Egypt’s Military jockeys to maintain Longstanding Grip on Power

Since 1981, President Hosni Mubarak legally affected a 30 year-old state of emergency to avoid appointing a vice president. His unwillingness and distrust of sharing power, may be due in part to his experience as vice president during Sadat's assassination.

Egyptian Succession Rumors

Like an Egyptian version of an Elizabethan engagement, rumors of vice presidential appointments, were evident as far back as 2005. U.S. State Department Cable 05CAIRO04534 cites Omar Suleiman, the former intelligence chief and recently appointed vice president, as the most likely heir apparent.

Suleiman was also named as a likely successor in U.S. State Department Cable 07CAIRO1417, as are other constants: Mubarak's son, Gamal; Ahmed Shafiq, the recently appointed prime minister and former commander of the Egyptian air force; and finally Arab League chief and former Egyptian foreign minister Amr Moussa.

Growing Intra-NDP and Military Conflict

President Mubarak's age and health problems, and the lack of a vice president have sown the seed of intra-NDP and intra-military fissures within Egypt's ruling elite. For years, conflict and resistance has been developing within the old guard of the NDP and military over Mubarak's plans to transfer power to his son, Gamal. U.S. State Department Cable 07CAIRO1417 reports: " WE HAVE HEARD SOME LIMITED REPORTS OF TANTAWIS INCREASING FRUSTRATION AND DISENCHANTMENT WITH GAMAL (REF B)."

Many old guard military view Suleiman as a temporary conduit for Mubarak's son's eventual accession:

(C) ...MANY OF OUR CONTACTS BELIEVE THAT SOLIMAN, BECAUSE OF HIS MILITARY BACKGROUND, WOULD AT THE LEAST HAVE TO FIGURE IN ANY SUCCESSION SCENARIO FOR GAMAL, POSSIBLY AS A TRANSITIONAL FIGURE. SOLIMAN HIMSELF ADAMANTLY DENIES ANY PERSONAL AMBITIONS, BUT HIS INTEREST AND DEDICATION TO NATIONAL SERVICE IS OBVIOUS. HIS LOYALTY TO MUBARAK SEEMS ROCK-SOLID. AT AGE 71, HE COULD BE ATTRACTIVE TO THE RULING APPARATUS AND THE PUBLIC AT LARGE AS A RELIABLE FIGURE UNLIKELY TO HARBOR AMBITIONS FOR ANOTHER MULTI-DECADE PRESIDENCY. (Source:07CAIRO1417 )

In April of 2010, one month after Mubarak was hospitalized in Germany for major gall bladder surgery, Stratfor cited sources saying that Mubarak would likely select Suleiman, Egypt's current vice president and former intelligence chief, in "a succession plan that would default to Mubarak's son Gamal."

The other two choices reported were Zakaria Azmi, a prominent member of the People's Assembly; and, then Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shafiq, former minister of Civil Aviation and a former commander of the Egyptian air force (and the recently appointed vice president). (Source: Stratfor)

Ahmad Shafiq, Bridge between Old and New Guard

Shafiq was being presented a "potential bridge between Egypt's old and new guard":

"Mubarak's decision to appoint Shafiq as the minister of civil aviation in 2002 was a sign that Shafiq was being groomed for a more serious position, as most Egyptian generals do not typically get the opportunity to acquire civilian experience in the government. Such civilian experience enhances the credibility of a retired general if and when he is appointed to a more senior political office. As The Wall Street Journal reported in a Dec. 10 article citing diplomatic sources, a column by the editor-in-chief of state-owned Mussawar magazine highlighting Shafiq's credentials was a good indication that conditions are being prepped for Shafiq to enter the political limelight." (Source: Stratfor)

The old guard prefers a candidate that comes from within their ranks and one who has the capacity to maintain the status quo through a transition. But, US State Department Cable 07CAIRO1417 elucidates one of the challenges the old guard of the military face, vis. their lack of a viable candidate:

"BUT TANTAWI AND HIS SENIOR COTERIE ARE NOT NECESSARILY POPULAR AT MID AND LOWER RANKS, SO THE POSSIBILITY OF A MID-20TH CENTURY STYLE COUP OF COLONELS CANNOT BE ENTIRELY DISCOUNTED."

