Once again, tear gas hangs over Tahrir Square. For the third straight day, Egyptian activists, ordinary citizens, Islamists, and soccer hooligans called the "Ultras" battled the Central Security Forces (CSF) -- paramilitary troops under the command of the Ministry of Interior. The revitalized protest movement has prompted suggestions that Cairo may be on the verge of another revolutionary wave, similar to the one that overthrew Hosni Mubarak in February.
As one Egyptian activist on Twitter noted gleefully, "I went to sleep and I woke up on January 28th [the Day of Rage]." But as the death toll currently stands at 23 and the wounded at more than 1,700, how is it that some Egyptians still long for what has been a spasm of violence and fear?
What is happening in Tahrir Square -- as frightening as it is -- may very well be a clarifying moment. From the start, the Egyptian military's declarations that it was preparing the ground for democracy were far from credible. The officers' interest in remaining the sole source of political legitimacy and authority, the military's economic interests, and the Ministry of Defense's conception of stability are simply not compatible with a more democratic Egypt.
The proximate cause for the current confrontations in Cairo -- and now it seems elsewhere around the country -- is the result of trigger-happy security forces. They presumably thought that clearing Tahrir Square of a few hundred protesters would be an easy win and help re-establish their authority. Yet even though some lowly CSF troopers and military policemen are directly responsible for the violence engulfing central Cairo, it's the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) that is clearly at fault for creating an environment that made the ongoing clashes inevitable.
Over the past nine months, SCAF's attempt at governing has faltered at every conceivable step, alienating former allies and laying the ground for the current unrest. SCAF chairman Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi and his officers have never offered Egyptians a political horizon, never empowered civilian ministers, and favored fleeting tactical agreements with political groups over serious negotiations. That's how you get stunning ironies like the 26-year-old Asmaa Mahfouz -- a prominent activist -- dragged before a military tribunal for merely insulting Tantawi and the SCAF, while Mubarak regime stalwarts like former Interior Minister Habib al-Adly, a man responsible for actually killing Egyptians, goes before civilian judges who are suspected of being sympathetic to him.
Reservations about the SCAF's true intentions were further reinforced with their efforts to prejudice the content of Egypt's new constitution before the drafting process had even begun. It embraced a series of supra-constitutional principles designed to carve out an influential place for the armed forces in fashion similar to the privileges that Turkey's military enjoyed until recently. The idea was actually the brainchild of civilians such as Judge Hisham Bastawisi -- an ostensible liberal who was one of the first people to outline an enduring political role for the military -- and it is unclear whether he was working with the SCAF, or whether the military simply embraced the ideas floating around in the public debate that best suited their interests. Regardless, there can be no democracy in Egypt without civilian control of the armed forces. As to precedent, all the claims that the Turkish military prepared the ground for Turkey's transition to democracy through repression, forcing Islamists to moderate, run counter to both logic and history.