[Marxism] Egypt Lifts a Junior Corps Impatient Over Military Failure

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Aug 14 07:37:52 MDT 2012


NY Times August 13, 2012
Egypt Lifts a Junior Corps Impatient Over Military Failure
By KAREEM FAHIM and MAYY EL SHEIKH

CAIRO — In his purge of Egypt’s top generals, President Mohamed Morsi 
leaned on the support of a junior officer corps that blamed the old 
guard for a litany of problems within the military and for involving the 
armed forces too deeply in the country’s politics after the uprising 
that ousted Mr. Morsi’s predecessor, Hosni Mubarak.

In an interview, one ranking officer said the military had grown 
increasingly demoralized because of meager salaries, cronyism, shoddy 
equipment, a lack of promotion opportunities and growing confusion over 
the role of its leaders.

Those complaints crystallized last week after gunmen killed 16 soldiers 
in the northern Sinai Peninsula, causing embarrassment throughout the 
ranks. “The military didn’t change,” said the officer, a unit commander 
who was not authorized to speak to reporters and requested anonymity. 
“Give me equipment to work. You can’t give me ruined cars, a hundred 
soldiers and ask me to secure 30 square kilometers in the desert.”

The changing of the guard left an uncertain landscape. The balance of 
power has apparently shifted to Mr. Morsi, with the powerful Supreme 
Council of the Armed Forces, which had been running the country since 
the revolution last year, unsettled but still firmly in place. On 
Monday, a day after the generals’ ouster, there were no signs that the 
military was mobilizing in protest.

That led many analysts to suspect that the president had reached an 
accommodation with a new generation of military leaders who were seeking 
to restore the armed forces’ credibility, enhance their own positions, 
and preserve the military’s privileged and protected place in society.

On Sunday, Mr. Morsi forcibly retired the country’s defense minister, 
Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, and the army chief of staff, Sami 
Hafez Enan. The heads of the air force, navy and air defense were also 
forced into retirement. Since the purge, Egyptians have desperately 
sought clues about whether the shake-up would begin a new period of 
conflict between the military and Mr. Morsi, a former leader in the 
Muslim Brotherhood.

“Changing those leaders was smart for Morsi,” the officer said. “He 
waited for the right timing, when the country had already taken steps 
along the right path.”

Whether or not Mr. Morsi struck a bargain with the younger officers, he 
might have enhanced his credibility with political forces outside the 
Brotherhood who had clamored for an end to military rule. At the same 
time, he could gain a degree of loyalty from a cast of officers who owe 
their new prominence to him.

Since the uprising, the military’s status has been the subject of a tug 
of war between the Brotherhood, which is the country’s most powerful 
political party, and the armed forces, represented by Field Marshal 
Tantawi and the military council.

That struggle grew more confrontational as the Brotherhood and Mr. Morsi 
closed in on the presidency before the elections this spring, devolving 
into a fight over political authority that threatened to further 
polarize an already divided nation.

Emad Shahin, a political science professor at the American University of 
Cairo, said: “The negotiation process over the last year and a half was 
not working. It’s not producing results.” He said the younger generation 
of military leaders, recognizing that fact, might have welcomed the 
change in leadership.

They included Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, whom Mr. Morsi named as Field 
Marshal Tantawi’s replacement. “I see tons of reasons why Sisi should 
cooperate,” Mr. Shahin said, including a need to rehabilitate the 
military’s image. “If I were in Sisi’s shoes, I would say, ‘Maybe if we 
remove these stubborn generals, something will happen.’ ”

The killings of the soldiers provided another reason for the young 
officers to act. “This is definitely a failure of the military 
institution to uphold its responsibility,” Mr. Shahin said.

The opaque nature of Egypt’s military made it hard to determine 
precisely what sort of debates had taken place. Some said it was 
possible that a faction within the supreme council, including General 
Sisi, was willing to settle for far less than the broad powers that 
Field Marshal Tantawi and his allies had sought for themselves.

“I think there is a minimum for the military establishment,” said Omar 
Ashour, a professor at England’s University of Exeter who is currently 
in Cairo. “They want a veto in sensitive foreign policy issues, 
including on Israel and Iran — any policy that can implicate the country 
in a foreign confrontation. They will want to negotiate the independence 
of their economic empire.”

“Sisi was inclined to accept minimum, as opposed to what Enan and the 
field marshal were asking for, which was more or less the power of the 
Algerian military, combined with the legitimacy of the Turkish 
military,” Mr. Ashour said, referring to the broad political powers 
seized by Algeria’s generals in the 1990s and the Turkish military’s 
interventions in domestic politics.

It remains to be seen whether a new formula will greatly alter the 
dynamic between Egypt’s military and civilian authorities. “Is this 
going to be another partition of the military and civilian spheres, with 
a new group in charge of the military sphere?” asked Robert Springborg, 
a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., and an 
expert on the Egyptian military.

“Is the Brotherhood taking control of the military? Or is it the 
beginning of democratic control?” he said.

And while Mr. Springborg said it was still unclear whether the 
initiative had come from Mr. Morsi or the young officers, there had been 
longstanding calls for change within the military. “There was widespread 
disaffection on professional grounds with Tantawi and company,” he said.

Performance was not rewarded, Mr. Springborg said, explaining that 
officers would be sent for training, before being sidelined. “The 
assumption was that the military was for show,” he said. “Soldiers would 
say: ‘They didn’t want us to do our jobs. They didn’t let us fly the 
planes, or drive the tanks.’ ”

The unit commander said soldiers were poorly compensated and saddled 
with failing equipment. Dissatisfaction with the military’s leaders for 
staying too long grew. “For the field marshal and Enan, it’s enough, 
really,” he said. “We want development. We want fresh blood. We don’t 
want ministers to remain in their positions for 30 or 40 years any more.”

Mr. Morsi was left no choice but to remove Field Marshal Tantawi, 
according to the unit commander. “If you asked anybody who’s ruling the 
country, the answer would have been the field marshal,” he said.

That does not mean the commander and his fellow officers are any more 
comfortable with the new president.

“The truth is,” he said, “we’re worried because he belongs to the Muslim 
Brotherhood. We’re worried that this could be a step to win the loyalty 
of the new leaders, in preparation for another step in the future.”

Still, the president picked wisely, he said, bringing in “respectable 
people” who “understand the nature of our work.”

“People here are over the moon,” he said.

Elisabeth Bumiller contributed reporting from Fort Campbell, Ky.




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