Saturday, 3 December 2011
Egypt: What the Army Did
So Egypt has finally managed to have a democratic election. The Islamists did rather well, but didn't dominate, and look set to remain split between an allegedly moderate Muslim Brotherhood and the extremists of
So was this a triumph for the army, the care taker rulers since Mubarek was toppled?
Yes and no.
But first, who actually are the Egyptian Army? This isn't an easy question to answer, as the army is at least three things.
Firstly, at the bottom, it really is the nation-in-arms. This is a difficult thing for us Brits, with our small mercenary army, to get our heads round, but if you listen to the veterans of WWII speak you get a flavour. A large army in a rural country like Egypt is part of the social fabric. The police, trained by Mubarek, Saddat and Nasser to defend the state, might be mindless, brutal thugs doing the regime's bidding, but the army belongs, at least in part, to the people.
Next, the army represents one of the few meritocracies in the country. Egypt is poor and only superficially modernised. Real opportunities are few and generally go to those with connections. The army is one of the few genuine meritocracies in the country, where a man with talent can rise to the top - or almost.
Ability alone might get you a prestigious command of an Armoured Division on the Israeli border, but to get to the real top in Mubarek's Egypt you needed to be an expert in taking and receiving bungs. And these people are still in charge.
What this means in practise is difficult to say, but I expect the Generals to come up with some sort of deal which gets the Muslim Brotherhood into power - but keeps them out of gaol. I imagine it will also mean that if protests continue the Police will continue to be the agent of repression, but that the army itself will be kept safely in the desert.
It's not all bad news, Egypt could still be a model Middle Eastern state, the Muslim Brotherhood could lead the way in showing how Islamism is compatible with democracy, and the corrupt old Generals may just fade away into oblivion.
However the high food prices that triggered the Arab Spring haven't gone down, the hopes of the protesters have not been realised, and the kleptocracy is still there, so we're not out of the woods yet.