Egypt's Military and the Arab Spring

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Marco Werman: While the conflict in Libya is still playing out on the battlefield, the revolution in Egypt has moved on at least in part to the courtroom. Today, a court in Cairo convicted the country's former information minister of corruption. Anas el-Fiqqi was sentenced to 7 years in prison. He was a key aid to President Hosni Mubarak, who was toppled in February. Mubarak himself is on trial. He's accused of corruption and of ordering the killing of unarmed demonstrators during the last days in power. Key testimony at the trial could come from the generals who took control after Mubarak fell. Robert Springborg knows Egypt's military well. He's a professor of national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. Springborg says Mubarak's trial hasn't been very transparent so far.

Robert Springborg: Unfortunately, in the case of this particular trial it does not seem that the truth is coming out. There are lots of questions about the procedures themselves, not the least of which was that the trials were decided by the judge last month to be in camera, that is to say to not be open to the media. And then the statement by the head of the supreme council of armed forces, General Tantawy, a brief appearance of some 40 minutes two days ago was put completely off the record, although I know that some bloggers got access to the transcript and at least some parts of it have been released. But the general public feels that they should be able to access directly themselves what's going on in this court and they're not able to do so. And so this has raised the suspicions that the trial is being used essentially to exonerate Mubarak and probably the military as well.

Werman: What do the generals in Egypt say about your suspicions that they're trying to co-op the revolution?

Springborg: Well, they deny that. They say that they have the responsibility to maintain control of the state in this transitional period, and that they are trying to put in place a new political system and they're acting with that objective in mind. Now, of course, the public access to the supreme council which rules in secret and whose leader, General Tantawy, has essentially appeared in public only once in the past several months, so it's really impossible to say what the procedures are within the supreme council, and with whom they communicate.

Werman: And what about Washington? I mean is there any indication that it's using aid to make Egypt's military cede some power?

Springborg: Well, quite the contrary -- we had originally attempted to do that in the immediate wake of the downfall of Murbarak. The dept. of state that decided that it would allocate significant funds to NGOs and other activists in the country to try to consolidate a democratic transition, some $45 million were allocated for that purpose. Immediately the supreme council objected through the minister of international cooperation, who's indeed the same minister who served under Mubarak, Faiza Abu Naga, and this brought about then an immediate compromise on the part of state and US aid to reduce the amount, that was an insufficient compromise from the Egyptian military's perspective. And so they applied yet more pressure and as a result, the US aid mission director, Jim Bever, was either removed or quit and departed the country within 24 hours. And it was decided by the US government to allow essentially through it a committee structure to allow the military to determine who would get these democratization resources; meaning that we were exactly the position we were in, in fact, maybe even a little worse than we were under Mubarak.

Werman: If the generals in Egypt have stolen the Arab Spring, what ripple effects for the region and other countries who were involved in the Arab Spring do you think this will have?

Springborg: Well, it will greatly diminish the value of the popular uprisings, democratic uprisings of the Arab Spring because they will see to cede to run onto the rocks of authoritarianism backed up by the United States government, and so our claims to be supporting democracy are going to ring awfully hollow given what indeed is occurring in Egypt. So the transformative effects of the Arab Spring have been diluted and this then paves the way for a reaction against it as orchestrated by those who want a reaction against it, most notably the Saudis who've been trying to prevent any further countries which they support from being overwhelmed by demonstrations and so on. So Egypt is the most important test case and what's going on there is not terribly encouraging for demonstrators and democratic activists so far.

Werman: Robert Springborg, a professor of national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. Thank you.

Springborg: You're welcome.