CAIRO, Egypt—During his stand-up routine at Cairo's "Sawy Culture Wheel" last week, comedian Adham Abdel Salam quipped, "Our relationship with the army is that of a woman with the husband she knows cheats on her -- but she won't say anything because she's worried about the kids."
That may be about to change. Since Feb. 11, when Egyptian protesters jumped atop tanks and hugged soldiers to thank them for standing with the people against the regime of ousted president Hosni Mubarak, the relationship between January 25 protest movement and the military, led by its Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), has reached an all-time low.
At the height of the revolution, protesters chanted, "The army and the people are one hand" as fatigue-clad paratroopers, unlike the despised police, refused to shoot their fellow citizens. The SCAF's first communiqué, issued on the eve of Mubarak's abdication, expressed the army's support of "the people's legitimate demands."
The honeymoon is definitely over.
On May 23rd, more than 370 bloggers defied a journalistic ban on broaching the subject of the army and heeded a call to write a post "evaluating the performance of the SCAF as the ruler of the country, with the aim of providing constructive criticism." They criticized military trials for civilians, the emergency law, and the ruling junta's failure to prosecute members of the old regime. On Twitter, the #NoSCAF hashtag was assuredly the most widely used all day, and served both as a repository for vocal objections and an increasingly loud call for action. Meanwhile, an anonymous open letter titled "Dear SCAF, you are the counterrevolution" has been making the rounds online, accusing the army of originally supporting Mubarak's forces and facilitating the work of his police and thugs during the revolution -- and afterward.
The army's treatment of civilians and unarmed protesters is a key source of popular ire. In the months since Mubarak's abdication, some 5,600 civilians have been prosecuted by the military in what Human Rights activist Heba Morayef describes as "group trials." Dozens of protesters swept up on March 9, when the army violently broke the sit-in and cleared Tahrir Square, killing two protesters "were tried in groups of 25 at a time, in military court cases which only lasted 30 minutes, then all sentenced to up to five years behind bars," according to Morayef.
On that same day, army soldiers also allegedly tortured a number of protesters and activists, subjecting female prisoners to "virginity tests" in which they, according to their testimony, were stripped naked and photographed by male soldiers, then forced to submit to "virginity checks" and threatened with prostitution charges. Amnesty International spoke for many in Egypt in condemning the military's actions: "Forcing women to have ‘virginity tests' is utterly unacceptable. Its purpose is to degrade women because they are women."
To many, the idea of hailing the people's unity with the army now feels like a bitter joke. In the last month or so, protesters have increasingly chanted, "The people demand the removal of the field marshal" -- a reference to Mohammad Hussein Tantawi, the head of the SCAF, and an echo of the iconic slogan of the revolution, "The people demand the removal of the regime."