One member of the council, Maj. Gen. Mamdouh Shahin, recently recommended that under a new Egyptian constitution, the military be granted special status to keep it from being subordinate to the president, according to the independent Egyptian daily al-Masry al-Youm. Such an approach could put Egypt on a path toward resembling Turkey, whose democracy has been unsettled by tensions between a powerful, secular-minded military and politicians who reflect Islamist popular sentiment.
An interview with another general, a top adviser to the Supreme Council, offered a further glimpse into thinking within that body, which wields enormous clout but has operated mostly behind the scenes since assuming power in February after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.
The general, who does public outreach and advises the council on strategic planning, would speak only on the condition of anonymity. “We want a model like Turkey, but we won’t force it,” he said. “Egypt as a country needs this to protect our democracy from the Islamists. We know this group doesn’t think democratically.”
The notion that the military could emerge as a guarantor of a secular state runs counter to a theory among secularists and leftists that the Supreme Council is allied with the organized and well-financed Muslim Brotherhood, which is expected to make a strong showing in parliamentary elections scheduled for the fall. Some leftists and human rights activists have been suspicious of the military leadership and worried that the military wields too much control over the future of the state.
“This type of involvement is a double-edged sword, as it injects the military into the realm of governance and potentially interferes with the prerogatives of civilian governance, even if it ensures the viability of a civil state,” said Michael Wahid Hanna, an Egypt expert at the Century Foundation. He added that the military leadership is probably divided over what type of future role it wants to play in Egyptian politics.
The head of the military council is Mubarak’s longtime defense minister, Mohammed Hussein Tantawi. The military was the dominant force in Egypt under Mubarak and his two predecessors, and although the army played an instrumental role in pushing Mubarak from office, experts say the military chiefs seem to still be grappling with how to exercise their political clout. Military leaders have said they have no plans to hold on to power and would like to hand over authority as quickly as possible.