Sunday, February 13, 2011

Army Schemers

Ash-sha'b yureed isqaat an-nizaam (The people want the overthrow of the regime) was one of the most popular chants heard in Egypt over the past weeks.

Unfortunately, although Mubarak may have fled (if only as far as Sharm el-Sheikh), his regime remains in place, with the Egyptian military, led by the likes of Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi*, described in a WikiLeaked 2008 cable as "Mubarak's poodle," firmly in charge. So, while the top brass has promised a transition to civilian rule, it behoves those celebrating Mubarak's departure to remember the army's role in shoring up his rule, especially during the recent intifada:

"Since January 28, the Mubarak regime has sought to encircle the protesters. Egypt's governing elites have used different parts of the regime to serve as arsonist and firefighter. Due to the regime's role in both lighting the fire and extinguishing it, protesters were effectively forced to flee from one wing of the regime to another. This occurred on two levels: first, the regime targeted the protesters, using the police as its battering ram. During the first days of demonstrations, uniformed officers fired rubber bullets and tear gas into the crowds. Beginning on February 2, plain-clothes officers posing as Mubarak supporters - some on horseback and camels - carried whips and sticks to intimidate and injure those protesting against the system, teaching them a repressive lesson. Although it is impossible to say every single member of the 'pro-Mubarak' crowd was in the security forces, enough of them had their credentials taken to illustrate an indisputable police presence. Moreover, the violence has been selective and targeted, not chaotic, as Mubarak has described. The disappearance of police officers on January 29, leaving the neighborhoods to criminal elements and neighborhood watch groups, and their reappearance 24 hours later suggest that they were acting on orders, rather than haphazardly dispersing and returning. While the army kept order in the streets, the Interior Ministry and police were functioning as the regime's repressive arm, performing the dirty work of trying to force the protesters from Tahrir back into their homes.

"The military's rank and file, who are deployed on the streets, became part of a different regime strategy. There is no doubt that solidarities developed between protesters and soldiers as fellow citizens, but the army's aloof neutrality underscores that its role on the sidelines was intentional. This was prominently on display when the 'pro-Mubarak' demonstrators attacked antigovernment protesters in Tahrir on February 2. That the siege of a major city square took place over the course of 16 hours, leaving 13 dead and more than 1,200 wounded, according to the Egyptian Ministry of Health, suggests that the military's orders were conceived to cast its officers as potential saviors from the brutal violence. This containment strategy has worked. By politically encircling the protesters, the regime prevented the conflict from extending beyond its grasp. With the protesters caught between regime-engineered violence and regime-manufactured safety, the cabinet generals remained firmly in control of the situation.

"The generals that now man the cabinet also sought to wage a war on the non-protesting population, and they did so without firing a single shot. As the state framed the demonstrators as troublemakers, non-protesting Egyptians experienced the uprising's effects. Banks have been closed since January 27, ATMs have been emptied of their cash, and the prices of food and staples have slowly risen at a time when school is cancelled, offices are closed, and curfews are in effect. Similarly, the Internet and cellular networks were shut off and have been patchy at best since their return." (from Egypt's democratic mirage, Joshua Stacher,, 7/2/11)

"Robert Springborg, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., and an expert on the Egyptian military, said that the army had continued to cultivate its image as protector of the nation since the protests began in Egypt, as it held back from cracking down on hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in Tahrir Square in Cairo who called for Mr Mubarak's ouster.. But Mr Springborg said that he believed that the military's leadership was orchestrating events, and has been involved in allowing attacks against the protesters by pro-Mubarak forces... but not by the army, so as not to taint it in the public eye. 'Behind the scenes, the military is making possible the various forms of assault on the protesters', Mr Springborg said. 'It's trying to secure a transition for itself. There's lots of evidence that the military is complicit, but for the most part Egyptians don't even want to admit that to themselves'." (from Egypt stability hinges on a divided military, Elisabeth Bumiller,, 5/2/11)

[* "Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Saturday telephoned Egypt's new military ruler Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the Israeli news site Ynet reported... Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the Egyptian military's statement that it would honor the peace treaty between the countries. 'The longstanding peace treaty between Israel and Egypt has greatly contributed to both countries and is the cornerstone for peace and stability in the entire Middle East', Netanyahu said in a statement from his office." (Barak telephones Egypt's Tantawi,, 13/2/11)]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The madia is crowing, in familiar triumphalist tones, that Egypt will honour ALL foreign treaties. Of course there is only one shabby treaty the media realy care about, to the exclusion of all others. Anything less would be swiftly denounced as "extremeism".
The most important treaty of them all is contained in International Humanitarian Law, The Geneva Convention, first signed by Egypt in 1952, The Fourth Geneva Convention outlines the MINIMUM standard for protection of the occupied, for example the protected civilians of Gaza which fortunatly have a border with Egypt.Article 23 safeguards civilians from blockades. Anything less than an an Egyptian supervised opening up of the border for civilian traffic and commerce would be extremist by definition. Is this what the Egyptian people wish? Or is it the wish of the "international community"? Will Egypt become a nation of laws or a lawless nation?