Home / General / The Shifting Civil-Military Balance in Egypt

The Shifting Civil-Military Balance in Egypt


President Obama expressed a general sense of relief tonight that the Egyptian military chose to side with the people over the state this week – an outcome not at all pre-ordained by the pre-existing historical relationship between the Egyptian military and the govenrment. In 2004, for example, Steven Cook concluded the Egypt case study in a Council on Foreign Relations report on civil-military relations in the Middle East as follows:

The organic connection between the Egyptian armed forces and the existing political order is likely to place a drag on Egyptian reform and complicate US efforts to bolster change. With their influence institutionalized at the highest levels of the state, the
officers are likely to countenance reforms that merely shore up the existing regime, but do not effect in any way their highly influential role over the course of Egypt’s political development.

What happened? Mark Thompson at Time Magazine argues:

Ever since the Camp David peace accords between Egypt and Israel, promising Egyptian military officers have come to U.S. military schools, including the Army War College in Carlisle, Penn., the Army’s Command General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and the National Defense University in Washington, D.C. Inculcated there with U.S. ideals on lawful civilian control of military, such an education has helped act as a “safety” on the firepower of the Egyptian streets now massing in Cairo and in other cities.

“This new generation of Egyptian officers has been exposed to the American military and has had a very favorable impression of not just the way we fight our wars but also about the relationship between the military and society,” says Robert Scales, a retired Army major general who served as commandant of the Army War College where he launched the international fellows program. “One of the reasons for the army’s reluctance to follow Mubarak’s intent and squeeze the population in Cairo has to do with the Egyptian military’s exposure to the U.S. military.”

Now, I hope that someone following civil-mil in Egypt more closely than I have will weigh in on the veracity of this analysis. But if this is indeed even a significant element of the basic story, then it confirms an argument by Carol Atkinson on the liberalizing effect of military-to-military relations globally:

The research presented in this article examines one aspect of state socialization, the extent to which transnational military-to-military interactions have served as an effective mechanism of the democratic political socialization of states. The socialization process described in this study is three level: (1) individuals acquire new ideas; (2) coercion, incentives, and persuasion aid in institutionalizing these ideas in the underlying political structure of the state; and (3) once institutionalized, these new ideas/identity of the state influence the material and ideational structure of international society. Using an original data set encompassing over 160 states during the years 1972–2000, the analyses find U.S. military-to-military contacts to be positively and systematically associated with liberalizing trends.

Food for thought.

[cross-posted at Duck of Minerva]

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  • wengler

    They send their officers over here to get trained and we sent our prisoners over there to get tortured. It was win-win.

    I really think there are more reasonable explanations though. Like soldiers are reluctant to shoot their own families. And militaries won’t follow the orders of unpopular regimes. Very basic stuff.

    Time just can’t pat itself on the back fast enough. Since the military isn’t leading the protests, how is this supposed cultural effect even relevant? When the soldiers in Petrograd sided with the bread protesters in 1917, was this due to being allied with the UK and France? A lot of officers got the chop then too. How much of this reluctance is resultant of those same US-trained officers being scared of ordering their soldiers to do something they clearly don’t want to do?

    • Kal

      Pretty much this.

      The obvious explanation, especially given the way that soldiers were fraternizing with protesters over the last couple days, is that generals don’t want to give orders which might not be obeyed. If you want to persuade me of some sort of cultural transfer effect in which the magic of American freedoms just insinuates itself into anyone with prolonged exposure, you’re going to need some better evidence than the word of an American general with obvious self-promoting reasons to make this claim, and you’re going to need to explain 1) why nothing analogous has worked on the pro-Mubarak Egyptian elite, who get educated at Harvard, do business with American companies, etc, and 2) why this American don’t-shoot-at-demonstrators mojo didn’t work even in the US in living memory at places like Kent State and Jackson State.

      • asdfsdf

        Re 1): Why on Earth would getting educated at Harvard and dealing with the heads of large corporations make you less elitist?

