Some of us were under the impression that Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi’s testimony would mark a watershed in the trial of ex-President Hosni Mubarak. But the fact that Mubarak was Tantawi’s long-time leader renders unlikely any radical change in Tantawi's view of the president.
Many Egyptians have shifted their positions since the 25 January revolution, such that most of today’s supporters of the revolution are, in fact, opportunists and remnants of the former regime, feloul, rather than people who genuinely believe in its goals.
That is why supporters of Mubarak who remained loyal to the deposed president have gained more respect than those who turned their backs on him immediately following his ouster.
On Saturday, the New York Times reported from Cairo, quoting an anonymous lawyer who attended a session of Mubarak's trial as saying, “[Tantawi] failed to provide evidence one way or the other about Mr. Mubarak’s role in the crackdown on protesters, saying that he was not present in meetings that could have proven decisive to the prosecutors’ case.”
The Reuters news agency quoted a lawyer for families of the victims of the revolution as saying, "It is not legal to talk to the press on all details, but all I can say is in general Tantawi's testimony came in favor of the former regime and Mubarak."
I did not expect Tantawi to implicate Mubarak, nor should anyone have. After all, Tantawi was part of Mubarak's regime, even if he represented the cleanest or most professional part of it.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) was indeed one of the institutions of the old regime, though it was the most cohesive of them all. The political transition today mirrors that of democratization phases in Eastern Europe and Latin America, where old and new powers engaged in dialogue until they agreed on peaceful road maps for the future that enabled those who had civilian-led plans for the future to reach power and did not exclude formerly powerful political forces. Their plans deconstructed the rationale behind the old ruling institutions, but did not dismantle them altogether.
Dialogue between communist regimes and fledgling liberal currents in Eastern Europe continued for months until agreements were reached on paths ahead. Following their dissolutions, communist parties transformed into socialist ones or continued under new titles. The same happened in Latin America, where dialogue between revolutionaries, civilian powers and the military continued for years in Chile and Argentina until civilian rule was finally established.
In fact, the current situation in Egypt may portend a better outcome than in Eastern Europe or Latin America. The military has attempted to not engage in a confrontation with the revolutionaries and maintained its coherence as a national institution that enjoys popularity in contrast to the unpopular communist parties in Eastern Europe and military regimes in Latin America.
It is the SCAF’s erratic performance during the interim period, not Tantawi's testimony, that is eating into its popularity. The SCAF’s repeated mistakes, miscalculations and Mubarak-style management largely explain the current state of tension in the country. The SCAF should be aware that insisting on old ways of thinking will endanger Egypt's future.
We should not stop for long to ruminate on Tantawi’s testimony, even if he testified in favor of Mubarak. We should instead focus on making a gradual transformation from the failed Mubarak regime to a different, democratic one that can make up for Egypt's lost time.