Parliamentary Elections bring Power Grab

The November 28 and December 5 parliamentary elections demonstrate the growing fissures within Egypt's ruling elite over Mubarak's succession plans.

"After the elections, prominent members of the old guard, led by NDP Secretary-General Safwat al-Sharif, publicly criticized the manner in which the elections were conducted and warned that such irregularities would adversely affect Egypt's foreign relations. The criticism does not stem from any newfound desire on the part of the old guard to develop a more pluralistic political system; rather, it was a tool used to publicly voice opposition to Mubarak's plans for the new government and to demonstrate the growing rift within the ruling elite. The implicit warning was that the longer the president allows these divisions to simmer, the more opposition groups will be galvanized to exploit these rifts and stage a meaningful challenge to the president in a tense election year." (Source: Stratfor)

Balancing Act

The old guard of the military's and NDPs are exacting a strategy of slowly distancing themselves from Mubarak, while also asserting more control over executive affairs. Stratfor reports that: "Among the more revealing statements made by the NDP coming out of the Jan. 27 meeting, which also included security officials, was the following: 'The NDP is not the executive, just a party, and itself reviews the performance of the executive.'

The Egyptian Daily Almesryoon ) claims that an unidentified minister called for Mubarak to appoint a vice president from the military, resign as president, and abandon his plans to have Gamal, his son assume the presidency.

Military Power Tries to Maintain Popular Support

The constant of Mubarak's regime is the military's tight grip over the NDP and the Egyptian government. Washington Post reported on Saturday, "The installation of military men into powerful new roles in the Egyptian government...reflected a martial style of rule unbroken in Egypt since Gamal Abdel Nasser and his young officers toppled the monarchy in 1952."

What is different today is the old guard military are facing the challenge of maintaining popular support while suppressing coalescing, opposition forces that could pose a viable threat to the status quo. As U.S. State Department Cable 07CAIRO1417 states: :WHOEVER ENDS UP AS EGYPT'S NEXT PRESIDENT LIKELY WILL BE POLITICALLY WEAKER THAN MUBARAK. ONCE MUBARAK'S SUCCESSOR HAS ASSUMED THE POST, HIS FIRST PRIORITY WILL BE TO BUILD POPULAR SUPPORT."

The Egyptian army's vow to avoid using force may in fact be part of an overall strategy to ensure popular support in an effort to maintain their long-standing grip on power:

"Your armed forces, who are aware of the legitimacy of your demands and are keen to assume their responsibility in protecting the nation and the citizens, affirms that freedom of expression through peaceful means is guaranteed to everybody." the army statement said." (Source: AlJazeera)

Longstanding Conflict between Security Forces and Military

The Washington Post reported on Saturday that: "The tanks deployed throughout Egypt's major cities offered a reminder of the key role that the military has played in the country's history since the 1952 revolution. Among Egyptians who have felt victimized by domestic security forces, the army is seen as a protector, not only from potential threats beyond Egypt's border but also from the government itself."

Some of the allegations of destruction perpetrated by plainclothes National Democratic Party,Stratfor argues, could be part of the "military's campaign to break the back of the internal security forces in order reassert its authority over the state":

"Many journalists who attempted to report on the demonstrations were attacked by plainclothes security officers who smashed cameras and bloodied the face of at least one BBC reporter. The journalist later went on the air to report the assault." (Source:Washington Post)

Alexa O'Brien Alexa O'Brien researches and writes about national security. Her work has been published in VICE News, The Cairo Review of Global Affairs, Guardian UK, Salon, The Daily Beast, and featured on the BBC, PBS Frontline, On The Media, Democracy Now!, and Public Radio International. In 2013, she was shortlisted for the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism in the UK and listed in The Verge 50..
_