There are and have been many countries in the world (never the U.S., fortunately) where the military establishment is an independent domestic political force in its own right – even where it does not rule directly, a force to which civil government had damned well listen very carefully, and on public-policy matters not at all military in nature – and, in such countries, the military is almost never a beneficial force, no, not even in Turkey or Pakistan. (We’ve debated those points before here many times.) Not least, because high-ranking officers with a bit of civil-government power/influence show a distressingly consistent tendency to turn into kleptocrats.
In Egypt, every president since independence including Mubarak has been a military man with the army’s support. At present, the army seems to have decided to throw Mubarak over the side – they won’t march on his palace themselves but they won’t get in the people’s way, at least not for the moment.
But, what will the people have gained, if they elect a new president who turns out to be as much in thrall to the army as his predecessor, and as bound to protect the officers’ privileges and wealth? And more so, considering the role the army played in his coming to power.
Is there any alternative? Any way this revolution could produce real people-power that is not in any sense army-power?
Come to think of it, why does Egypt even need a big peacetime standing army? I doubt very much Libya or Sudan or Israel or anybody else has any ambitions to invade it.
To be fair, from a liberal POV, a big army can also be a pretty good jobs program. It might be equivalent to paying a man to dig holes and fill them up again, but, as Keynes pointed out, there are times where that makes sense.
Ummm, I don’t know what USA press is showing, but at least as far as BBC etc it is very far from clear that one can say that Egyptian regime & Army have decided to ditch Mubarak. If anything from the interviews, seems rather the contrary.
As for their Army, well their choice. This question is getting well ahead of the reality I am seeing on BBC. (Also Egypt and Libya fought a war some yrs back, I don’t know any neighbour of the Big Q would be all that comfy with not having some forces…)
It seems very popular among the people. That is a real benefit in situations like this. Now they could just bomb Cairo to tiny little bits or shoot everybody they see, but that would lose that benefit for who knows how long. So it seems to be off the table at least for the moment.
Do we really know how unified the army is? The army is actually made of the people. If somebody of high rank gives the signal for general “let’s not follow the president anymore” it might turn to “let’s just decide who we follow by ourselves or alternatively go home”. Different units will follow different commanders and if the commander pushes it too much, some units might not follow abybody at all. The top branch must be looking at each other akwardly. If they have collectively decided that nobody will try a coup to become the next Mubarak, they at least have no risk of inter-army bloodshed.
Mutinies. This is sometimes how successful revolutions have happened in the past. Low level officers decide they support the people rather than the generals. It happened a lot during the early stages of the Russian Civil War, for example.
And the same thing happened in the failed Soviet coup of 1991. But I’ve seen no sign of anything like that happening in Egypt, yet – that is, no sign of the generals going one way and the troops going another. I would be fairly confident that everything we’ve seen the troops do in dealing with/interacting with the demonstrators was pursuant to orders from on high.
It’s going to be very difficult. Omar Suleiman is the guy who appears to be running things now. Suleiman is the ex-head of the secret police, a guy whose life has been dedicated to preserving the secrets of an enormously corrupt regime. A man responsible for the torture and imprisonment of untold people, for dirty wars and criminal foreign adventures in the name of profit. A man who has done endless dirty work for his boss to allow his to maintain his grip on a corrupt kleptocracy. A man who has had five heart attacks. A man who is basically the Egyptian Dick Cheney.
We’re supporting this guy Suleiman to oversee the transition of power from Mubarak to some kind of democratic council or government. That’s like us supporting the regime under Stalin transitioning to a democracy by handing its control over to Beria or the regime under Hitler transitioning to a democracy by handing it over to Himmler or Dick Cheney.
Like I said a week or two ago, it’s hard to see the existing power structure just handing the country over to a bunch of civilians. And America obviously doesn’t want that to happen, and we’re backing the existing people to “reform” the country. It’s not looking good for democracy. If Egyptians manage to get democracy it’ll be in spite of us not because of us.
The Egyptian military might have little interest in crushing the protests by butchering hundreds if not thousands of Egyptian protesters. There’s a difference between dispersing protesters with batons and fire hoses and literally crushing them with tanks or mowing them down with machine guns. As others have suggested, the protesters might have some sympathy or even some support from members of the Egyptian military.
The Egyptian military, and the Mubarak regime, are partially funded and supplied by the United States. If the military starts actively butchering unarmed civilians en masse, that support might likely dry up.
A huge part of the Egyptian economy relies on tourism and trade from Western nations. Even if the Western powers didn’t slap them with some sort of trade embargo (which they probably wouldn’t anyway) how many people want to vacation in a place where the government is using the military to actively butcher large numbers of civilians?
Keynes was wrong. If you’re running a jobs program, you can always do better than “digging holes and filling them up again.” Always. You can build hiking trails through the wilderness, with stone stairs and bridges, for example–slow, labor-intensive, unrelated to any immediate economic goal beyond making work–and yet we are still using the ones built by the CCC more than seventy years ago. That’s the worst you should be doing, and it’s not bad. Paying people to do something that is flat useless is just an insult, to the people and to good work.
At the largest scale, encompassing the whole planet and human species, of course all militarism is wasteful. From the point of view of individual nations, there may be good reasons to maintain certain levels of military preparation, but I certainly think both Egypt and the US are spending more than makes sense for each. The military has become something of an end unto itself in both countries.
That’s not a criticism of “a soldier,” of course, just the institution and its role in society.
Watching CNN: Word is spreading that Mubarak will step down and hand power to the military. The mob in the square was chanting, “Civil, not military!” Very relevant to this thread. Other than Mubarak’s civil government and the military, who or what is there to take power?! This revolution has no leader.
It now all depends on jusst how much power the military is willing to hand over. Basically it’ll be as little as they can get away with doing. The top guys are all going to want to keep their jobs and have the same opportunities they have now in the civilian world when they leave the military. That’s an absolute minimum negotiating position I would guess. The big question is just how much influence America still has with the Egyptian army. America was desperate to keep the existing regime in power and they’ll be desperately backing anybody who can keep the Egypt-Israel peace treaty active. Israel and lesserly Saudi interests are driving American policy here so America is going to do everything it can to prevent any kind of representative democracy breaking out in Egypt and America has influence with the Egyptian military. The questions are how much, how far will the military/existing power structure go in allowing democratic reforms, and what the Egyptian people will do if the army doesn’t allow much reform/starts cracking down on them. We have to wait for the answers to those questions.
And to answer my questions above we’re going to have to wait for some time. But some of the questions, the Egyptian army/US parts at least, I think have already been decided. I think the Egyptian and America have been discussing for the last week or so exactly how to progress and they’ve for some sort of plan worked out and we’re now seeing the start of it
The Egyptian people can’t overthrow their army. What the protesters are doing is essentially going on strike against the civil order. Now sure the army could send in tanks and machine guns and clear the streets, but they can’t make the populace shut up and go back to business as usual.
My guess is that what will eventually happen is that Mubarak goes and is replaced by someone vetted by the military-political apparatus. The apparatus will hand off the presidency to a new face every five-seven years but each will be a caretaker for the ruling party. Some token opposition parties will be allowed as long as they never win any elections. Some people will be charged with corruption, mainly as a method of being discredited by their political opponents. IOW a quasi-democracy, something like the current status quo in Pakistan.
The question will then be, what will the Egyptian people do when Mubarak is gone and very little changes?