The dramatic military coup in Zimbabwe last week indicates that President Robert Mugabe’s days are numbered. Despite his claims otherwise on national television, there is speculation that he has signed his resignation letter. But as the aftermath of Egypt’s Arab Spring revolution shows, Zimbabweans should temper their relief and jubilation. The Daily Vox explains.
What happened with Egypt’s Arab Spring?
The Egyptian military supported the people’s call for the removal of the autocratic president Hosni Mubarak. The rumblings of revolution began in 2010 and in February 2011 Mubarak resigned, and transferred his powers to the Egyptian military known as the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. In 2012 thousands of Egyptian Islamist and secular forces occupied Cairo’s Tahrir Square demanding quicker transfer of power. In May, the people’s will prevailed and Egypt witnessed its second free presidential elections in history. Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi won the first round and the Egyptian court sentenced Mubarak to life in prison. A year after Morsi was elected, anti-Morsi protests flared up, reportedly because of fears that Morsi was becoming increasingly authoritarian. The army backed the anti-Morsi supporters and ousted Egypt’s elected president just a year after he took office. And in 2014, the Egyptian government resigned, paving the way for military chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to run for president in February. Sisi was elected president in May, so the military technically became the political leadership of the country.
Can we draw comparisons between the relationships between the military and the political powers in Egypt and Zimbabwe?
“The Zimbabwe-Egypt comparison is very apt in a number of ways,” Na’eem Jeenah, executive director of the Afro-Middle East Centre, told The Daily Vox. The difference is that in the Egyptian case, the military was always in charge in reality – before Mubarak, while Mubarak was in power and after he was ousted. “In Egypt the party was subservient to the military,” Jeenah said. However, in Zimbabwe the military and the party have equal power and influence, he said.
In both Egypt and Zimbabwe, the military decided when it’s time for the dictator to leave despite decades of people complaining. Jeenah said Zanu-PF expected to oust Mugabe in a way similar to how the Egyptian army ousted Mubarak. Mugabe resisted. In a speech he delivered to the nation on Sunday evening, Mugabe refused to step down and said he would preside over the party congress, due in the coming weeks. But Jeenah thinks Mugabe will be out in the next couple of days.
In both Egypt and Zimbabwe, the same army that has been at the forefront of repressing people for decades decided it was convenient for it to get rid of the dictator and masses of people go out into the streets and celebrate and thanking them for it, Jeenah said. In Zimbabwe, the military and the police repressed people during protests, that said it would not serve under opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai two elections ago. The military was also behind the 1983 Matabeleland massacres when Mugabe as the new leader launched a massive security clampdown in parts of Matabeleland, which was the heartland of the Ndebele ethnic minority and a stronghold of his political rival, Joshua Nkomo. Thousands of unarmed civilians were tortured, raped and killed by the Fifth Brigade of the new Zimbabwean national army in a nine-month period. In Egypt, the military decided it would have an election but wouldn’t serve under a new president. “It decides, it sets the agenda, it makes it happen,” Jeenah said of the militaries in both countries.
“Both [militaries] decided according to their timetables when they wanted to get rid of their dictators and most of them got mass support from the people who suddenly have amnesia about the role [the military] has played,” Jeenah said. However, Jeenah thinks there will be a difference.
Will the Zimbabwean elections have a similar outcome to the Egyptian ones, especially considering military involvement?
Jeenah said the political party that Mubarak represented was weak. When the military ousted Mubarak they dissolved the political party he represented, the National Democratic Party, to suggest that things had changed, “as if the problem was the political party and Mubarak when in fact they were the problem,” Jeenah said. In the election that followed, Jeenah said there was a 50/50 chance (according to election figures) that its preferred candidate would win the election.
“There’s no such chance in Zimbabwe,” Jeenah said. The opposition in Zimbabwe has not at all exploited the political developments in the country. “The opposition been so weakened that it virtually doesn’t exist,” Jeenah said. Zimbabwe’s opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, will not be able to recoup and consolidate in such a short space of time, he added. The leader of the party Morgan Tsvangirai is very ill and is in and out of hospital. The future will be easier for the military and Zanu-PF in Zimbabwe.
The military allowed the facade of the open election, oversaw the election, then worked for a year to undermine the elected president and ensured they succeeded. Jeenah said Emmerson Mnangagwa, former deputy president of Zanu-PF and leader of the military intervention, will probably become the leader of the party next month. He will be a presidential candidate with no competition, win the election, and then the military will step back and Zanu-PF will continue running the show, Jeenah said.
Why did the military stage an intervention against Mugabe?
The army is against Mugabe not because of policies, oppression, or the state of the economy.
There are two reasons why the military rebelled against Mugabe, according to Jeenah. The first is that he got rid of Mnangagwa who is a “hero – as far as military is concerned – and a veteran of the liberation struggle”. The second reason is that the prospect of having the president’s wife Grace Mugabe as deputy president and then president was “unacceptable”. The developments in Zimbabwe were due to “internal family squabbles,” Jeenah said.
Whats up with this Mnangagwa character? Is he a political front for the army?
“[Mnangagwa] is a committed party man and the army follows the party man,” Jeenah said. Like with Mugabe, the military will be under his control. Mnangagwa has been Mugabe’s enforcer for decades since the liberation struggle which took place between 1966 and 1979. Jeenah said we could call Mnangagwa a “butcher of Matabeleland” because of his role in the Matabeleland massacres. There’s not much difference to Mugabe except he’s younger, Jeenah said. In terms of policy, political openness and freedoms, Jeenah does not expect Mnangagwa to be very different but he might introduce some economic reforms. It is important to note that as the deputy president, Mnangagwa never objected to Mugabe, Jeenah said.
In a nutshell, what can Zimbabweans take from Egypt?
“Zimbabweans should look at what happened in Egypt as a lesson,” Jeenah said, “they should temper their celebrations because replacing one Mugabe with a younger one is not useful for Zimbabwe.” About whether Zimbabweans can trust the military, Jeenah added: “Putting their trust and euphoria in the military will ultimately backfire.”
Editor’s note: A sentence stating that in 2012, Egypt held its first free presidential elections has been amended to state that these were the second in history. Counsellor Ayman Walash, the head of the Press and Information Office at the Embassy of Egypt in Pretoria told The Daily Vox that the first free presidential elections were held in 2005, after an amendment of the Egyptian constitution established direct presidential elections.
Additional reporting by Umamah Bakharia