The wishes of the Egyptian people, as expressed through the ballot box, would be honored, even if those wishes undermine the long-standing privileges enjoyed by the military, one of the members of the ruling Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces promised on Monday. Those assertions, however, largely fell on skeptical ears.
Maj. Gen. Said Elassar, who was in Washington for talks at the State Department, claimed the Egyptian military, which has ruled on an interim basis since President Hosni Mubarak resigned after a popular uprising early this year, would peacefully and eagerly return power to a civilian elected government. Yet he also didn't rule out the prospect of the military continuing to play a role in the government, especially, he said, if it was given that responsibility in the new constitution.
Speaking at the United States Institute of Peace, Elassar said the military’s responsibilities would be determined “definitely by the new constitution,” which is to be drafted by a select committee chosen by parliament and submitted for public approval in a countrywide referendum.
Some analysts have speculated the Egyptian military council is considering carving out for itself a role similar to that of the Turkish military, which forced out several civilian governments in the 20th century when it viewed they were moving to de-secularize the state.
But Elassar rejected that. “We have no business [in] drafting the constitution,” he said.
Earlier this month the council said it would embrace “a declaration of basic principles” that would be used to direct the crafting of the constitution. A legal specialist contracted by the supreme council to write the declaration told The New York Times that the basic principles would specify the military’s role in the new government.
At present, the Egyptian armed forces does not share the details of its budget with parliament, which has no oversight authority. The Egyptian military also has extensive interests in the private sector, which also are not subject to review by lawmakers.
Asked if the Egyptian military would be willing to accept a parliament that set its budget, had oversight over its expenditures, and that forbade it from owning businesses, Elassar responded, “The Egyptian armed forces … is owned by the Egyptian people and we are ready to play any role [provided] in the constitution."
SCAF announced last week that a three-phased process for parliamentary elections would begin in September and conclude the following month. Additionally, the council declared that international observers would not be allowed to monitor the election process. Elassar said Egyptian NGOs could send their own monitors and that foreign “visitors” would be allowed to visit election sites.
Audience member Ayman Soliman, an Egyptian, said he was a “little disappointed” with the general’s remarks and said they contained no new information. Soliman, who drove down from New York City to attend the event, said the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces’ main problem with the Egyptian protesters—who continue to foment unrest from Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo—is a lack of transparency in how it operates.
USIP Senior Vice President Steve Heydemann said he was “skeptical” the Egyptian military will peaceably accept whatever role it may be given under the new constitution, regardless of Elassar’s assurances otherwise.
“[Elassar] clearly has some talking points that are designed to appeal to the American public,” Heydemann said.