Saturday, April 9, 2011

Aid and Comfort to Egypt's Army

Twin demonstrations yesterday rocked Cairo, with "hundreds of thousands" in Tahrir square demanding the accelerated prosecutions of the Mubarak regime and an accelerated transition to non-dictatorial government. In the night afterward, the military responded with a raid on Tahrir square protesters. Shocking, but not surprising response from the Egyptian military, which had accepted the ouster of Mubarak in February on the premise that any overt support for the strongman and his corrupt dealings would cause a mutiny among the ranks of the conscript army. While the military leadership current enjoys the naked power of running the 'transitional' government, it has never been clear that its interests have lain in liberalizing the Egyptian political scene.

Upon the international stage, the Egyptian army has claimed that its continued primacy in the Egyptian government is important for regional security. There is an implicit threat that if Egypt's military is forced to hand over control of the country in a truly democratic fashion, the country will suddenly return to animosity with Israel. War will break out in the Sinai and in the Mediterranean Sea if the heroic, patient, and mature Egyptian army is removed from power. Apologists for the Egyptian army exist in the U.S. national security apparatus, sporting reductionist foreign policy theories. In particular, the fear that the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood will ascend to power forces many analysts to take the side of the army even if against the people.

The article on clashes between military and protesters demonstrates how little we should believe the Egyptian army.<--more--> At the same time as hundreds of thousands of protesters massed in Tahrir square to demand a government that is responsive to the aspirations of the Egyptian people, perhaps 1,000 people marched on the Israeli embassy in response to the retaliatory bombings of Palestinian militants who were firing rockets into Israel.

The Muslim Brotherhood, it is noted in the article, were responsible for the most of the attendance of the protest at the Israeli embassy. Those demands are wildly out of step with the demands of the hundreds of thousands of protesters in Tahrir square who demonstrated yesterday for the fulfillment of the promise of rule of law in the country. Even though bombings are highly salient, more newsworthy, and a clearer issue, the 100's-to-1 majority of protestors on the street were both more concerned about becoming more like the West's free and open societies and not mobilized by the Muslim Brotherhood.

There is certainly a belief in Islamaphobic circles that any popular movement in the Muslim world is a threat to regional stability and American economic, political, and military power. These beliefs are reinforced by the sloppy reporting in the Times article which creates a false sense of equivalence between the broad-based protests for political freedoms in Tahrir and an isolated and small demonstration calling for a rupture in Egyptian-Israeli relations at the Israeli Embassy. Both happened on Friday in Cairo, and the military was the target of both protests, but that is where the similarities end.

American, Israeli, and Egyptian national interests all dictate that we work towards a stable, democratic Egypt in which the government is accountable to its citizens. That's also not a bad goal for America and Israel right about now.

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