The deceleration could allow the generals time to protect their vast commercial holdings, which extend from large tracts of prime real estate to water-bottling plants to factories that manufacture air-conditioning units. In recent proposals, the generals have pressed for rules that would forbid civilian oversight of the military budget and grant the military council, rather than a new parliament, the most influence in the writing of a new constitution.
Egyptians welcomed the military rulers as heroes nine months ago, when the army helped demonstrators bring to an end to the almost 30-year rule of President Hosni Mubarak, then pledged to yield to elected leaders as soon as possible.
But pro-democracy activists and prominent members of Egypt’s political elite are accusing the generals of trying to maintain a dominant hand in the country’s future, a role that the military has played here since Gamal Abdel Nasser and his Free Officers overthrew King Farouk in 1952.
“They want to protect their own power and privileges. They have no notion of what democracy is about,” said Hani Shukrallah, editor of the English-language al-Ahram Online Web site. “They want a stable political system where they can keep their privileges, where they can exercise some power over the future of Egyptian policy as a whole.”
Used to the shadows
Even now, the extent of the military’s holdings in factories and other businesses remains so shrouded in secrecy that estimates vary widely, from 5 to 45 percent of Egypt’s economy. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which acts as the head of state under Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, the Mubarak-era defense minister, operates almost entirely in the shadows, announcing most decisions by Facebook.
U.S. officials have said they remain confident that the generals will eventually surrender power to a new Egyptian president. But Western diplomats and most experts here say it appears that the criticism of their actions has only prompted the military leaders to slow the pace of change and to act indecisively, sometimes reversing decisions after they are announced.
Their current role at the top of Egypt’s power structure has clearly been jarring for the historically reclusive generals, who, until the toppling of Mubarak, had always wielded influence behind the scenes. Beginning with Nasser, and continuing through Anwar Sadat and Mubarak, each of Egypt’s modern leaders has emerged from the officer corps and ruled as an autocrat backed by a powerful army.