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Egypt’s Military Problem

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Egypt’s Militaryby Jacob G. Hornberger

The Egyptian people are getting a harsh lesson in militarism and tyranny. After successfully ousting Egypt’s dictator, Hosni Mubarak, from power, through the power of protest and demonstration, dissenters are discovering that the problem involves much more than “getting better people in public office.” Instead, the problem is a systemic one, in this case one involving a large permanent military establishment, similar in some respects to that which exists here in the United States.

What ultimately backs up a dictatorship is its military. The power of a dictatorship involves its ability to enforce its dictates. That’s why regimes maintain powerful military establishments within the government — not so much to protect against foreign invasions but rather to maintain “order and stability” within the country. Of course, “order and stability” means keeping the dictatorship in power.

Thus, the problem of dictatorship is a systemic one. Replacing one dictator with another dictator doesn’t bring freedom to a society. At best, it might bring a more benevolent dictator — one, say, who permits people to criticize the government or dissent openly — but nonetheless one who still exercises dictatorial powers over the citizenry. A kinder dictator is still running a dictatorship.

Since Egyptians have the same deep, reverential respect for their government’s military establishment that many Americans do, they have been hopeful that things would change for the better once Mubarak was ousted from power. They are still not able to understand that the problem wasn’t Mubarak but rather the type of political-economic system under which Egypt is governed — a political dictatorship running a socialist economic system, one largely dominated by the enormous military and military-commercial establishment.

Egyptians are still hoping for a democratic political system and they’re planning on voting for a new constitution. However, while the military is going to permit them to enact a new constitution, the military has announced that whatever constitution the citizenry adopt, it must not interfere with the military’s dominant and semi-autonomous role in Egyptian society.

According to the New York Times, the Egyptian military has issued a “declaration of basic principles” that will govern a new constitution, a declaration that ensures that a new constitution won’t interfere with the military’s dominant role in society.

As most everyone knows, the U.S. military and the Egyptian military have long worked together in joint military projects, including the U.S. military’s use of the Egyptian military to torture people as part of the U.S. government’s war on terrorism. A longtime supporter of the Mubarak dictatorship, the U.S. government supported Mubarak’s use of his military to maintain “order and stability” within the country.

What would happen if the Egyptian people were to refuse to go along with the military’s “declaration of basic principles”? What would happen if they decided to dismantle Egypt’s military dictatorship, standing army, and military-commercial establishment? Would the military permit it?

According to the Egyptian military, which plays a dominant role in commercial activity, owning and operating hotels and other commercial enterprises, the military is the ultimate guardian of “national security.” The idea is that without Egypt’s enormous military establishment, the nation would almost certainly fall to invaders, occupiers, drug dealers, and terrorists. Thus, the military will not permit the Egyptian people to enter into a “suicide pact,” one in which the new constitution does not protect the continued existence of Egypt’s enormous military and military-commercial establishment.

What would happen if the Egyptian people refuse to go along with the deal? That’s an interesting question. An equally interesting question is: What would happen if the American people decided to dismantle the U.S. military’s vast overseas empire by bringing all U.S. troops stationed abroad home and discharging them into the private sector, ending all foreign aid, including to U.S.-supported dictatorships, and closing all foreign military bases and abandoning leasehold rights to the properties, including Guantanamo Bay?

Would the U.S. military and military-industrial complex go along with the deal? Given their role as the ultimate guardian of America’s “national security,” would they permit Americans to enter into that sort of “suicide pact”? Would they provoke crises and wars abroad in a desperate fight to maintain their dominant role in international affairs?

My hunch is that the U.S. military and U.S. military-industrial complex would resist a dismantling of America’s overseas military empire as much as Egypt’s military and military-commercial establishment would resist a dismantling of Egypt’s domestic military empire. There are simply too many people who are now dependent on military welfare, and they would undoubtedly fight fiercely to maintain the continued flow of their warfare largess.

Unfortunately, all too many Americans, just like all too many Egyptians, have not yet come to the realization that the problems facing our respective countries are not ones based on getting “better people in public office.” Instead, the problems are systemic ones — ones that involve dismantling America’s warfare state and welfare state. That’s among the essential preconditions of a genuinely free society.

Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of the Future of Freedom Foundation.


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