Lest American readers dismiss Sowilam as a conspiracy
theorist or a crank, remember that he represents a driving force in Egyptian
public opinion - the army - and his analysis of the revolution and its foreign
sponsors is echoed throughout society. It's impossible to know if it's a
majority view, but it's certainly popular and loudly held.
He hastens to add that some of the revolutionary masses in
Egypt are sincere, only that their movement has been hijacked. Sowilam blames
Mubarak for leaving his succession plans unclear, convincing everyone he was
paving the way for his son to take over; and, he adds, the "forgery" of the
2010 parliamentary elections was "vulgar."
The United States has already spent about $40 million this
year to "promote democracy" in Egypt, giving most of that money to American
NGOs. This funding has enraged Egypt's rulers; in a visit to Washington, Major General Said Elassar of
the Supreme Council called the money "foreign interference" and "a matter
What about Egypt's largest recipient of American money, by
an order of magnitude? The military harvests $1.3 billion a year in direct aid
from the United States, collecting a total of $40 billion since the Camp David
Accords were signed.
Sowilam brushes off the idea that American money taints the
armed forces: "That is between two states. It is not secret training to
overthrow the regime."
Xenophobia has risen over the summer as the ruling generals,
backed by alarmist television broadcasts and state media reports, have painted
activists as traitors in the pay of foreign services - especially those who
criticize the military. One blogger, Michael Nabil, was sentenced this spring
to three years in prison for defaming the armed forces. This month, activist
Asmaa Mahfouz was arrested and prosecuted for anti-SCAF tweets and comments on
television; ultimately charges against her and another activist and blogger,
Loai Nagati, were dropped because of a public uproar.
The junta has accused April 6, one of the activist groups
with the most street cred, of sedition, but offered no evidence. The group has
sued the military for slander.
So, is the Egyptian military cynically recycling one of
Mubarak's favorite propaganda canards, smearing the character of dissidents and
accusing them of working for foreigners?
Or do Egypt's military rulers really believe that they're
facing an elaborate foreign intelligence plot, and not a genuine public
Several activists here said in interviews they're convinced
the military really does believe
its own line: officers simply have no other way of comprehending the
sustained barrage of criticism directed first against Mubarak and then against
the ruling generals, who consider themselves paragons of probity, competence,
To be fair, Sowilam also loudly argues that the military must
quickly return to its barracks and concentrate on national security, lest it
repeat the comedy of errors and inattention that led to the 1967 fiasco. The
longer the military dabbles in what Sowilam calls "the distracting indulgence
of politics," the more vulnerable it leaves Egypt.
Still, he doesn't think his beloved institution has been
tarnished by its thirty-year affiliation with Mubarak and by its behavior since
taking direct power in February.
"The people support the army because they are fed up with
these revolutionaries in Tahrir Square disrupting their lives," Sowilam said.
"Some people are even asking now, where are the days of Mubarak?"