, the pro-US dictatorship is not only delaying the actual transfer, but it is also delaying the moment when it has to commit to any attempt to limit the power of the civilian government.
While the pro-US dictatorship did avoid transferring power by its original commitment of six months after Mubarak left power, the people of Egypt have scored a victory in moving the nomination for President up by a month from April and possibly moving the actual election and transfer of power up from June. It is clear that the people of Egypt are successfully applying enough pressure that the pro-US dictatorship will not be able to delay the transfer of power by a matter of years or indefinitely.
Egypt's military has bowed to growing pressure to speed up the transition to civilian rule.With these two questions still not fully answered, will the pro-US military successfully deny control of foreign policy to the civilian government and how long will the pro-US military dictatorship successfully stall both an actual transfer of power and its formal attempt to deny civilian oversight in an Egyptian constitution, a mini-scandal has erupted in which the pro-US military dictatorship has publicly taken steps to prosecute US-based NGOs for breaking Egyptian laws related to foreign financed political groups.
The interim rulers have agreed that the process of nominating candidates to run in the presidential election can begin on 10 March. The move means that the vote could be held in April or May, earlier than originally planned.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which has led the country since former president Hosni Mubarak was ousted a year ago, has been the target of mass protests calling for the generals to cede power.
Egypt is ensuring "a correction of the situation, protection of national security and assertion of sovereignty," said Fayza Aboulnaga, minister of planning and international cooperation, according to the state-run Middle East News Agency. Breaking past agreements, the U.S. financed unregistered organizations and didn't cap annual funding to registered groups at $20 million, Mena cited her as saying.It takes effort to resist the temptation to write this entire episode off as staged political theater aimed at creating a false perception of distance between the US and the pro-US Egyptian military dictatorship. When the Sinai gas pipelines are ruptured, the dictatorship quietly but immediately repairs them and the dictatorship has not eased the siege on Gaza. These are not demands of the Egyptian people, but demands of the Americans on behalf of Israel that the pro-US military dictatorship is following without a hitch.
"We noticed that unregistered organizations and private companies were being funded," Aboulnaga was cited as saying. "The controls aren't an Egyptian invention, but are in all countries. As a matter of fact, we are more flexible than the States."
But I'm resisting that temptation and trying to take the NGO episode seriously.
It could be that what the pro-US military dictatorship is trying to protect is its monopoly on secret payments from the United States. That the US could use these NGO's to create an alternate well of corruption so that the US could reach a position where it does not need the military to ensure that Egypt's voters are unable to control foreign affairs to detriment of Israel.
This is a battle Egypt's military can win. If the United States wants to pay a group in Egypt to protect Israel from Egypt's voters, that group will have to be the military. While Egypt's protesters will take to the streets to protest delays or to protest the military dictatorship's proposal to keep the military budget secret, they will not take to the streets to protest limiting US NGOs to transparent $20 million annual budgets.
If Barack Obama could tolerate Egyptian democracy, he would not be having this problem. But the military can tell the Obama administration that it will have to choose between Egypt's voters and the pro-US military dictatorship controlling Egypt's foreign policy. It will allow no other alternative. If the dictatorship tells that to the US, it can be completely confident that ultimately the US will choose the dictatorship.
The people of Egypt, on the other hand, and contrary to the desires of Tantawi, Carter and Obama, have not accepted the partial democracy that imperial Great Britain offered 100 years ago and that the US offers today. I am still optimistic that they will not so that neither Egypt's pro-US military dictatorship nor its US sponsors will have their wish.