Amidst the heavy economic, social justice, political and even basic survival problems to be found in Egypt today, I noted with sadness an inventory of stolen artifacts from the Egyptian Museum. Dr. Zahi Hawass mentioned the sad news of theft (others have called the same events 'light-looting', which I might find humorous under other circumstances (Guard: "What are you doing here?" Looter: "Just a little light looting. Really, it's nothing worth interrupting your marching! I'll just take this item and get out of your hair!") Except that the loss of items like those on the list published by Dr. Hawass last night isn't funny. Victorious Armies and Revolutions have always been hard on museum pieces - especially gilded ones. Damn shame.
The losses, as reported to Dr. Hawass by museum staff, are not insignificant. And knowing of Hawass' well-known impatience with both suffering fools, and with anything which interferes with the preservation and restoration of the precious items he and his minions and colleagues collect.
The Army seems to be doing some collecting itself just now, though just what it is amassing is far more ephemeral: Power. By the end of the day today, generals tightened their grasp on power: suspending the constitution, dissolving Parliament. After all, the Parliament was the group elected in corrupt elections managed my former President Mubarak, would not the people be encouraged by the military rulers depriving the Parliament Mubarak had, after all, brought to power under cloudy, even shady elections. Even as the council of generals responsible for ousting Mubarak after the weird, street shell game atmosphere which followed the former President's confused and rambling speech, the protestors seemed to view the intercession of the Armed Forces as a positive act; a first step to whatever the jumbled masses saw as democratic self-government.
Today, however, there may be reason for these same people becoming more subdued last night and today, as the military took steps to consolidate power and, though the requests were very politely communicated, the men in Army uniforms (not the hated police) began telling protestors to go home, to work, and not so much to the banks. I am sure that as the bubbling Artesian well of joy at ousting former President Mubarak slowed to a trickle it must have occurred to at least some of the protestors that the generals who seized power from Hosni Mubarak were also men who had been promoted and assigned to their powerful positions by....indeed, by the former President of Egypt. The 'military council' seemed to indicate neither any plan for the "free and fair" elections most of the protestors felt they'd been promised.
Indeed, one may interpret the actions of the military council as a shot across the bow of those of any group that expected an interim government led by civilians, or of any group that expected free and fair elections soon, or even in a future time (such as the six month transitional period expected to end with elections). Instead, with the constitution suspended and the council of generals in charge, it was made clear that any necessary governing issues would be dealt with as necessary by the issuance of decrees.
We'll have to watch for the next steps, along with the world. But, at least the military council edicts will be coming from a comfortable, well-known source: Field Marshal Mohammed Tantawi, one of Mubarak's closest associates, leading the council of generals who achieved their prominence under the former President. So, while the Parliament and constitution which had skewed power toward Mubarak, and even the cabinet has lost power, the military leadership will rule for an undetermined time, without constitution, civilian leadership or a time frame for elections.
And although it sounds like a scenario we would be quick to reject, I hope that we do not. The military is the only stable and moderate institution in Egypt. It is not a bad thing at this point to have the Armed Forces work to allow, facilitate and give time to put down roots other alternative organizations. Otherwise, I fear the Muslim Brotherhood will be over-represented simply by virtue of being well organized and well funded.