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Will the Military Save Egypt?

February 7, 2011 by  
Filed under Analysis

Will the Military "Save" Egypt

Farid Zakaria raises some pertinent questions in his article, Egypt’s real parallel to Iran’s revolution”. The argument that Egypt may first go the Pakistan way before it adopts the Iranian model is compelling. The role of military in disorganising the orderly transition with American oversight may be a real possibility.

The Egyptian military is the most stable and important institution in the country. It is Western-oriented and rightly suspicious of the Brotherhood. And it is widely respected, carrying the prestige of the 1952 Free Officers Movement that overthrew the monarchy and the 1973 October War that restored Egyptian pride along with the Sinai.

Charles Krauthammer articulates in the Washington Post that the (Egyptian) military is the best vehicle for guiding the country to free elections over the coming months. Whether it does so with Mubarak at the top, or with Vice President Omar Suleiman or perhaps with some technocrat who arouses no ire among the demonstrators, matters not to us. If the army calculates that sacrificing Mubarak (through exile) will satisfy the opposition and end the unrest, so be it.

The overriding objective is a period of stability during which secularists and other democratic elements of civil society can organize themselves for the coming elections and prevail. ElBaradei is a menace. Mubarak will be gone one way or the other. The key is the military. The United States should say very little in public and do everything behind the scenes to help the military midwife – and then guarantee – what is still something of a long shot: Egyptian democracy.

If we dissect this statement and get to the heart of the matter, one thing clearly stands out as a common factor leading to this anarchy. That common thread is the lop sided meddling of United States. Parag Khanna attributes failure of America to westernise the Arab world through universities. That it thought Arabs needed America more than their democracy has been America’s public diplomacy failing.

As argued correctly, Iran was America’s friend before the Iranian revolution. It was a very strong anti American sentiment that gave credibility and the required push to the take over by the Islamic fundamentalists in 1979.

Compare this to the Pakistan’s sham democracy – once again promoted through all dictatorial and Wahabi mindsets to pursue American National Interests during and after the cold war. Pakistan is an anarchy today courtesy American intervention and unbridled support to its military. Hence, despite strong public opinion against America among the population, Pakistan sports a democracy run by the military.The future of this anarchy in Pakistan is borne out of the fact Pakistan has succeeded in combining leverage over US and popular anti-US sentiment into fleecing more US aid.

Would Egypt copy the model?

Mubarak was savvy enough to couch his cooperation as much as possible as a favor to the United States. To him too, like Pakistan, fleecing the US was a matter of state policy in exchange for maintaining peace in the Middle East. Now military in Egypt seems to be the new power centre  eager to maintain the strategic balance of drawing billions out of US while attempting to put up a facade of democracy. It has two options. One, it can radically takeover power. This would alienate the US and may not be good for the military at least monetarily. The second and more plausible logic is to follow the Pakistan model. Then it shall get to rule Egypt without having to govern it with its funding being intact.

In an 29 January article in The Atlantic, Michael Wahid Hanna, a fellow and program officer at The Century Foundation put forward an argument, “In deciding how to handle their role at the center of Egypt’s future, senior military leaders will likely focus on how to best protect and expand the institutional prerogatives and interests of the armed forces. If the military’s senior leaders decide that Mubarak’s ouster and a subsequent democratic transition would unacceptably risk reducing the military’s political and cultural power, they will be more likely to defend the regime. But, for the military to defend Mubarak against the protesters, senior officers would have to believe that the current system of government is sustainable, even in the face of continuing protest and escalating violence. Tying their future to a crippled regime might in the end destroy their reputation and undermine their ability to maintain their position of privilege.”

The momentum of the current revolution seems to be withering without a consolidated opposition fighting discordantly for bread, butter and social reform. The military can promise to provide this as it already runs enough businesses in Egypt and controls all power centres. Secondly, the discord resulting out of slow forward movement on the negotiations is actually strengthening the military’s case for supervising and managing the “orderly transition” in tune with the US foreign policy interests in the region.

As Fred Hiatt articulated in Washington Post, “Mubarak stomped on any shoots of democratic reform, mostly to entrench his regime but also so he could frighten Americans by portraying Islamists as the only alternative. He played on Israel’s vulnerabilities in the same way, making himself valuable by preserving a cold peace while indulging anti-Israel sentiment in Egyptian state-controlled media so that, once again, he seemed the only thing standing between Israel and a hostile population.”

The same narrative holds true for the Egyptian military which otherwise is likely to lose big time if wide ranging democratic reforms are put in place without it controlling the flow of events. So it would serve its purpose by highlighting the dangers of an Islamic takeover and convince America that it is the safest bet. Considering America’s paranoia with the word “Islamist”, it may well be agreed to. Maybe America’s Iraqi experience of promoting democracies had something to do with Obama not pushing Mubarak earlier to open up its society to its natural democratic leanings and desires. While stating that, “the status quo is simply not sustainable”, Clinton forgot to mention whether US would continue to be blackmailed by dictators and communists at the cost of promoting democratic rights and social reforms. She gives no indication that its fears of “Islamists” would make way for more pragmatic policies. Given America’s paranoia with an Islamist Egypt as the centre of the Arab world, it may well lean on the military to lead the transition till a permanent solution is found to American satisfaction. Well in the end, US may not hold such sway over Egyptian future but it can try with the military providing the common thread between the present and the possible regimes.

The Tunisian model? Well it doesn’t seem apparent but is possible albeit it may result in bloodshed.

So, in the final analysis it may well be assumed that Egypt may be forced to adopt the  Pakistan model in the short term with tacit US approval and Israeli nod. Another Kayani may be in the offing in the short term.

There may be another revolution later to take the battle the Iranian way if the US fumbles again.


4 Responses to “Will the Military Save Egypt?”
  1. D Khara says:

    This one released today coincides with the argument put forth but only till Military’s centrality to the transformation.

    “As protests continued in Cairo, questions intensified about when and how President Hosni Mubarak would step aside and what kind of transitional government might replace him. The “key actor” at this time is Egypt’s military leadership, which is concerned about growing violence, economic damage, and continued instability, says Bruce K. Rutherford, author of Egypt After Mubarak: Liberalism, Islam, and Democracy in the Arab World. “If they want these demonstrations to end, they can either intervene and use force to disperse the demonstrators or they can ask President Mubarak to leave,” he says, which would indicate the army’s belief that Mubarak’s continued presence is destabilizing.”

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