Tahrir Square. Photo: Nefissa Naguib

The Egyptian military has a long history of safeguarding the Egyptian people from oppressive regimes. As the Morsi-government fails to curb the economic decline and growing unemployment, the Egyptian people once again turn their attention to the military in hope of rescue.

During the 2000’s, Egypt was characterized by rapid population growth, a growing gap between rich and poor, and a bitter political mood. When Mohammad Morsi was elected president in 2013, expectations were high, but the Morsi-government has not delivered in the eyes of many Egyptians. Unemployment has increased from 9%to 13%. Nearly one in five Egyptian youth does not have a job. Poverty is widespread. One in four lives below the poverty line. There is also growing concern about the government’s religious twist.

-The new regime has an Islamic flavor, and the brutality of the system is still there, says Noha Bakr, Professor of Political Science at the American University in Cairo, and researcher on the Everyday Maneuvers project at CMI.

The discontent has triggered a wave of nostalgia. The Egyptians are once again turning to the military for rescue. Segments of the population now advocate for the return of military rule, according to Bakr. Reluctant to do so, the head of the military forces have publicly announced that the Army will keep out of politics and concentrate on national security and on international threats to Egypt’s border.

Two-way loyalty
The Egyptian people’s trust in the military is strong. In 1977 and 1986, when the people took to the streets to show their discontent with the regime, the military interfered to maintain order and stability without using violence against the demonstrators. In January 2011, the military forces once again sided for the people. History gives testimony to the armed forces’ role as a safeguard for the Egyptian people, and has strengthened the bonds between the armed forces and the people.

-For Egyptians, the military is a sort of pride and protection. Conscription is obligatory, and there is a general perception that serving in the military makes young men responsible and organized. Equally important is the fact that many Egyptian families have lost sons, husbands and brothers in the Arab Israeli conflict. This unites Egyptians. Although the loss of lives has caused much sorrow, it is also a source of pride, says Bakr.

When the situation went out of hand in January 2011, the military once again intervened to protect the demonstrators from the regime’s violent reaction to the protests.

Troubled transition
The transitional period after Mubarak had resigned was clearly challenging for the military. SCAF (the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) took on the role as an interim government. Awaiting the election, the relationship between the Egyptian people and the military got a temporary crack as the SCAF tightened the grip. Critical voices started expressing concerns that the SCAF would highjack public office.

-In this phase of the transitional period, it became apparent that SCAF did not have the necessary experience to act as an interim government. They failed to rule according to democratic measures, and were rather poor at crisis management. SCAF’s shortcomings divided the Egyptian people. Many Egyptians called for the fall of military rule, but because of the original strong belief and pride in the military, they started differentiating between the SCAF and the armed forces, claiming that the SCAF did not represent the military as a whole, says Bakr.

After the election, the military has tried to keep its distance to politics, according to Bakr. They have concentrated their efforts on branding through public speeches and the media, trying to gain back people’s trust in the military as defenders and protectors of the Egyptian people.

Bumps in the road
The story of the Egyptian people and the military may seem like a story of unconditional love. But there are bumps in the road.

-There is no doubt that military needs to be reformed and to be made subject to democratic control. Measures that enable parliamentary oversight are important. The question is when to start the reform process and how. The actual process and speed of the reform is very important, as Egypt is facing serious threats by terrorist groups and has a number of security issues in Sinai, says Bakr.

There is also a need to assess the military’s role as a major economic actor. The Egyptian military has strong economic interests in several sectors. Its military clubs, hospitals and stores are open to the public. The military also plays an important role as a land-owner. Critics have raised concerns that the military’s role as an economic actor impairs the private sector. It can also be seen as an ill-fitted intervention in civil society. However, concerns regarding the military’s role as an economic actor are currently most prominent in the West, according to Bakr.

- The military has lent the administration foreign currency and interfered in the food and fuel crisis. At the moment, the military economy is acting as a buttress for the civil economy, she says.

*The Egyptian security sector consists of four branches; The Military, headed by the president of Egypt, acting as the Supreme Commander of the armed forces, the Police, headed by the Minister of Interior, the Central Security Forces (post the 25th revolution was named the National Forces, as a step to rebrand it in the eyes of the Egyptians) and the General Intelligence Service.