Elated Egyptians express faith in military to bring democracy

The Egyptian military is the largest in the Arab world, controlling an estimated one third of the Egyptian economy, but is highly respected by the people. (Feb. 12)
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, February 11, 2011; 9:29 PM

CAIRO - For nearly six decades, the Egyptian armed forces have propped up every one of the nation's autocratic leaders. But Friday, when the military announced it was taking over the government, pro-democracy demonstrators cheered.

The jubilation was rooted in a hope that the military intends to do what it says it will do: facilitate a transition to democratic rule.

Despite the military's long-standing support for President Hosni Mubarak, it pushed him aside Friday, and a military spokesman assured demonstrators that the people's wishes would soon be fulfilled.

Many Egyptians who clamored for regime change over the past 18 days said Friday that the military has been among the country's least-corrupt institutions, and they lauded the restraint with which commanders handled the recent unrest.

"The military statement is great," Google executive Wael Ghonim, who became the reluctant face of a leaderless movement, said in a Twitter message. "I trust our Egyptian Army."

Military leaders said they would soon outline details of their transition plan, but many questions remained unanswered Friday. It was not clear how long the military will remain in charge or what measures it would take to restore order after a bloody and tumultuous popular uprising.

Military chiefs have said fair elections will be held as soon as possible. They have also promised to repeal the emergency law that that has been used for decades to suppress government critics.

Many within Egypt's senior officers corps have completed training programs at the National Defense University in Washington. The Obama administration and congressional leaders hope that fact may help keep lines of communication open between the Egyptian and U.S. militaries and give the Egyptian officers a democratic grounding to draw on during the transition. One senior administration official described NDU as "a revolving door" for the Egyptian military leadership.

Despite the prevailing mood of euphoria Friday in Cairo, some Egyptians expressed concerns.

"These are the generals who have been the backbone of Mubarak's dictatorship for the past 30 years," Hossam el-Hamalawy, a popular activist and blogger, said Friday night. He said demonstrators must continue protesting until a truly democratic government is elected.

Sylvia Maier, a political science professor at New York University, said it is unlikely that the military will attempt to stay in power. But she said the military's deep involvement in the Egyptian economy could prove problematic as Mubarak loyalists are weaned from authority. "The crucial economic reforms to reduce poverty, corruption and high unemployment may get shelved," she said. "Since the protests were in part fueled by frustration against this unjust economic order, the military needs to find a way to address these concerns pronto."

On Friday, as it became clear the military was taking charge, protesters pouring into downtown Cairo's Tahrir Square expressed confidence in an institution that has been revered even when the civilian government was despised.

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