The 25 generals now ruling Egypt believe the tide of international acclaim for the youthful, pro-democratic popular revolution that swept Hosni Mubarak out of office will also keep them in power for at least the next two years.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources in Washington and Cairo report exclusively that the supreme military council sent a message in no-nonsense terms to President Barack Obama and his administration Monday, Feb. 14 – their fourth day in power – laying out their six-point plan for the coming year and their expectations of Washington:
1. The military regime is committed to meeting Washington and the opposition's demands for a transition to democratic government. However, there should be no misunderstandings between Cairo and Washington: Before approaching that point, the military rulers need time to bring stability to Egypt and thoroughly study the steps necessary for reaching that objective.
2. A period of at least a year to two years – and perhaps more – is cited in the message. Washington is advised to ignore last weekend's military bulletins promising a transition period of six months to a general election. There would be no election after six months, said the generals – or at any time before they feel the political and economic situation in the country is steady and a new constitution is formulated.
On this point, the Egyptian officers were brutally clear, say our sources. Without those pre-conditions, democracy would be of "no real value," they stressed, adding, "It would be complete madness to run for early elections… "
The generals will create a mechanism to keep them in control
3. What would not be madness? The officers explained elections cannot take place before the ruling National Democratic Party through which Mubarak ruled Egypt is overhauled and rebuilt from the bottom up. Friday, February 11, shortly before Mubarak's ouster became final, the military sacked the party secretary, Hossam Badrawi, just a few days after he was installed by Egypt's intelligence overlord, Gen. Omar Suleiman, who was then vice president.
The other generals want a military council consensus on this key appointment – not just one voice.
(See the next article for a look inside the military council.)
4. The Egyptian generals went on to warn President Obama that without an orderly, controlled transition to a stable government "anything could happen in Egypt, including events whose outcome no one can imagine."
On this point, the generals were sending Washington a double message, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources say: In the first place, they do not see the High Army Council role as technical – merely to oversee the writing of a new constitution, set the scene for a democratic election and then retire, leaving the rival political parties to vie for votes and the winners to run the country.
On no account, will the military rulers let this process go forward before they have put a strong political mechanism in place to guarantee the army's continued control over governance.
Never! say the Egyptian military to US on Muslim Brotherhood in government
In the second place, the generals, like Mubarak and his predecessors, strongly object to raising the highly-organized Muslim Brotherhood to a role in government, thereby drawing the lines of the first major rift between the military junta in Cairo and the Obama administration in Washington.
Egypt's military rulers made this point very forcefully in their first message to the US, our Cairo sources report, because they were shocked and exasperated by the testimony given by James Clapper, Director of US National Intelligence to the House Intelligence Committee last Thursday, February 10, in response to a question about the Brothers from Rep. Sue Myrick, a Republican from North Carolina..
"The term Muslim Brotherhood … is an umbrella term for a variety of movements," Clapper said. "… in the case of Egypt, a very heterogeneous group, largely secular, which has eschewed violence and has decried Al Qaeda as a perversion of Islam. They have pursued social ends, a betterment of the political order in Egypt, et cetera… In other countries, there are also chapters or franchises of the Muslim Brotherhood, but there is no overarching agenda, particularly in pursuit of violence, at least internationally."
This followed an article published in the Washington Post on February 3, under the headline "US Reexamining its Relationship with Muslim Brotherhood Opposition Group."
Clapper Thursday, Feb. 17, partly corrected his first briefing, admitting there was a wider range of opinion within the Brotherhood than he had represented – especially on the merits of preserving peace with Israel.
The WP article quoted Emile Nakhleh, a former CIA official who directed the agency's program for analyzing political Islam, who said: "If we are truly going to engage with the 99 percent of Muslims who do not support terrorism or violence, then we've got to engage indigenous groups, including Islamic political parties."
Although the Brotherhood is Egypt's best-organized opposition group, with an active charitable arm that dispenses social services nationwide, Nakhleh said it would not necessarily win a majority of votes in an open election. "They would be a hefty minority," he said, predicting that it would receive support from about 25 to 30 percent of the Egyptian population.
Brotherhood sees its chance to break into government
Egypt's generals inferred from what they were hearing that the Obama administration had departed from traditional US opposition to a role in government for the Muslim Brotherhood and decided to push for one in the post-Mubarak era. The army chiefs felt it important, therefore, to make Washington understand from the very outset that co-opting the Brotherhood to a future administration in Cairo was totally unacceptable to them.
Meanwhile, Brotherhood tacticians were encouraged by the signals from Washington.
Mohammed Mursi, a member of the group's political bureau, announced Tuesday, Feb. 15: "The Muslim Brotherhood believes in the freedom to form parties and is therefore determined to have its own political party." This reversed their assertions in the course of the Egyptian uprising that they would neither put up a candidate for the presidency nor stand for election as a party. Under Mubarak they were banned but broadly tolerated.
Not any more: Mursi explained that the old constitution barred the establishment of any parties unless sanctioned by the ruling National Democratic Party. The regime which made those rules is gone.
5. Regarding the way Washington handled itself during the uprising, the generals wrote in their message: "In order to avoid such mistakes as happened during the last month, we propose" an American-Egyptian mechanism for coordinating future steps.
Egypt's generals face US with good will and caution
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources say that one of the highest-ranking officers of the High Army Council commented in a private conversation with fellow officers this week: "We don't want President Obama to keep breathing down our necks as he did in the past month. We also need to avoid falling into the mistakes he made – and will continue to make."
6. Even before this mechanism is in place, the generals made a gesture of good faith and willingness to cooperate with Washington – for as long as they are backed by the US: They duly notified the Obama administration of plans to keep two Mubarak-appointees in place – Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq and Interior Minister Mahmoud Wagdi – while replacing at least half of the cabinet, including Egyptian Foreign Minister, Ahmed Abul-Gheit. A new information minister would also be appointed to deal with the Egyptian media.