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The Military, the Cops, and the Islamists
Michele gets right to the heart of the matter: What’s in the black box that is Egypt’s military-security establishment? There is, of course, a ton of rumor-mongering and innuendo-peddling on these issues in Cairo as the first act in the post-Hosni Mubarak drama unfolds.
Thursday, May 24,2007 00:00
by Steven Cook, tpmcafe

Michele gets right to the heart of the matter: What’s in the black box that is Egypt’s military-security establishment? There is, of course, a ton of rumor-mongering and innuendo-peddling on these issues in Cairo as the first act in the post-Hosni Mubarak drama unfolds.

The relationship between the police and the armed forces is an interesting one. This was a topic of interest in the early and mid-1980s when it seemed that the cops had eclipsed the military, but the Central Security Forces—an organ of the Interior Ministry—riots of 1986 ended any discussion of which service was the guarantor of the regime. The military had to be called into the streets to quell the rioting CSF recruits, reinforcing the preeminent role of the armed forces in the Egyptian political system. Recently, budget figures have surfaced which suggest that the internal security services are more “privileged” that the military. This has caused somewhat of a stir among Egyptians and Egypt watchers. Has the Interior Ministry finally replaced the military as the primary pillar of the regime? I don’t think so, for two reasons. First, if you analyze the numbers carefully—and I am not convinced we have a full picture—the armed forces actually enjoy an overall bigger budget. Second, the military prefers to take a low profile on matters related to domestic security. While the officers see themselves as the natural guarantors of regime stability, they don’t want to get their hands dirty with police work.

Regarding Umar Suleiman, I think there is a lot of confusion about him and his role. He has not been an active military officer since 1984. While he is often referred to as the military’s presidential candidate, he may actually be a contender for the presidency who happens to have been a senior officer and who now commands Egyptian Intelligence. This does not preclude, however, another military contender from emerging.

I am not sure any possible “military candidate” would get around Gamal, though. All the available evidence suggests that when the transition occurs, there will be a new President Mubarak. This brings me to Michele’s next question: What is the relationship between Gamal and the military? A few years ago I was taken aback when someone ostensibly close to Gamal admitted that they had not reached out to the officer corps. I understand that this has now changed, which supports my argument that a civilian—namely Gamal—could become president in a relatively unproblematic way. That person will still have to go to some lengths to ensure that the officers remain on the reservation.

My understanding is that the military’s well-developed economic interests will remain off-limits to Egypt’s ongoing privatization. It is important to note, however, that the military has signaled its support for economic reform. This is not surprising. The officers agree that economic development is a net social welfare benefit and will encourage people to have a stake in the system. There is one caveat. I was told (by an officer) that they support reform to the extent that it does not disrupt social cohesion in ways that would allow “some people and groups” to take advantage of the situation.

Just who are “some people and groups”? I think it is pretty clear that some people and groups are the Muslim Brotherhood. The officers with whom I have spoken want to be good Muslims, but they don’t want to live in an Islamic state. They also have said that they will not salute a “non-nationalist candidate,” which I took to mean a Muslim Brother. There are persistent rumors about Muslim Brotherhood infiltration into the ranks. I would not be surprised as the military reflects Egyptian society. Thus it stands to reason that there are sympathizers in the military. That being said, I am not aware that this has become a problem among the senior ranks, where candidates are thoroughly screened before being promoted.


Posted in MB in International press , Political Islam Studies  
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