When Egypt's Arab Spring rebellion began in late January 2011, the most critical near-term uncertainty involved the Egyptian military. Just how would the military respond? How the military promoted, thwarted and/or helped mediate the inevitable redistribution of power among individuals and factions within the country would shape the next 50 years of Egyptian history.
If the military acted with the long-term economic and political interests of the Egyptian people as its guide, the subsequent three or four decades of trial and error, adaptation and modernization -- scarred by occasional outbursts of violence and chaos -- would economically reward the Egyptian people's perseverance and historically reward Egyptian military leaders for their vision and discipline.
A history of self-serving cronyism seeded legitimate doubts that the military would act with integrity and with long-term, sacrificial vision, however.
Doubt One: Since Col. Gamel Abdel Nasser and his cadre of revolutionary officers seized power, the Egyptian military had served as the regime's security and political power base.
Doubt Two: Over time, senior officers added economic power to their security and political portfolio. Guns and political pomp are the due of general officers. But brokering cotton sales and the wholesale distribution of air conditions?
Doubt Three: Nasserite political and economic cronyism expanded under long-despised, now-deposed strongman Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak handpicked his senior military leaders. Ipso facto, the military they command will never support a genuine democracy.
Maybe. Now for the upside case. Egyptians, with good reason, respect their soldiers, and yes, they respect the military as the defenders of their national sovereignty. In late June the United Nations ordered an Egyptian special forces unit to bring a vicious separatist militia to heel in Congo's troubled Katanga province. The rebels now face a deadly, professional adversary. NATO airstrikes backed Libya's revolt against Moammar Gadhafi, but Egyptian military logistical, intelligence and cultural savvy was critical. The army's 1973 October War performance seals the deal. Though the Israelis counterattacked and crossed the Suez Canal, the Egyptian Army's calculated offensive ultimately led to Camp David and the return of the Sinai.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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