Egypt’s corporate soldiery shows its true coloursBy JENERALI ULIMWENGU | Tuesday, November 29 2011 at 10:10
When a couple of months ago I wrote in this space that the Egyptian people might find it hard to rid themselves of military rule, I did so hoping that I would be proven wrong. Unfortunately I was right and what I feared has come to pass.
I said then that the governance structures in Egypt have for long been undergirded by the armed forces, and that even when there was a façade of civilian rule, the soldier boys were never too far behind. This was true of Hosni Mubarak’s rule, as it was of that of his predecessors — Anwar Sadat and Gamal Abdel Nasser, who both came from the 1952 Free Officers corps that overthrew King Farouk.
Even Farouk was the descendant of a military man, Muhammad Ali, the Albanian mercenary who took over Egypt in 1805 in the employ of the Ottoman Empire, and before him the country was under bands of Caucasian mercenaries known as Mamelukes (from the 13th century), brutal marauders depicted in a famous movie of that name starring Omar Sharif.
It is easy to regard the Free Officers with a measure of reverence, because by removing an indolent and thoroughly corrupt monarch, they acted in the name of lofty ideals of freedom and justice. I have a feeling that even Farouk himself savoured the opportunity to live a life of pure debauchery, gorging himself on the fleshpots of Europe, free from the cares and burdens of state.
It is a matter of record, however, that the Nasserite movement quickly degenerated into an autocratic, intolerant and increasingly corrupt regime that suffered little dissention, banned popular movements and subjected a whole nation to the diktat of an increasingly rapacious military establishment even as Nasser was being hailed across the Arab world as a liberator.
La dolce vita
We all know how all that (well, not all) came to an end when the voices from Tahrir Square caused the collapse of the regime with the departure of Mubarak earlier this year. Not all, because, even as Mubarak stepped down, got himself arrested and brought to trial, the machinery that had put him in power and maintained him there was still intact, and was now ruling directly.
Directly, because whereas in the past the military, the real guarantor of political power since forever, had a more or less prestigious, “civilianised” commander to shield it, the departure of Mubarak lifted the veil, since there was not a single figurehead with the public credentials that Nasser, Sadat or Mubarak had.
To make matters worse, the army tried to openly play boss, issuing edicts to the effect that the new governance dispensation after elections would have no right to pry into military affairs or scrutinise military budgets. What had been tacitly understood as the norm before, the military wanted to codify. A Swahili saying advises that when you dine with a blind man, don’t touch his hand. In this case, the Supreme Military Council had simply, and stupidly, grabbed the hand of the Egyptian people at table.
But the council’s action is understandable, if desperate. Over time, the Egyptian army has been encouraged to engage in business, in manufacturing and trade as a way of keeping it sweet, and onside. The army bureaucracy — call it the corporate soldiery — grew fat as it sank ever deeper into, and was engulfed by ladolce vita and impunity. In a desperate desire to retain their privileges, the tactless military officers made their intentions all too clear, and by so doing aroused even the suspicions of those who had not paid particular attention to the issue.
In the meantime, as the unravelling continues, Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi is busy promising too little too late, trying to ward off a storm with his bare hands. The Egyptian army has run out of civilians to service it, and has committed the unforgivable crime of killing its people.
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