T. S. Eliot’s “hollow men” famously foresaw that the end of the world would come “not with a bang but with a whimper,” and while the latest developments in Egypt may not directly spell the end of the world, (we do have until December, according to the Mayans) if we ignore the whimpers and whispers of all the back-room, closed-door deals going on in Mr. Morsi’s new regime, we may be all too surprised by the way things begin to play out in the region.
Amid the hype of our own political processes, it was easy enough for the Egyptian President’s dismissal of the entire military leadership to bypass the mainstream headlines.
Spectators on the ground in Egypt are now satisfied that the revolution is moving along in the direction they had hoped, and are quick to see this as a symbolic death-knell to the Mubarak era. Morsi himself publicly joined in the spirit of the day, praising his own political maneuvering: “Today, this nation returns — this people return — with its blessed revolution!”
But there is more to the story. Those who still cry out for military heads to roll see these generals to be getting off quite easy, without having to stand trial in the way that Mubarak did. They suspect—not without a sound basis—that some sort of deal was hatched in the cloistered, shadowy background between the new president and the military. Assuming that such a deal was struck, we know how those atop the old military pyramid benefitted. But what about the new president and his ideological adherents?
The new military leadership, hand-picked by the Muslim Brotherhood-backed president, are not beholden to the traditions of the Mubarak military; rather, they are under the implicit compulsion of the man who chose them. A few have seen through the blurred haze of this arrangement to the troubling core: this is not a dissolution of military power, but a “soft coup” by the Brotherhood, whose reach has now grown to encompass the presidency, the courts, the parliament, and, most recently, the military.
Perhaps most unsettling of all is the event that triggered this whispery, tricky coup: the jihadist attack on the Israeli-Egyptian border, which killed 16 Egyptian soldiers and considerably undermined the old military’s long-suffering popularity and political sway. With a new, Islamist-backed military in command, can we trust that the lawless jihadists in Sinai will be better kept in check? I fear that we ought not ignore the tones of menace and aggressiveness that lie just underneath Morsi’s sunny vision for