The "Manufactured Safety" Of Egypt's Army

by Patrick Appel

Daniel Williams of Human Rights Watch was detained by the Egyptian government for a day and a half. An important paragraph:

[I]n this and other cases, now being documented by Human Rights Watch, the army was clearly in charge of arbitrary and sometimes violent arrests, even if the beatings and torture had been “outsourced” to other agencies or thugs.

I've been trying to get a handle on the role of Egypt's military. Joshua Stacher's analysis:

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. ... 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 basic facts:  1) The military profits handsomely from the current power structure. 2) Mubarak's unpopularity threatens to bring down the govenment and therefore put the military's spoils in jeopardy. 3) The military can't make Mubarak leave yet - otherwise power would transfer out of the military's hands. 4) The military can't crack down on the protesters because that would cause an internal rift - some members of the army would likely refuse to fire - which would risk mutiny. 5) For Egypt's veep, Omar Suleiman, to assume power he needs to either change the constitution or wait until the next election and rig the vote in his favor.

The private hostility and the public neutrality of the army makes sense if the military elite's main goal is to maintain its access to the treasury. The army is not neutral - it's tactical.

(Photo: A general view shows Egyptian anti government protesters praying at sunset on Cairo's Tahrir Square, on February 7, 2011, on the 14th days of protests calling for an end to President Hosni Mubarak's regime. By Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images)