Egypt: the military’s gambit

Issandr El Amrani writes:

I’m not sure how long the general Egyptian public can maintain the bizarre idea that the army is so great. This is the army that took power in a coup in 1952 and ended political pluralism, lost tons of wars after that and continued to justify its predation on the national budget despite not having had to fight anyone since 1973 (if you exclude the Libyans very briefly in the late 1970s and those field hospitals sent to Iraq and Kosovo in the 1990s), that has absolutely no experience policing and yet is getting military police and military intelligence to carry out that function (when their primary job has been keeping an eye on rank and file). It is the army that put Mubarak in place in six days after the assassination of Sadat, and now runs things through a Supreme Council of the Armed Forces that is headed by Mubarak loyalist Mohammed Hussein Tantawi (in place since 1992) and a government headed by former chief of the Air Force Ahmed Chafiq (who considers Mubarak his “spiritual father.”) Not to mention, of course, the army that owned the land in Tagammu al-Khamiss outside of Cairo that was sold for the spectacular profits by several real estate developers, or the army that continues to employ conscripts as free labor in various places.

In answer to the question that started the preceding paragraph, I think actually the army can maintain that illusion for a long time. Eleven years in Egypt have taught me to never underestimate the power of the ERDF — the Egyptian Reality Distortion Field. It is a surprisingly flexible and adaptable weapon, even in the face of the most stubborn facts. Part of this is information manipulation, of course — it helps that the military has just appointed one of its own to run the Egyptian Radio and Television Union — but also a certain amount of political caution. Hossam el-Hamalawy, never one to hold on to illusions about power, wrote after the clash with the army:

Everyone is rightly upset about what the army did in Tahrir Square last night. Let’s remember, however, the military already moved against peaceful protesters in Suez, and is accused of involvement of torture and arrest of hundreds during the uprising. And almost everyday there is a statement from the army warning strikers and protesters, coupled with an orchestrated media campaign in both state and private TV channels discrediting labor strikes and renewed protests in Tahrir. What happened last night should not come as a shock.

If Mubarak’s regime was corrupt (and it was), then why do we treat the military institution, which provided the backbone of his dictatorship, as “neutral” or “pure”? The leadership of this institution, namely the generals of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces are part of Mubarak’s regime. And any real change would affect their privileges and control.

We cannot and will not carry up arms against the army. I salute and support all the efforts for resuming the protests in Tahrir, including the one planned for today at 2pm. But still, the most effective weapon is the mass strikes.

Mass strikes is precisely what the army fears the most, along with the Egyptian elite for which it represents both economic disaster and the rise of mob rule.

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2 thoughts on “Egypt: the military’s gambit

  1. Christopher Hoare

    It doesn’t take an electron microscope to examine both the state of the world today, as well as history going back at least 2000 years, and see that the greatest threat to any state is its standing military organization. (It’s also in the US Constitution.) Its commanders are people dedicated to exerting their own authority and destroying that of others. They are rigidly opposed to the basic idea of democracy — that the rank and file have the ultimate authority. They are congenitally wedded to maintaining the status quo.

    If men like this are expected to produce change, it would be akin to corporate shareholders handing over their factories, mines, and other resources to their customers. It aint gonna happen. Not unless someone or some collective is set with greater authority over them. The Egyptian people have only just begun to fight for their dignity and freedom.

  2. Norman

    We are seeing the birth pangs of the change in the M.E. on a daily basis, which may or may not play out to the benefit of the people. I believe that I read early on that the Army/Military higher ups have their fingers into the pie just as much as the civilians do. Power seems to be much of an addictive force, that the old Guard won’t let go of easily. We, as outsiders, can only watch the play from our vantage point, which doesn’t really give us a clear picture, whether be design or . . . . . . ?

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