Monday, January 31, 2011

Generals and Protestors

Steven Cook comes to some similar thoughts to those I posted yesterday about what is going on with Egypt's regime and the military. He attributes the military's declaration today that they would not fire on protestors in part to concerns at the elite levels that junior officers would not follow orders to do so. This is an important additional perspective to Matthew Axelrod's interpretation of the military, in which they see themselves as guardians of the nation rather than the regime, but also look out for their own interests:
"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...

"There is a tension between the military's interests -- maintaining its credibility by siding with the people on the one hand, and maintaining its vast economic apparatus on the other. Maintaining stability is a given, but that stability will shake if the military is seen by the protesters as siding with Mubarak's attempts to retain power. A middle solution is conceivable, where the military would not stand in the way of a transition government should it receive assurances that its affairs will remain untouched from reform. Mohamad El Baradei has said he will reach out to the Army, and such a discussion is not hard to imagine. For the Egyptian military it will be a huge, existential break from a symbiotic relationship with President Mubarak, but that break is looking to be inevitable."

As I commented yesterday, the military leadership can get what they want even with greater political openness.

Cook also describes what I think is the strategy:
"To contain and control the protests for as long as possible and play for time. From the perspective of Mubarak, Vice President Omar Soleiman, the chief-of-staff General Sami Annan and the others now clinging to power every day provides an opportunity to try to weaken the opposition and peel the less committed from the demonstrations. Is it any wonder that Soleiman started talking about constitutional change today? The senior command believes they can save the regime. Delusional? Perhaps, but not surprising given their deep links to the regime."

The regime, whatever that term means in this fluid situation, has clearly not given up. Al-Jazeera English just interviewed a woman who reported that police were attacking demonstrators in Luxor, away from journalistic attention. In addition, cell phone and train service will reportedly be disrupted tomorrow in an attempt to limit the size of what demonstrators hope will be a crowd of millions marching through Cairo.

If millions do march, however, it will be hard for regime elements to think they have a chance.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)



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