        • Kal

          Would make you more like the typical member of the American elite, was all I was saying. That is most definitely not the same thing as less elitist.

    • ploeg

      Also, it’s not over yet. A lot of these guys are probably going on the assumption that Mubarak goes, somebody just like Mubarak takes his place, and they get to keep many of the perks that they currently receive. If things start going a slightly different direction, all bets are off.

  • I’d also like to suggest that military-military relations are hardly preordained to have positive effects on military treatment of civilians under their jurisdiction. Latin America during the worst of the dirty wars comes quickly to mind.

  • Anderson

    What Wengler said, plus the observation I saw in the NYT that the senior army leadership isn’t sure it would be obeyed by junior officers if it called for a bloody repression of the protests. Better to protect their own authority by going w/ the flow, rather than risking it to support Mubarak.

  • blowback

    Then it is a bloody good thing that Egypt is not in South America! I suspect the answer is that the US military believed the IDF crap about the docility of the Arab “street” in the face of military power and saw little need to tell the Egyptian soldiers they trained to crack down on revolting civilians. Added to which, the aftermath of the Iraq invasion has changed the landscape and demonstrated that even the most powerful army in the world can’t root out a determined insurgency unless it resorts to barbaric tactics. So what chance does a second or third rate military that is kept starved of ammunition by its sponsors have. Yet again US support of Israel works against US interests.

  • blowback

    I don’t believe it (well I do really), the Republicans are getting all bi-partisan with Obama!

    “In Congress, GOP backs Obama’s Egypt stance, Dems not so much”

    But you would think that someone would have got Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen to STFU.

    Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R) of Florida, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said that only parties who support Israel should be allowed to compete in fall elections.

    “The U.S. should learn from past mistakes and support a process which only includes candidates who meet basic standards for leaders of responsible nations – candidates who have publicly renounced terrorism, uphold the rule of law, recognize Egypt’s international commitments including its nonproliferation obligations and its peace agreement with the Jewish state of Israel, and who ensure security and peace with its neighbors,” she said in a statement.

    I can’t see her ever making the same demands of Israel!

    • Anderson

      only parties who support Israel should be allowed to compete in fall elections

      Gives ya a little glimpse of what she would like to see in American elections, don’t it?

  • Robert Farley

    A few things:

    1. Tragically, WrongfulDeath has run afoul of the “I find you annoying” rule that determines whether people are allowed to comment here or not.

    2. The School of the Americas isn’t dispositive in this case; the curriculum changed quite a bit toward the end of the Cold War, and especially after. Much more emphasis on appropriate role of military officers in a civilian governed society than there once was.

    3. I would be reluctant to agree wholeheartedly with the idea that the International Fellows program at the AWC was determinative of Egyptian military behavior in this case, but then no one (including General Scales) is making that argument.

    4. The IF program isn’t just Americans and Egyptians; it’s a lot of people from a lot of different countries. I actually can imagine that the prospect of being ostracized in that group might affect the decision-making of some senior officers (note “affect”, rather than “determine”)

    • Mojo

      Well put. (Especially point 1.)

    • On the banning, can I get a clarification, or a link to some sort of policy? Has WD been banned, in the sense that future comments will be prevented? Have past comments been deleted as well, or just the ones in this post?

      Being a relatively recent commenter here, as these things go, I didn’t know you ever banned people. And if “annoying” is bannable, I’m going to have to be more careful.

  • FDChief

    “…the Obama administration feared that speaking out in their support might jeopardize the nuclear negotiations.”

    More to the point, the Obamites were smart enough to recognize that U.S. “support” for the Iranian opposition would have been the kiss of death for them; the mullahs were already characterizing the protestors as tools of the Great Satan. If the Great Satan had, in fact, gotten all pom-pom-cheerleader it would have sealed the deal.

    When you try and think of this as an actual foreign policy operation and not an opportunity to score cheap points off domestic political opponants the best thing the U.S. could have done – about the ONLY thing we could have done – is what we did; express a general sort of support for the Iranian protestors while stating that we had no ties with or influence over them.

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