Egpyt’s Military to Stop the Violence?

After mostly standing aside while pro-Mubarak counter-protesters turned violent, the Egyptian Army now says it’s prepared to fire on pro-government protesters if they continue acting violently. And the PM has apologized for and denounced the violence. Those are good signs, especially as it means the military is still supporting the people, but is not going so far as to prevent peaceful pro-government demonstrations.

Of course it appears most of the pro-government protesters are either police who’ve ditched their uniforms and thugs who are being paid to do the one thing they most enjoy. And at least for the moment–and situations like this have a way of changing from moment to moment so it can hard to make any firm longer-range statements–it looks as though the violence was nothing more than a failed effort by the government to intimidate the protesters. And I emphasize the word intimidate. There is no Tienanmen Square type mass execution and no Iranian-style mass security control of public spaces to keep people from gathering. And the key reason it was a weak effort instead of either of those types of outcomes (so far) is because of the military.

This is fascinating. In developing countries with political instability, militaries usually either are tools of the government used to oppress the people or themselves stage coups to take power. In this case, the military is solely acting to ensure non-violence. Maybe it’s a bit facile to say this, but instead of taking either a pro or anti government stance, the military seems to be taking a pro Egypt stance, concerned about the country, rather than it’s current regime.

About J@m3z Aitch

J@m3z Aitch is a two-bit college professor who'd rather be canoeing.
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7 Responses to Egpyt’s Military to Stop the Violence?

  1. D. C. Sessions says:

    My first reaction when I heard that the military were doing a pretty good job of acting honestly neutral was to recall the events in Thailand a few years back.

  2. AMW says:

    James, I’ve heard a few reports that protests are spreading to Syria. Any information/thoughts on that?

  3. James Hanley says:


    Oh, that’s interesting, thanks for pointing that out. Hmm, no information, but some thoughts.

    Bashar Al-Assad has not been as repressive as his father, but he’s been repressive enough. In part he hasn’t been as repressive because he didn’t face the internal challenges his father did.

    To some extent he’s been more popular than his father because he’s opened things up economically, so that Syria’s economy is growing (when I’ve been over there, my Syrian colleague from work has also been there, and he’s expressed astonishment at the number of new shops and businesses springing up), but at the same time it’s involved shutting down some money-losing government businesses. He signed a free trade agreement with Turkey, but the political attache at the embassy–an economist–told me last year that it’s mostly benefited Turkey, and ordinary Syrians aren’t getting much out of it yet. At the same time this liberalization involved reducing subsidies on gasoline and concrete (everything is built of concrete), so there’s been unhappiness about that. And of course the economy slowed down significantly in 2009. So I think there’s a case of rising but unmet expectations.

    At the same time, the regime is unpopular because it’s dominated by Alawis, who aren’t considered to be real Muslims by many Sunnis, and who are a distinctly elite class that has used their control to benefit themselves. And there’s massive corruption in the government, particularly the military.

    All the same, I never got the impression there was really serious frustration. The mood I sensed in Damascus last November was of a population that doesn’t really like the government, but that is mostly happy to go about its business and does so largely unmolested. Of course I was there for only about 4 days this time, and as much as everyone I meet seems delighted to have an American visiting their shops and restaurants, nobody there opens up to a Westerner.

    I do know, however, there was considerable anger over the arrest and imprisonment of a 19 year old girl, Tal al-Mallohi (or Mallouhi), whose blogging attracted the attention of the government. They accused her of spying, and arrested her in Dec. of 2009, and she was just brought to trial a couple of weeks ago before the Supreme State Security Court.

    That’s all a bit rambling, but Syria is a bit hard to know.

    The big question is how Bashar would respond to serious protests. The secret police are pretty brutal, but I don’t know if they’re up to stopping mass protests. His father used the army to bomb Hama to hell and back to obliterate the Muslim Brotherhood, but the conscription term now is only 18 months and I suspect most of the troops would actually sympathize strongly with the public. The officer corps, however, are among the primary beneficiaries of corruption, so protests threaten their privileged status–they don’t have the kind of professionalism that the Egyptian Army seems to have. So I can see them trying their best to quash protests, but I don’t know if there’s enough support for the regime among any segment of the population to give them backing*, and if the troops sense things aren’t going the government’s way?

    Jeez, I don’t know. I really wish I was there right now (although my wife would be flipping out if I was).
    *Ironically, the Alawites are very liberal compared to the Sunnis. They are predominantly found in the coastal area stretching up toward Turkey. Latakia, an Alawite stronghold, has a completely different vibe than Damascus, which is much more conservative. But because of their greater liberalism they might not even support the government that is dominated by their own kind, since it’s very restrictive of the social liberties they want to enjoy. Their only reason for supporting it would be their fear of a non-secular state springing up in its place.

  4. James Hanley says:

    The WSJ has an interesting interview with Bashar Al-Assad. It’s a bit rambling–despite his British education he talks like an Arab. It’s a frustrating style from an American perspective, but it shouldn’t be taken as just an effort to obfuscate with lots of verbiage, just as a cultural indicator.

    Also, it reminded me of some of the reforms he’s allowed that I didn’t mention, like foreign banks and private universities. There are several of the latter now, none of which existed a few years ago. He also claims to be allowing private media–I can’t speak to the truth of that. If they do allow that, I’m sure it’s still very tightly controlled. (“You can say anything you want about the government, as long as it’s positive.”)

  5. Matty says:

    I just came across this article that might be of interest. It argues that the low profile of Islamist groups in Tunisia is evidence that political Islam fallen out of favour in Arab nations and that.

    “The new Arab generation is not motivated by religion or ideology, but by the aspiration for a peaceful transition to a decent, democratic and “normal” government.”

    Any thoughts, it sounds almost too good to be true but if it is the implications are huge.

  6. Lance says:

    With my butt, and my wife’s much more appealing derriere, here in Ethiopia, just a hop across Sudan form Egypt I can give a semi-regional perspective on the situation. Well at least an Ethiopan one.

    The locals are paying close attention to the situation but don’t seem particularly restless. Things here are fairly stable and political opposition to the local dictator, Meles Zenawi has been muted in the most recent years due to his easing of political and speech restrictions since the last turmoil over five years ago.

    People here seem much more interested in regional stability both economic and political. Perhaps this is understandable given their precarious economic situation and the fact that developmental progress has been fairly brisk under Meles Zenawi.

    I must say as a hot headed libertarian revolutionary seeking to spread the seeds of Jeffersonian revolution I am disappointed in the local response.

    Add to that the fact that I watched Brave Heart last night on the in-laws sat dish and I can only say one word in parting.


  7. James Hanley says:


    Agreed, 100%, with both clauses of your concluding sentence.

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