On the streets, Egypt’s military defend the people

Even as the military-in-suits are being given positions in Mubarak’s newly-appointed government, there are signs that the troops and street-level commanders are willing to demonstrate their allegiance with the Egyptian people.

The New York Times reports:

[Mubarak’s] grip on power was further challenged Saturday as the military that he had deployed to take back control of the streets showed few signs of suppressing the unrest, and in several cases the army took the side of the protesters in the capital and the northern port city of Alexandria.

In the most striking instance, members of the army joined with a crowd of thousands of protesters in a pitched battle against Egyptian security police officers defending the Interior Ministry on Saturday afternoon.

Protesters crouched behind armored trucks as they advanced on the ministry building, hurling rocks and a few Molotov cocktails and setting abandoned cars on fire. But the soldiers providing cover for the advancing protesters refused their pleas to open fire on the security police, while the police defending the ministry battered the protesters with tear gas, buckshot and rubber bullets. There were pools of blood in the streets as protesters carried a number of wounded back out of their ranks.

In other parts of the capital, soldiers invited protesters to climb aboard their armored personnel carriers to have their pictures taken, and in Alexandria, demonstrators took tea to troops.

Michael Wahid Hanna puts the role of the military in historical context:

On July 23, 1952, a small group of Egyptian military officers, later dubbed the “Free Officers,” took advantage of simmering popular resentments against the ineffectual King Farouk and the lingering British colonial presence to seize power. The military-backed regime they installed on that day has remained in power, in one form or another, ever since. The fate of the successor to that regime — President Hosni Mubarak — now hangs in the balance, to be determined by a different but still-powerful group of military officers. With Mubarak’s decision to retrench in the face of the unprecedented political demonstrations throughout the country, he must now rely on the military and its willingness to suppress the tens of thousands Egyptians still in the streets.

When armored personnel carriers filled with soldiers began making their way into the heart of Cairo and other cities in Egypt on Friday January 28th, they were greeted with receptivity by protestors, who saw in the much-respected military a potential ally in their uprising against the regime. No doubt, the recent experience in Tunisia, where the military stepped in resoundingly on the side of the demonstrations and hastened the fall of the repressive regime of President Ben Ali, was fresh in their mind. The Tunisian military had intervened against the police forces, burnishing their image as popular heroes who shared the patriotic concerns of the brave Tunisians who defied the regime. The scenes that unfolded in Egypt made clear that the protestors there hoped to force a similar split between the security forces, run by the Ministry of the Interior, and the military.

While Egypt’s military is no longer an active fighting force, it still retains more credibility as a public entity than Egypt’s civilian institutions, crippled after years of neglect and one-man rule. In recent years, even some democracy activists, despondent from years of state repression and ineffectual organizing, have seen the military as the last hope for Egyptians against Mubarak’s efforts to orchestrate his son, Gamal, as successor to the presidency. Now that demonstrators have overwhelmed the police forces and built popular momentum, the military, were it to shift its allegiance from Mubarak to the protesters, could effectively end the regime.

Despite the scenes that played out in Egypt after the military’s deployment yesterday, with the military exercising restraint from violence and engaging in occasional fraternization with protesters, the military’s ultimate intentions remain a mystery.

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4 thoughts on “On the streets, Egypt’s military defend the people

  1. rick

    I caution against romanticizing this — or any — popular uprising.
    The simplistic Conflict Narrative Frame of “Revolution Against Repression”
    is dangerously misleading. It’s as dangerous as the notion that
    internet “Liberation Technology” empowers “the people”,
    more than concentrating their communications into digital channels,
    empowers a dictatorship’s Surveillance Technology.

    I note the former (18-year) head of Egypt’s Mukhabarat intelligence agency,
    Omar Suleiman, is now President-in-Waiting. Since Mubarak’s son is
    no longer a presidential contender, Suleiman now has much to gain,
    by maintaining the stability of Egypt’s ruling regime.

    Those who start a “revolution”, are seldom the ones who finish it.
    There are many ways for a civil uprising to go horribly wrong,
    and only a few ways to “get it right” (by standards of justice,
    freedom, and non-violence).

    Security Ecology:

    As a famous Neo-con once said, “Stuff happens!”
    Lo and behold, now Egypt’s National Museum has suffered
    not only looting, but also “senseless” vandalism to ancient artifacts.

    People driving cars are being pulled-out of them, and/or shot.
    Old scores are being settled. When police stations were looted of guns,
    and those jailed were freed, it’s absolutely certain that
    some very bad people were both armed and freed.

    Soccer clubs as National Saviors? They make good shock troops
    against police. But what then? Human beings come in all kinds,
    and a breakdown of social constraints will present moral choices
    that Egypt’s soccer hooligans have never before encountered.

    Neighborhood militias have organized, and armed themselves
    with knives and baseball bats. Why? To defend their homes
    and their women against young men with swords on motorcycles.

    Egyptian society was notorious for its blatant groping of women
    in public places. The initial demonstrations in Cairo’s city center
    were remarkably free of sexual predation. It would be unwise
    to expect that to continue in downtown Cairo, and I suspect
    it was never safe for women to participate in demonstrations
    in many other areas.

    If forced to choose between defending your home and family,
    or your business, most men will stay home. Commerce grinds to a halt.

    Egypt’s army has its own bakeries, and the capability to
    distribute bread … but not enough for the whole country.
    Likewise for the Muslim Brotherhood.

    Gaza is preparing for another long, involuntary siege …
    when food and fuel are scarce for ordinary Egyptians,
    supplies will be non-existent for Gaza smugglers.

    How does Egypt’s “Revolution” end?

    Notice that former Mukhabarat head (now VP) Omar Suleiman
    was apparently quite cooperative with the CIA’s rendition program,
    and he has intimate links with Mossad (and probably Shin Bet).

    Those who start a “Revolution”, are seldom the ones who finish it.
    How does this end? Who will finish this “Revolution”?

    I remember Prague Spring, and the tentative flowering
    of Dubcek’s “Socialism with a human face” …
    crushed by 2000 Soviet tanks.

    I remember my Chinese friends — marinating in their own adrenaline
    and tears — for days on end, as the Tiananmen Square massacre unfolded.

    And perhaps most relevant to Egypt’s situation, I remember
    the Tlatelolco Massacre — in which thousands were killed or wounded.

    Evidence indicates the massacre was sparked by Mexican government
    snipers firing upon the Mexican Army
    — to provoke an Army response
    against the peaceful demonstrators.

    (It worked. It took another 30 years, before a cowed populace
    finally ended the PRI’s 70-year reign of corruption and repression.)


    Omar Suleiman might refuse to turn Army sentiment against the people
    by using snipers or IEDs. But can the same be said for Mossad,
    or Saudi intelligence? Geopolitics says Israel and Saudi Arabia
    have much to gain by trying to maintain “Stability” in Egypt …
    and little to lose (since there are ways to employ agents provocateurs
    while maintaining plausible deniability).

    Who will finish this “Revolution”?
    There are many ways for things to go horribly wrong.

  2. Malystryx

    There are also many ways for things to go terribly right as well.

    Just because things can go wrong means they should just give up? Like most things in life, risk has always played a huge component. Just ask any entrepreneur trying to get their “revolutionary idea” to fly. Your founding fathers took the same risk by rebelling against a power far greater then themselves. They succeeded because others helped counter that oppressive power. Instead of being a bitchy disabler, maybe just for once be an enabler and help your fellow man achieve their goal for freedom from a murderous dictatorship propped up by your own government. So that if they stumble, you can lend a hand.

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