Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Egypt Post-Mubarak

First installment: Civil-Military Relations

Questions on my mind: how helpful are European and American views of what constitutes "healthy civil-military relations" in approaching Egypt? Some have argued that the EU's standard demands for civilian control over the military have, in the case of would-be member Turkey, facilitated Erdogan and the ruling AKP to consolidate their power in disconcerting ways.

From the little I know, it seems that civil-military relations in Egypt are in some ways at least sui generis. What are the most important ways in which this is the case?

What does it mean that Egyptian military officers apparently have important commercial holdings and have an major stake in the Egyptian economy? This seems to be something rather different from the "military-industrial complex" that we speak of in the US.

A helpful summary and analysis of the debate from the good folks at Tablet Magazine:
Marc Tracy. "Egypt's 'Democratic Transtion' Begins: Can martial law lead to the ballot box?"
Feb. 14, 2011.

Steven Cook, "Egyptian Military's Moment of Truth." Council of Foreign Relations Blog. February 12, 2011.

"Will Egypt's Army Be a Change Agent or Maintain Status Quo?" PBS Newshour. Feb. 8, 2011.
With Matthew Axelrod and Shibley Telhami.

Matthew Axelrod, "The Egyptian Military Calculus." Foreign Policy. Jan. 31, 2011.
Military officers share the Egyptian people's frustration with the Mubarak regime. As a Fulbright Fellow in Egypt researching the U.S.-Egypt strategic relationship, I interviewed active and retired military officers who expressed resentment that military courts were being used to prosecute the regime's political enemies. They were also quick to distance themselves from the Ministry of Interior and lament the brutal tactics of the Central Security Forces. They indicated that the situation was unlikely to improve under the current political leadership.
But the military was not supposed to get involved. Presidents Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak isolated the armed forces from domestic affairs to prevent prominent officers from emerging as political rivals. This isolation has made the military an infrequent but critical player in Egyptian politics. Because it enters the fray only in times of crisis, and then in a "national guard" capacity, it maintains great credibility with the Egyptian people. 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.
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.
Steven Cook, "Five Things You Need to Know About the Egyptian Military." Council on Foreign Relations Blog. January 31, 2011.

Books I wish I had time to read:
Steven Cook, Ruling but not Governing: The Military and Political Development in Egypt, Algeria, and Turkey. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 2007. 

Security Sector Transformation in Southeastern Europe and the Middle East. Ed. Thanos Dokos. Proceedings of NATO Advanced Research Workshops on Security Sector Transformation in Southeastern Europe and the Mediterranean 2004-2005. Amsterdam: IOS Press, 2007. Includes "Civil-Military Relations in Egypt: An Overview," Obaida El-Dandarawy.