Cairo 2011, Newburgh 1782.

As Egypt’s military council sets a deadline for the drafting of a new constitution it might take inspiration from the steadfast refusal of a general in a long gone age to take power for himself.

 

In 1782 George Washington quelled the beginnings of a rebellion amongst the officers of the Continental Army.  One, Colonel Lewis Nicola, wrote to Washington suggesting that he should become King of the United States.

 

Washington could not have resisted more steadfastly: ‘Be assured Sir,’ he wrote, ‘no occurrence in the course of the War, has given me more painful sensations than your information of there being such ideas existing in the Army as you have expressed, and I must view with abhorrence, and reprehend with severity.”

 

Moreover he appeared before a meeting of disgruntled officers at the army’s camp at Newburgh to quell any thought of rebelling over outstanding back pay, counselling them against actions that might open the ‘floodgates of civil discord and deluge our rising empire in blood’.

He concluded by holding out the promise that by cleaving to the principles of republicanism those present would be honored in ages yes to come; ‘…you will, by the dignity of your conduct, afford occasion for posterity to say, when speaking of the glorious example you have exhibited to mankind, ‘Had this day been wanting, the world had never seen the last stage of perfection to which human nature is capable of attaining.’’

In general Generals make rotten rulers.  Politics is the art of persuasion and military men, as do business leaders, command rather than persuade.  If the military council signals that it no more wishes to hold political power than it would a stone from the fire it will be remembered by generations of Egyptians yet unborn.

If it tries to cling on it will sacrifice both Egypt’s future and its reputation.  It takes a bigger person to relinquish power than to seize it.

 

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