The Century Foundation’s Michael Wahid Hanna notes that Egypt President Hosni Mubarak’s call for the Egyptian military to deploy in and around the robust protesting crowds in Cairo could cut either way.
The military could stand by the President and brutally repress the population or just simply stand and hold hoping the crowds lose momentum with only limited application of force. Alternatively, they could decide that the military’s own interests and lifeline to U.S. military aid is better preserved if they escort Mubarak out of the country and play a key role in securing the next political order.
This could be risky though as it opens the question of who will lead next and how “democratic” will the process of selection and affirmation by the people be. This opens the door to Islamic parties and organizations that have the best networks and organization in the country and which have substantial durability given the fact that they have survived in toxic political conditions inside Egypt. According to one source, the Egyptian military has largely purged its ranks of Islamists — so this may lead to further clashes in Egypt as a rising political Islam movement, which has kept mostly quiet through this turmoil, may appear and could be perceived as a rival rather than a potential partner by the Egyptian military’s command staff.
Michael Hanna writes:
The military — Despite the scenes that played out in Egypt after the military’s deployment yesterday, with the military exercising restraint from violence and engaging in occasional fraternization with protesters, the military’s ultimate intentions remain a mystery.This is all the more so following the Egyptian president’s truculent response to his people. Was their deployment the first step toward a military-initiated ouster of Mubarak or an effort to crush dissent?
The military played a central role in Friday’s events and could be even more important in the coming days, surpassing the more circumscribed role that it has come to occupy within the Egyptian state. The military’s day-to-day involvement in political affairs has decreased steadily since the days of Gamal ‘Abd al-Nasser, from 1956 to 1970, when Nasser’s government was dominated by military figures. Under Mubarak, who took office following the assassination of President Anwar al-Sadat in 1981, this influence has decreased, aided by the regimes efforts to limit the public profiles of military leaders. Nonetheless, the military remained the silent guarantor of regime stability and has twice been deployed to repress significant political turmoil: in 1977, following the outbreak of “bread riots” over Sadat’s decision to cut food subsidies; and in 1986, when a group of central security forces rioted and looted throughout Cairo, demanding increased pay. As memories of these events have receded, many Egyptians and outside analysts have wondered about the military’s actual influence and what role it might play if again faced with a challenge to the regime.
– Steve Clemons