On Dec. 7, Egypt's largest-circulation privately owned newspaper, al-Masry al-Youm, published an unsigned editorial under the title, "The British Independent Publishes a Fabricated Article About al-Masry al-Youm." In the editorial, the paper accused The Independent's Cairo correspondent, Alastair Beach, of being linked to Western intelligence agencies. It also alleged that I, a professor at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, was seeking to foment a coup d'état in Egypt.
Correspondent Beach was the target of these ludicrous assertions as a result of his coverage of al-Masry al-Youm's censorship of an article I had been commissioned to write by the editor of that newspaper's new English language weekly, rather paradoxically named Egypt Independent. To appear in the second issue of that new weekly, scheduled for publication on Dec. 1, my article noted the favorable image of the Egyptian military as reported in various domestic public opinion polls since Feb. 11. It went on to argue that Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi, the country's official leader since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, would nevertheless be unwise to interpret this data as support for the ruling Supreme Council for the Armed Forces (SCAF). The available polling data suggests that SCAF's image is much less favorable than the military's and in fact is in precipitous decline.
I concluded that the field marshal's implied threat against civilian rule as embodied in the trial balloon he floated in his Nov. 22 speech, which referred to a possible referendum on military rule, could backfire against him. Not only would many civilian political forces in Egypt be dismayed by such an effort to prolong the SCAF's rule, but so too might military officers disapprove out of fear that their institution's reputation could thereby be damaged. This assertion was not just speculative, but based on substantial evidence to that effect. I also referred to Washington's explicit disapproval of efforts to prolong the SCAF's political role, for example, a Nov. 25 White House statement calling for Egypt's new government to be "empowered with real authority immediately."
It was these observations that resulted in the article being censored by Magdy el-Galad, the editor-in-chief of al- Masry al-Youm. I do not know whether he did so on direct orders from the SCAF or because he anticipated General Tantawi's negative reaction. What has been reported to me is that the editor in question is known to have close ties to the military and intelligence services. (The Egyptian Independent's brave reaction to the incident was to refuse to produce another edition of their weekly until it was granted editorial freedom from al-Masry al-Youm.)
Whatever happened behind the scenes, the censorship suggests marked sensitivity about the leadership and role of the SCAF and its relations with the broader military. General Tantawi must be aware that his perch atop both the SCAF and the military (indeed, for the moment, the entire state), is precarious. For years he was Mubarak's instrument to control the military. The measures he employed -- including promoting the incompetent over the competent, minimizing training and general preparedness, redirecting the institution's primary efforts to economic rather than military pursuits, and ladling out dollops of patronage to retain loyalty -- resulted in an indulged officer corps, but also one that harbors profound resentments. Those resentments have been greatly exacerbated by the SCAF's mishandling of the transition, especially the deployment of military units for crowd control, outright intimidation and even killing of demonstrators, and converting military bases into detention facilities.