Socially Responsible Option? Negotiating with Egypt’s Military Industrial Complex

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Negotiating with Egypt’s Military Industrial Complex

By: Mehrunisa Qayyum

Appeared on Huffington Post World on August 2nd.  Another version of this post first appeared in the Atlantic Council’s EgyptSource Blog.

Egypt’s military is large and influential is pretty much like saying “It is what it is.” This type of complacency has survived because the military tends to assume an influential role in many large powerful countries boasting a military-industrial complex, such as Turkey, China, and even the United States. We are increasingly becoming aware that the Egyptian revolution was not just about removing one authoritarian leader. Rather Egypt’s revolution will not stand for one, singular institution representing Egypt’s diverse population and needs. Three decades of a single party monopoly — whether it was a Nasser-like ‘benevolent dictator’ — or the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) resulting from a secular institution, solo, non-competitive institutions can not meet all the needs of a diverse population at the same time. Whether it is the SCAF or a Mubarak, both operate(d) as authoritarian structures since they justify holding on to power as a form of “stability” for the people. (Bashar Assad uses the same “stability” argument.) Overall, solo-acts argue for “stability” at the expense of change, which ultimately results in statism.

There is also an inherent complacency in justifying the military’s actions as a counterbalance to religious segments exerting political influence. As much as I dislike the expression “It is what it is for X, Y, Z reasons,” a pragmatic approach towards Egypt’s military might be the better way to address the argument of wanting change but not wanting change since it is unpredictable. My favorite statement “stability is needed”. If stability is needed, then only let the single biggest institution (that happens to have all the firepower) exert the most power over civil society so that they do not revolt again in with stronger force or a more powerful voice. A little further east, Pakistan experienced a similar complacency during its period of martial law, which also followed a coup. We are still not certain, nor confident, of how effective Pakistan’s military has been in addressing extremist Islamist elements within its own country, so I remain unconvinced that SCAF is a necessary evil.

The Rand Corporation released its book Prospects for Democratization in the Arab World and recommended a few policy options specific to Egypt. Rand framed many of its recommendations for Egypt, and by extension SCAF, in the context of select countries that underwent similar transitions outside of the Arab World. An example Rand provided pertained to the (now dissolved) parliament, which it recommended should negotiate with SCAF to ensure that power is rightfully returned to civil society.

Egypt, a country of about 83 million people, maintains an army of 440,000, exceeding that of Iraq’s, Iran’s, and Syria’s, with a significant portion of its forces stationed between Cairo and the Suez Canal. Regardless of the mitigating role the Camp David Accords have played limiting Egypt’s military, it is in Egypt’s pragmatic interest to employ Egyptian males between the ages of 18 and 40, who would otherwise contribute to Egypt’s unemployment problems. When Egyptians leave the military, they do so with some vocational training, which serves as an argument for significant military spending. However, the role of vocational training does not need to be relegated to the Ministry of Defense, as other Ministries could likely use military surpluses to modernize education and institutionalize their own vocational training programs.  Continue here.

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Filed under Analysis, PIDE (Policy, International Development & Economics), Politics

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