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Dec 18, 2012 | 11:43 GMT

Egypt's Military and the Pakistani Model

Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images
Summary

While not as powerful as before the fall of the Mubarak government, the Egyptian military is still the most coherent and most powerful institution in Egypt. To remain that way, it needs a strategy for managing a new era of turbulent multiparty politics. Pakistan's is the only military in the Muslim world that has retained its privileged position in an increasingly democratic political system. Similarities between the two countries outweigh their differences, offering the Egyptian armed forces a template for their bid to keep power.

Much has been said about how the Muslim Brotherhood wishes to model itself after Turkey's ruling party, the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party, by reducing the role of the military in the political arena. But little has been said about how the Egyptian generals will avoid that fate. The Egyptian military needs a civilian vehicle through which it can manage the country. This would allow Egypt — the Arab world's most important country — to continue its foreign policy behavior at a time of growing unrest in the region. The only potential partner for the military at this time is the Muslim Brotherhood, which has shown it can cooperate with the Egyptian armed forces.

While the military values the country's other political blocs, it does not value them the same way it does the Brotherhood. The secularists and the Salafists are levers the military can use to constrain the Brotherhood and thus prevent the group from bringing the military under civilian control. In a reversal, the Muslim Brotherhood's biggest challenge since Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi's Nov. 22 decree has come from the non-Islamist left. Previously, the Brotherhood's biggest challenge came from the Salafists on the right. Circumstances will shape whether this situation reverses once again; either way, the armed forces will be able to use these various alignments to shape Egypt's political transition.

A Working Relationship

The Egyptian armed forces see Pakistan as an example of how to manage the new political landscape in Egypt. From a strategic level, the Egypt is presently divided between Brotherhood and anti-Brotherhood forces. Similarly, Pakistan was long divided between pro-Pakistan People's Party and anti-Pakistan People's Party elements. Egypt's generals would like to see the Muslim Brotherhood emulate the Pakistan People's Party, which previously was the military's adversary but has since developed a fairly good working relationship with the country's security sector. The ideological differences between the two — Egypt's ruling party is Islamist and Pakistan's is more secular — do not undermine the fact that the main parties are willing to work with the security establishment with varying degrees of enthusiasm.

The evolution of Pakistani civilian-military relations since 1988, when the military regime of former President Gen. Mohammed Zia-ul-Haq ended, offers insights into what could transpire in Egypt. In many ways, Egypt today is similar to Pakistan in the 1990s, when the military used what it termed constitutional and legal means to control the system and the Pakistan People's Party. In 1990, 1993 and 1996, Pakistan's generals used the judiciary, the presidency and opposition parties to dismiss sitting governments and dissolve the parliament to prevent civilian governments from gaining ground.

Egyptian generals benefit from having developed a working relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood more quickly than their Pakistani counterparts could with the Pakistan People's Party — something that did not happen in Pakistan until 2008. However, in Egypt the president hails from the main political party; in Pakistan, the president was a civilian bureaucrat and a creation of the military-dominated establishment. The Egyptian army will therefore have to work with Morsi to contain the legislative branch, which the Muslim Brotherhood sees as a means to consolidate power. Like the Pakistani security establishment, the Egyptian generals will seek to thwart the ruling party by helping smaller parties gain additional seats in parliament in hopes of denying the ruling party of a majority.

To that end, the coming years could see the Egyptian parliament dismissed prematurely more than once. In a more extreme step, Egypt's army could compel the president to drop his support for the ruling party, as happened in Pakistan in 1996, or even engineer the ouster of Morsi or his successors as president. Morsi's distancing himself from the Muslim Brotherhood in the future is not out of the question, especially given growing pressures on him to act as a national figure rather than a partisan one. These forces mean he increasingly will find himself squeezed between the Muslim Brotherhood, the military and the political opposition.

Egypt's army could even intervene along the lines of Pakistan in 1999, when Gen. Pervez Musharraf seized the presidency in a coup. Given the domestic, regional and international climate, this would only happen if the Egyptian army faced a situation in which the civilian institutions were unable to govern and/or unrest reached a level where the Muslim Brotherhood-led government could not control the situation.

Knowing the fate of Musharraf and the damage inflicted on the Pakistani security establishment during his tenure, the Egyptian generals would avoid seizing power too overtly. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces would allow Egypt's senior military leaders to avoid having to have the top general assume the presidency. Instead, the collective leadership of the council would take over, though it would probably eventually appoint a new president, as it did after Mubarak's ouster. The current draft Egyptian constitution institutionalizes the role of the military in politics, a clause the final draft will likely contain, thereby facilitating any future interventions against the presidency. 

The Egyptian military will have to do a better job than Pakistan has done in avoiding being squeezed between assertive executive legislative and judicial branches. Doing so will require keeping Egypt's branches of government divided internally, and that means getting to the point where the Muslim Brotherhood faces competition from a constellation of smaller political forces, especially in the legislature.
 Pakistan's national Islamist parties have always been weak and never have posed a realistic challenge to the Pakistan People's Party, and Egypt's secularist parties will likely be the same way.

But Pakistani generals allowed smaller regional parties such as the Pakistan Muslim League in Punjab, Muttahida Qaumi Movement in urban Sindh and the Awami National Party in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province to develop, limiting the power of the Pakistan People's Party and forcing it to work with the military. Egypt is not as divided along regional lines as Pakistan, meaning the potential for strong regional parties is absent. But Egypt has enough smaller parties the military can encourage to check the power of the Muslim Brotherhood — something it is already doing.

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