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The people in arms?

By Owen Paine on Saturday February 5, 2011 01:02 PM

When armies rise up and overthrow their regimes, usually the poor souls have been put through a wringer, often for years, and decidedly with bad results on the field of battle.

Take Portugal's army in 1974, a topic of the great and testy Mr Blum.

They'd fought a multi-colony liberation war for decades by then, and after enough nowhere and bloody shirts, they fetched up and shitcanned that moldering midget of an empire's epigonian masters.

Egypt's army has no such context today, except for the drubbing in '67; and that was so sudden and total that something beyond fury reigned, namely humiliation. That's an emotion that cries out for revenge, not revolt.

One could go on here, but the outcome is the same with 10 examples as with one: the Egyptian military is intact, and what's more, its officer corps, at its base and middle senior ranks, like captain and major and colonel, appear not to smolder with resentment against the system, even if the squalid little clique of horned toads at the top might look better to them in shorts and sun glasses on a beach chair on the Persian Gulf.

The question really is, why the army hasn't yet restored order?

My guess: the officers are smart enough not to want to test their rank and file against determined martyrs if they don't have to. Of course there are units and there are units; the right elite troopers will do anything you ask -- at least once.

So what's their game -- I mean the layers that produced Nasser in '52? For now, wait. Why not? They have nothing to lose. The people still want the army -- the whole army, more or less intact -- on their side, not just the rank and file plus whatever there is of young turks among the officers. They want the whole damn operation, "pro-western" though it be.

On the revolutionary to-do list is to dissolve this monolith or apparent monolith; take off the general staff's figleaf; start blaming certain obviously corrupted Jabbah types; name names, not just the torture coach Suleiman the mephitic, but that field marshal that showed up in the square on friday. Get a buzz going about these sluggos of the cow prez.

This army officer corps is not the people in arms; it's still strictly a wolf in Grandma's head scarf -- albeit not too toothy; but still a howler at the moon of chaos.

Comments (6)


I heard on the BBC today that Egypt's police and other security forces far outnumber the Army, which the commenter thought was around 1/2 million. The Tunisian army, trained by the French, is closer to the neutral, traditional, respected by the people, institution you're describing.

The Egyptian Army appears to be just waiting, very unlikely ever to attack the government, probably counseled by the US not to do anything stupid like attacking the people.



Others may, probably do, outnumber but are not likely as well equipped or trained... more importantly they don't have the moreless independent economic base which the army has acquired - members own/control a sizeable portion of the Egyptian economy.

Attached 2008 cable does not quantify but can give an idea. [somewhere in the tens of billions of dollars would be my guess]

Lets see if this wikileak stays hot


The army so far has done little because it is a divided force.

The ranks of most of the Egyptian army are filled with conscripts, men whose lives resemble those of their fellows gathered in the demonstrations. Under ordinary circumstances, the conscription policy helps reduce youth unemployment and keep a lot of young men from making trouble. But when political instability has already arisen, these conscripts become a potential liability for the regime.

The order can be given to such troops, to fire upon the crowds, but what if some of the soldiers then decide it's time to shoot their officers instead? No doubt many senior officers have sounded-out their subordinates regarding morale and discipline in their units, and find that it's safer to just try to keep most of the army out of the affair as much as possible.

To be sure, there are strong praetorian units of firm loyalty to the regime. But unleashing them on the people might cause other regular army units to mutiny, and thus begin a civil war.

n.b. The Egyptian army fought reasonably well in the '73 war. The Israelis a few years later ceded the considerable oil and gas resources of the Sinai peninsula for good reason: they knew they could not afford to risk another war like that against Egypt.



of course i agree

thanx for you amplification


the heads that get counted in the plus million five security and party goon forces
are exactly as juan suggests for the most part
not very effective against motivated army units even of conscripts
neither this army or the tunisian army are the deliberately feeble official military outfits
like one finds in lebanon

the shah's army [prolly comes closer and it dissolved after a year's struggle
can egyptians show such pertinacity
and protracted fortitude ??

no doubt they can if they are confronted by a receeding regime ...look back at the shah's final months
if mooby plays it like the shah and his clique
and the new Carter continues to straddle the crisis...

talks with MB ???


"But when political instability has already arisen, these conscripts become a potential liability for the regime."

Yes, or after more than 20 years of terror waves and civil war, the contrary via 'beans and rice', strategic hamlet type of policy.

"The order can be given to such troops, to fire upon the crowds, but what if some of the soldiers then decide it's time to shoot their officers instead?"

Sure, fragging takes place but often the soldiers shoot above the crowd while interior ministry, 'off duty' cops, small business owners, etc, busily do the contrary,,,,at least in parts of latam and africa.

hard to keep the army out when some of its members own/control large part of the econ -- army has been in by not being in but no doubt internal contradictions are expanding, sharpening.

regards and good luck


I'm searching all over for news of new activities from the protesters, finding nothing. Maybe the news is being censored, or maybe their numbers are dwindling and the leaders aren't sure what to do. Meanwhile, Mubarak is said to be confident, and Germany has offered him asylum for medical leave. Hillary is warning that a too hasty departure could create "instability" and at the same time is sounding like FDR, as MJ notes above, demanding that all parties be represented in discussions, etc.

Unless the protestors step it up a notch (as J Crow suggests somewhere), the military looks cool sitting on the sidelines.

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