Pressman: “Coup with a mass(ive) twist”

Pressman: “Coup with a mass(ive) twist”

from Informed Comment by Juan

Jeremy Pressman writes in a guest column for Informed Comment:

Since Mubarak’s departure, I have followed several discussions among academics and analysts about what just happened. Some contend it was a military coup . Many others call it a popular revolution.

I am not surprised about this disagreement because while the general pressure that was brought to bear on Mubarak came from millions of Egyptians taking to the streets, the final push came from Egypt’s generals who saw the writing on the wall, even when Mubarak himself stubbornly clung to power. (Maybe it was a coupvolution?)

But the coup vs. revolution divide is not just an academic debate. The combination of these two elements will likely greatly influence the direction Egypt takes over the next 6-12 months. As Juan Cole noted on February 13, “For the moment, Egypt is a strange kind of military dictatorship, with various safety valves for popular input and a set of promises for the future. But then, it has been that for some time– it is just that the promises may now be more credible and a transition to something else may be possible.”

Will the leaders of the armed forces still think about how to protect their military, political, and economic power? Absolutely, and I would not expect them to do otherwise.

At the same time, we know the generals witnessed the same mass movement that captivated not only the Egyptian populace but also the rest of the world. The cost of blocking genuine political reform would clearly be higher than in the aftermath of a conventional coup where the initial pressure for change came from the military itself. In this case, the January 25 movement was an impressive mass movement with extensive preparation, transnational learning, and broad public involvement.

Moreover, I fear the understandable focus on the fact that it took only 18 days to topple Mubarak – amazing, yes – obscures the years of planning, protesting, organizing, and learning by many Egyptian groups. By all appearances, this was a hard-fought and well-earned victory, not a flash in the pan.

What I am left wondering is whether the military can relinquish political power, perhaps even to the point of formal civilian rule over the armed forces, and still hold onto its economic empire. With Gamal Mubarak “badly in need of a good career counselor,” the military’s economic arms might even have a freer hand.

(A succinct take is here: “And it seems that the military, now as “national capitalists,” have seen themselves as the blood rivals of the neoliberal “crony capitalists” associated with Hosni Mubarak’s son Gamal who have privatized anything they can get their hands on and sold the country’s assets off to China, the US, and Persian Gulf capital.”) Because while the desire for political freedom played a central role in the uprising, economic want did as well. What happens if Egyptians see progress on one but not the other?

Jeremy Pressman
Alan R. Bennett Honors Professor
Associate Professor
Department of Political Science
University of Connecticut


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