Civilian-military relations in Egypt

This quote from an AP story on the reshuffling of SCAF (because some of its members have become ministers) and the creating of the National Defense Council (a body combining civilian ministers and generals) is very telling of the state of civilian-military relations in Egypt:

Retired Maj. Gen. Abdel-Rafia Darwish, a military analyst, said the reshuffling of the council prevents the president from interfering in military affairs.
"What if the president is a civilian?" he asked. "He might take a decision that is wrong and that could harm the military." However, other experts described the changes as no surprise and in line with the new constitution.

In most other places, of course, the conversation is more about protecting the civilians from the military.

A definition of excessive force

AP, reporting on yesterday's killing of at least 50 Muslim Brotherhood supporters: 

The shootings Monday of Morsi supporters prompted questions about whether troops used excessive deadly force, an accusation the military dismissed as unfair.

"What excessive force? We were dealing with people shooting at us with live ammunition," chief military spokesman Co. Ahmed Mohammed Ali told The Associated Press. "It would have been excessive if we killed 300."

Confident in the army's position, Ali asked those at a televised news conference to stand in silence to mourn the dead. Later he expressed regret for the loss of life, but did not accept blame for the killings.

Morsi and the Military

Morsi and Egypt's Military - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East

Good piece by Yezid Sayigh on Egypt's military and the deal it made with Morsi on the constitution, which grants it unprecedented autonomy:

The Muslim Brotherhood’s detractors have repeatedly accused it of concluding a secret deal with the EAF to allow it to assume office. But Egypt is nothing like Sudan, for example, where a tight-knit alliance between the National Islamic Front and Gen. Omar al-Bashir reshaped state power as well as the legal and constitutional frameworks, and moreover purged non-Islamists from the military from 1989 onward.
In any case, the deal in Egypt is anything but comfortable. The Brotherhood and Morsi may interpret the constitutional provisions relating to the EAF as demarcating and separating the military and civilian spheres, as a precursor to asserting civilians’ political preeminence. But the formal autonomy granted to the EAF extends well beyond its own “professional” affairs — such as doctrine and arms procurement, or even the defense budget — and will be very hard to roll back in future.
This is not a challenge for Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood alone, nor is it a problem only of their making. The transfer of power from military rulers to civilians always involves compromises backed by explicit and implicit understandings: whoever won last year’s parliamentary and presidential elections was going to have to grapple with the EAF’s privileged position. And with the exception of the Tahrir Square revolutionaries and Constitution Party head Mohamed ElBaradei, none of the principal political parties or presidential candidates since the ouster of Mubarak proposed curtailing the EAF’s prerogatives and immunities any further than Egypt’s new rulers have done.

One point of disagreement I have is with another passage:

Unlike other parts of the state apparatus, the EAF sees itself as an autonomous institutional actor with a privileged political role. This was made evident on Dec. 11, when Defense Minister Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi invited Morsi, cabinet ministers and a wide spectrum of “political parties and forces” and public figures to what he called a “social dialogue.” Although El-Sisi’s spokesperson insisted that this was not a “national political dialogue,” issuing the invitation was an unmistakably political act, undertaken unilaterally and without prior consultation with either the president or the head of the cabinet of which the defense minister is a part.

Actually I think other parts of the state apparatus — the Interior Ministry, the judiciary, the ministry of foreign affairs, the intelligence services — see themselves as deserving of similar autonomy, they're just less able to get their way. And al-Sisi's invitation for dialogue was as much about the army's interference as the sense, at the time, that the crisis and division was unnecessary and dangerous.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Morsi and the deep state, cont.

Egypt: The president, the army and the police - Egypt - Ahram Online

This is a new line of attack in the anti-Morsi media — apparently grounded in some truth — regarding changes to regulations on buying land in Sinai. The conspiracy theory version is that there is a grand scheme to allow Palestinians from Gaza to resettle in Sinai or render permanent Gaza's division from the West Bank and turn Sinai into Gaza's hinterland. The more interesting aspect of this, however, are the lingering signs of tension between the military and the Morsi administration. As this report shows, on some issues it's clear who calls the shots:

A recent decree issued by Minister of Defence Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi restricting the right to buy property in Sinai to second-generation Egyptian citizens had come against the wish of the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, according to a military source.

