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Egypt's ruling junta consolidates its position

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Perhaps high hopes were always naive. Mubarak, after all, was not a supreme dictator. He was merely the man at the top of a pyramid of military businesses, fiefdoms carved out by retired generals and their cronies, and a national order designed to make the average Egyptian more subject than citizen. Yesterday's decision to dissolve parliament was made by a "Constitutional" court appointed by Mubarak that operates under a set of constitutional decrees issued by senior officers, who were also appointed by Mubarak. Only the thinnest veneer of checks and balances has been thrown over the process.

What is Egypt's governing document at the moment? A constitutional declaration issued by the generals in March. Article 58 of that document is perhaps the most salient. It begins: "The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces [SCAF] runs the affairs of the State." It goes on to say that SCAF controls legislation, the budget, the cabinet, and foreign affairs. In other words, everything.

In the past 24 hours the junta dispatched riot police across the capital to head off protests, though there has as yet been no sign of major mobilizations like those that swept Egypt early last year. The country's economy, fragile to begin with, has plummeted in over a year of turmoil. Egyptians are tired, and struggling.

Do they still want democracy? Yes. In a Pew poll released in May, 67 percent of Egyptians said "democracy is preferable to any other kind of government." But their priorities indicate a mass return to the streets over the military's meddling in the political process is unlikely. An improved economy was ranked most important by Egyptians, followed in order by a "fair judiciary," "uncensored media," and "law and order." Free and fair elections came in sixth on that list, and the lowest priority to the Egyptians polled was civilian control of the military.

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