Retired Army General Hosam Sowilam explains the anti-revolutionary attitudes of the Army
An Egyptian army soldier sits beside an Egyptian flag near Cairo / Reuters
CAIRO, Egypt -- Retired Egyptian Army General Hosam Sowilam knows how to control a conversation. With a jocular smile and a booming voice, he'll hold and repeat a phrase -- "Chaos! Chaos! Chaos!" -- until he's drowned out the question he doesn't care to answer, dispelling even the shadow of doubt as he regains the floor.
"What happened on January 25?" Sowilam bellowed by way of introducing his history of the uprising in Tahrir Square. "Many of our youths went to Serbia and the United States of America, where they received training in how to overthrow the regime. They received training from Freedom House, and funding from the Jewish millionaire Soros."
He goes on to weave a detailed story of a foreign plot against Egypt, in which unscrupulous agents from America, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, backed by a web of corporate interests, took advantage of Egyptians legitimately dissatisfied about Hosni Mubarak's plan to transfer power to his son.
"Look!" he says, pointing in a bond dossier at a page of logos from companies like Edelman and CBS. "All these corporations were behind the Arab spring. This is very dangerous." There are headlines about Soros from websites like truthistreason.net and AnarchitexT.org ("I don't know any thing about them," Sowilam says. "I found them on the internet.") Other data comes from better-known sources like The Washington Post and Wikileaks. He has carefully translated key points into Arabic to share with Egyptian reporters.
Although Sowilam holds no official role in the army that governs Egypt today, he considers that army his life, and relishes any chance to speak for its values and mindset, if not its official policies. He remains close to senior officers, and had a second career after the military at a defense think tank and now as an unofficial spokesman for the military. (I first met him a year ago while reporting a story about the military's view on then-President Mubarak's succession plans; Sowilam adamantly criticized the notion of hereditary power, but also warned that the military never would permit Islamists to rule Egypt.)
Bald and squat, with a body shaped like a calzone, Sowilam has the typical build of an artilleryman. An early career surrounded by the thud of big guns marred his hearing, which is why he often shouts in casual conversation. Born in 1937, Sowilam came of age and attended the military academy in the 1950s, in the halcyon era of Gamal Abdel Nasser's Free Officers revolt. He took his commission when the army was at the zenith of its power, boldly refashioning Egypt's political and economic order. He fought in the humiliating defeat of 1967, which he directly attributed to the Free Officers' "disastrous experiment" with running the country. He later served abroad, including a stint as military attaché in India.
He is methodical, and in his own way diplomatic, always grinning and pausing to inquire of his interlocutor, like a solicitous coach explaining a complex play, "You understand? Okay?"
A quick tour through Sowilam's view of Egypt today should alarm any fan of the Egyptian revolution - and goes a long way toward explaining some of the more malignant anti-revolutionary attitudes here.
His view of the revolution mirrors that of his peers on the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, whose members are supposed to chart Egypt's course to civilian rule. In Sowilam's telling - and it's one that he has studiously disseminated to every media outlet he can reach - a renegade Egyptian cop directed the January 25 uprising in Egypt from a control room in Washington, at the behest of the CIA. Groups like Hamas and Hezbollah took advantage of Egypt's revolutionary disarray and Sowilam is convinced they were in on the plot from the beginning. (No explanation for why the CIA would collaborate with Hamas and Hezbollah.) Now, he says, Egypt suffers from a security vacuum and an economic crisis.