The decree, the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity, was issued after the minister became aware of a Palestinian-Qatari scheme to buy territory in Sinai “supposedly for tourism related projects."

The source added that the minister “informed” the president before taking he took the decision “with  unprecedented support from within the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the wider military community.

"Many of us [officers and soldiers] died to retrieve this land; we did so not knowing that Morsi would one day compromise the country's right to Sinai - for whatever reason. Whatever the reason, Sinai is a red line. We will support our Palestinian brothers in every way possible but Sinai is not for sale," the source said.

Of course the presidency is denying this, saying the new orders came from Morsi. Read on from some acid quotes on intelligence and security from a presidential aide.

Egypt's Military Industrial complex

Profile: The Arab Organization for Industrialization

A nice overview of the core of Egypt's military-industrial complex by Omar Halawa in Egypt Independent:

It has its own bylaws and a supreme committee headed by the president, who is joined by the AOI chief executive, and the members of the board who are the factory heads and legal advisers.

According to official data released by officials in March, the AOI makes an annual net profit that ranges between LE470 million to LE475 million from a yearly total sales volume of LE3.4 billion.

Officials from the AOI say the profits are not pocketed by the state, but are reinvested in the company.

Michael Collins Dunn has more remarks on the AOI here.

The article largely covers the lack of accountability of the AOI. I think it's also worth thinking about its future mission in post-Mubarak Egypt. Soon enough, political forces will articulate (perhaps with the younger generation of officers now in charge) the need for a different military doctrine, and different procurement methods. Consider that in the 1980s Egypt abandoned its ballistic missile system (and, allegedly, a covert nuclear weapons program very much in its infancy), and in the 1990s was said to have allowed its chemical weapons program to lapse. Will these things be reconsidered in the future? I think when it comes to developing certain technologies where Egypt has lagged — it's almost a certain thing.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Why was a Navy adviser stripped of her career?

Why was a Navy adviser stripped of her career?

This magazine piece in the Washington Post, about a Fifth fleet advisor who was sacked for informing Washington on an admiral's crazy plans to provoke Iran, is full of nuggets of info about how the dysfunctions of empire. Scary to think things are run this way.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Sedky Sobhy's thesis makes the rounds

Glad to see that a bunch of news outlets picked up the thesis by Chief of Staff of the Egyptian Armed Forces Sedky Sobhy I highlighted a few days ago. Some wanted to interview me but unfortunately I was not available, but here's a couple of links. 

Research paper offers insight into Egypt's new armed forces chief (McClatchy)

Professor Douglas Lovelace, the director of the Army War College's Strategic Studies Institute and Sobhy's adviser, remembered him as a "bold thinker," charming and a "very impressive officer" who often offered thoughts counter to the conventional thinking at the time.

"I do recall he was provocative and an original thinker," Lovelace said. "It was not surprising that he would either fail completely or rise to the top."

Egypt general's paper offers insight into thinking (Reuters)

Do leave links to any others in the comments.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Springborg: Egypt's Cobra and Mongoose Become Lion and Lamb?

Egypt's Cobra and Mongoose Become Lion and Lamb?

Robert Springborg updates an earlier column for Foreign Policy arguing that the military and the Brotherhood have decided to co-exist rather than turn Egypt into an Islamist state:

