The Army&’s Egypt
The number of casualties in the weekend&’s firing by the Egyptian army and its civilian cohorts might vary between 70 and 120, but there is little doubt that the country&’s headlong rush to a democratic future has been halted disastrously. The slide has been rapid, and the essay towards a discovery of democracy has gone awry. And the clock was turned back further still the day the army chief appealed to the Tahrir Square revolutionaries to hit the streets once again and give the military a mandate to confront what he calls “terrorists”. Saturday&’s expression of military might can at best provide a spurious mandate. The first upheaval had ousted Hosni Mubarak; another led to the army&’s coup against Morsi, yet another may turn out to be the military&’s proxy movement to entrench itself further still. The implications can be dangerous and not least because General Sisi has calculatedly blurred the distinction between a terrorist and an Islamist fundamentalist, indeed to serve the interests of a legacy of the Mubarak era.
The American assistance to the Egyptian military provides more power to its elbow and as a logical corollary, Barack Obama refuses to describe Morsi&’s ouster as an army coup. Reality flies in the face of subjective reflections of the White House, however. The military-installed interim President has accorded the Prime Minister the power to grant the army the right to arrest civilians. The ousted President, Mohamad Morsi, represents the Islamist fundamentalists and the Muslim Brotherhood&’s call for counter-protests has exacerbated the volatile situation further still. This will almost inevitably translate to rival rallies, heightening tension in the aftermath of the court ordering Morsi&’s detention on charges of colluding with Hamas, the Palestinian militant group. In effect, this accords legal justification for his detention.
It is verily an internal struggle for the mastery of Egypt, and the starry-eyed vision of the Arab Spring seems relegated to the footnotes. It may not be exactly convenient for the army to choreograph its agenda; a section of anti-Morsi protestors are loath to do General Sisi&’s bidding. A partnership between the people and the military is, therefore, more easily imagined than accomplished. A civil war, as now being witnessed in Syria, may be too horrifying to imagine; but Egypt moves closer to the brink after last Saturday&’s firing. Morsi was democratically-elected, and this must be acknowledged despite all his imperfections and the emphasis on an Islamist agenda. Nor for that matter can he be blamed for having abused the Constitution. Far greater damage has been done to democracy with the judiciary reducing the legislature to a lame-duck entity and the military in overall control with the loyalist civilian segment in tow. Egypt is under military domination fair and square, indeed the very antithesis of democracy.
Every Indian sports enthusiast would applaud the award of the Bharat Ratna to the universally hailed “hockey wizard”, Dhyan Chand. That he could be the first sportsperson to be thus honoured would probably be endorsed by Sachin Tendulkar, on whose behalf a passionate plea has also been made. It is, however, deeply troubling the media should be officially informed that the sports minister, Jitendra Singh, had personally handed over a recommendatory letter to the Prime Minister ~ the final, formal decision rests with the President ~ and that he assured Dhyan Chand&’s son, Ashok Kumar (himself a hockey star) of pushing the matter. This is not occasion to enter into a Dhyan-Sachin argument, but it would be craven not to contest the minister&’s “going public”. Does the media splash that he secured not amount to pressuring the Prime Minister and President? Would they not suffer embarrassment if for any reason they declined to confer that honour? The minister would then emerge as some kind of a hero among Dhyan Chand&’s avid admirers, and a cloud might hang over those who did not send “Dhyan&’s ball crashing into the boards”? It is conceded that the minister and his officials might not have considered this less-pleasant dimension to their well-intentioned move, but it does negate the pristine nature of the Ratna.
Admittedly that award has triggered some controversy in the past, yet what has transpired over the past few days cannot be hailed as “sporting”. And that is without delving into dirt about motivation, an election year etc. Dhyan Chand was too “big” for his recommendation to be bandied about in the media. We owe his memory more grace. Sadly, this is not the only instance of pressure being mounted to secure an award. Nominations are sought for the Padma Awards, a nine-member panel of three official members and six eminent persons recommended by the Prime Minister, process them.
Unfortunately some of the nominations and recommendations also become controversial: that was why there was a period during which the awards were withheld. It is no less disheartening that even gallantry and distinguished service awards in the armed services trigger sniping. While obviously awards cannot be kept “secret”, some sanctity must be accorded to the confidentiality of the process. Decades ago a police officer was shocked not to find his name in the list of medal winners in the newspapers of 26 January: word had “leaked” that he had done the rounds of newspaper offices distributing his “mug shot”. How times have changed.