The Military's Gamble

by Patrick Appel

Steven Cook lists five things to know about the Egyptian army:

It is a tremendous relief that the military has declared that it will not fire on protestors, but also not unexpected.  The Egyptian military is not the Syrian armed forces, which was willing to kill many thousands to save Hafiz al Assad in 1982.  The officers have long regarded keeping Egypt’s streets quiet the “dirty work” of the Interior Ministry.  Yet the declaration about restraint also has to do with internal military dynamics.  There is a split in the armed forces between the senior command on the one hand and junior officers and recruits on the other who would refuse to fire on protestors.  This has long been the Achilles heel of the Egyptian military.  They senior people never know whether those people below them will follow orders.  As a result, rather than risking breaking the army, the military will not use lethal force to put down the protests.

Matthew Axelrod takes on the same subject:

Ironically, by withdrawing from politics, the military now is in a position to usher in new political leadership.

However, doing so comes at personal financial risk. Senior military officers are believed to benefit handsomely from the revenues generated by military-owned corporations, private contracts with foreign companies, and post-retirement postings in the private and public sectors. General Ahmed Mohamed Shafik, former head of Civil Aviation and now Egypt's new Prime Minister, is the most prominent example. During my research in Cairo, foreign diplomats told me that Egyptian military officers regularly supplemented their incomes by receiving cash for routine military services, including Suez Canal passage. Some of those funds are believed to be held in Switzerland, where General Magdy Galal Sharawi, head of Egypt's Air Force from 2002-2008, currently serves as Ambassador.  An accurate calculation of these activities is difficult to quantify, but they are systemic. We can assume that military officers are thinking about how the current crisis might affect their own livelihoods.