A second, more accurate interpretation is suggested by a new analogy to replace that of the deadly cobra and mongoose to characterize relations between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood. It is that the lion of the military and the lamb of the Brotherhood will lie down together, but as separate, distinct beings each with its own purpose. While there are certainly already fellow travelers of the Muslim Brotherhood in the officer corps and many officers who will see advantage now in associating themselves with it or at least not opposing it, the corps as a whole is not about to become the striking arm of the Brotherhood. Its primary incentive for facilitating Tantawi's removal was not Islamist commitment, but accumulated dissatisfaction with the Field Marshal's debasement of their institution and its capacities, triggered by his inept political maneuvering. The agreement between key officers, on the one hand, and Morsi and his allies, on the other, will have been based on a division of roles and responsibilities in which the military as an institution continues to be the dominant actor in the formation and implementation of national security policies. The assumption underlying the agreement will have been that the re-professionalization of the military and the exercise of constitutional power by the civilian government, presently dominated by the Brotherhood, are compatible, indeed reinforcing objectives. Both sides, in other words, will have professed their respect for constitutional, legal, and professional norms and their centrality to the new relationship. The lion and the lamb, in short, have opted for coexistence, rather than a struggle akin to the cobra and mongoose fight in which one would ultimately destroy the other.

Whether this agreement proves to be durable or not will depend on numerous factors, key being respect for it by either side. If the Brotherhood seeks to impose its will on the state and nation, including the military, it will meet a reaction from the officer corps. This, and even the threat of it, combined with ongoing and probably intensifying civilian opposition, is likely to cause the Brotherhood to move carefully, whatever its real intentions. While a new form of anti-democratic political influence over the military could still result, were the Brotherhood actually to consolidate total power, the removal of the Mubarak military high command was the necessary, if not sufficient condition to begin the long march to institutionalized, civilian, democratic control of Egypt's armed forces. For that reason alone it is a positive step, if one with other potential dangers.

He has good stuff in there about the steps taken to secure himself by Morsi — getting control of Central Security Forces, sacking Mowafi and Ruweini, etc.

I have a column coming out in The National tomorrow, just written this morning, that takes a similar view and offers some advice for the rest of the political actors in this.

From alarm to relief in Washington amid Egypt’s military shakeup

From alarm to relief in Washington amid Egypt’s military shakeup

Karen DeYoung reporting for the Washington Post:

The Obama administration’s first reaction to Sunday’s news that Egypt’s military chiefs had been forced from office was deep alarm. The surprise announcement from Cairo seemed to signal that Washington’s worst fears about the direction of the Egyptian revolution were coming true.

Political developments in Egypt during the past year have occurred at a speed that has often overwhelmed U.S. policymakers. The one constant seemed to be the military and its longtime chief, Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi. His dismissal increased concerns about how much leverage Washington would retain as Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi consolidated power.

By early Monday, the administration had exhaled a collective, if perhaps temporary, sigh of relief. The newly named defense minister and armed forces commander, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, is well-known to U.S. officials. He had “espoused cooperation with the United States and the need for peace with neighbors,” an administration official said.

That would suggest that the administration did not know about this and was caught off-guard. Which was my intuition. It's significant because it highlights — even if Egypt remains allied to the US, as I think it will — how little control Washington has on events and how little it is "in the loop." Which means, basically, a more independent Egypt. 

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

What do Egypt's new top generals think of Amreeka?

Some of the military officers who have risen to prominence after the recent shuffle/purge/power grab in the senior ranks of the Egyptian military are pretty unknown. The military is an isolated institution, and only a few of its members became very public figures over the last year and a half. There have been many rumors that the new top honchos are American favorites, chiefly on the spurious ground that they have been in contact with the US in the past. The truth is we don't know much about them, or specifically how they feel about the United States. 

Wouldn't it be nice if one of these guys had written, say, a 10,000 word essay on his views of the future of US strategy in the Middle East?

Well it turns out one of them — no less than Sedky Sobhy, the new Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, the number two in the hierarchy — did just that while studying in a military school in the US, as many Egyptian officers do. And he's written a rather thoughtful essay advocating for one of my pet causes: a complete US military withdrawal from the Middle East. It's titled "THE U.S. MILITARY PRESENCE INTHE MIDDLE EAST: ISSUES AND PROSPECTS" and was carried out as part of a Masters in Strategic Studies at the US Army War College in 2005, when he was Brigadier General. It's available on a US army website

Here's the basic gist from his conclusion:

