The Military in Egyptian Politics
Ellis Goldberg, a Professor of Political Science at the University of Washington and an expert on Egyptian politics, has a pessimistic view about the likelihood that the military is interested in democratization.
Via Foreign Affairs: Mubarakism Without Mubarak: Why Egypt’s Military Will Not Embrace Democracy.
First, for those who are unfamiliar with the the historical role played by the military in the regime since the 1952 coup against the King, there are some details in the piece.
As to why the military might be interested in order and stability for reasons other than simply acquiescing to the will of the people:
The officer corps was appeased to some degree, however, by its own economic good fortune. Throughout the 1990s, the army expanded its involvement in the economy. By this decade, industries owned by the military were estimated to control 5 to 20 percent of the entire Egyptian economy; likewise, army officers receive a variety of benefits, such as special preference in access to goods and services.
Today, the army presents itself as a force of order and a neutral arbiter between contending opponents, but it has significant interests of its own to defend, and it is not, in fact, neutral. The basic structure of the Egyptian state as it now exists has benefited the military.
At a minimum, the protests have not been good for the economic bottom line. Estimates have show, in fact, that the economy has lost billions in the last couple of weeks as a result of the protests. This is not good for stakeholders in the economy, such as the military (see the bolded portion above).
Democratic reforms, further, may not be in the military’s economic interests:
A freely elected parliament and a reconstituted government would weaken the role of the presidency, a position the military is likely to try to keep in its portfolio. Moreover, open elections could hand the new business elites power in parliament, where they could work to limit the role of the army in the economy. This would put the army’s vast economic holdings — from the ubiquitous propane cylinders that provide all Egyptian homes with cooking gas to clothing, food, and hotels — in jeopardy.
Goldberg is not optimistic about the military’s intentions:
Indeed, instead of pursuing institutional change, leading military figures will likely try to satisfy the public with symbolic gestures. They would surely investigate the most corrupt businessmen and their ministerial associates for the misuse of public funds and public property. At the same time, there will likely be an investigation of the former minister of interior for deliberately murdering demonstrators during the crisis.
It would certainly be my preference for Egypt to move in a more democratic direction, and perhaps it will. However, it seems as if too many observers and commentators are assuming things about the military’s intentions that may well not be true. Just because the protestors appear to be getting what they demanded doesn’t mean that the military is acting as an agent of the street. Maybe it is, but history dictates a cautious assessment. The military still has the power and they will get to choose what to do with it.