The future challenges and prospects ofthe U.S. military presence inthe Middle East in general and Gulf in particular are inseparable from the overall U.S. national security strategy in this region. This national security strategy cannot define the issues within the narrow geographic context of the Gulf region and its oil resources, or the narrow confines of rather outdated "containment" concepts. It is this author's opinion that the security challenges for the U.S. interests inthe Middle East and the Gulf, including Iraq, are interlinked with the ideological foundations that underpin these challenges. The solutions of security challenges inthe Gulf will not necessarily be solely found in Baghdad or in the Gulf itself. These solutions will find their ideological underpinning ifthe U.S. were to truly work for a permanent settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The U.S. can continue to pursue its current strategy in the Gulf that is largely based on its U.S. military presence and potential. This strategy will not lead to the solution of political problems that are deeply rooted in ideological, religious, and cultural causes. The U.S. and its willing partners will continue to be immersed in a long-term asymmetric military conflict without clear political and ideological goals. Truly international cooperation, and heeding the ideological, religious, and cultural concerns of the Arab and Muslim world, can successfully change the current course of events.

I don't agree with everything but I like the way he thinks. Some choice excerpts after the jump.

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A pre-emptive coup against a coup within a coup?

✚  No Reason to Celebrate, It's Just Another Coup

Wael Iskander offers a not unplausible explanation for yesterday's news in Egypt — what may have pushed some generals to go against Tantawi and Enan was that they felt a pre-emptive coup against a coup within a coup was necessary to prevent Tantawi & co. leading the military into an untenable situation.

So much of what has been happening has been conducted with much secrecy, that is why all we have today is analysis and speculation. However, it does seem that the likely scenario is a coup to counteract a coup as Hesham Sallam explained:
“Al-Assar, Al-Sisi and others led a coup against Tantawi and Anan in order to preempt a prospective coup attempt that could have gotten the army into uncertain political confrontations—specifically confrontations that could have led the military establishment to lose everything vis-à-vis the MB. Consistent with this theory is the fact that Al-Dostoor newspaper was confiscated yesterday after effectively making a public call for a coup--which suggests that some elements within the SCAF had been prodding their allies inside the media establishment to begin promoting the image of popular support for a coup”
It is clear to me that something was planned for 24 August 2012 and that is what was pre-empted. The Muslim Brotherhood (Morsi) had to have the support of some elements inside the army so as to come out with this decision.
There had been calls for mass protests against Morsi and the MB and the Brotherhood on the 24th, backed by some of the press and political establishment. Maybe this is what forced their hands.
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

The Morsi Maneuver: a first take

I hate to come out with a full-fledged analysis as the full picture of today’s news from Egypt is still coming out, but the importance of Morsi’s changes to the military and cancellation of the terrible June 17 Supplementary Constitutional Declaration deserves some comment. Here is my preliminary take, which I will no doubt revise in coming days and that is not exhaustive. Please leave what I’m missing out on in the comments.

I’d divide what happened today in two parts. First, what has changed in the military:

  • Defense Minister and SCAF head Hussein Tantawi, who will be replaced by Head of Military Intelligence AbdelLatif El-Sissi
  • Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces Sami Enan.
  • Both Tantawi and Enan have been named presidential advisors, and were recently awarded the Order of the Nile medal. It appears they will be protected from punishment for their actions during the transitional period.
  • The heads of every service of the Armed Forces (Air Force, Air Defenses, Navy) were also retired but were given golden parachutes (one is now head of the Suez Canal Authority, another the new Minister of Military Production, etc.) It appears they will be replaced by their deputies.
  • There seems to be more personnel changes and shuffles — but mostly within the logic of promotion typical of the Egyptian military (i.e. no people were suddenly dropped into the senior ranks from lower ranks or outside the senior staff).

The overall impression I get is of a change of personalities with continuity in the institution. More junior officers are taking the posts of their former superiors, and some SCAF members are shifting positions. The departure of Tantawi was inevitable considering his age and unpopularity.

The really surprising thing is that for months there had been reports of positioning within the military-intelligence nexus for the succession battle for post-Tantawy. Leading candidates were Sami Enan, recently fired Head of General Intelligence Mourad Mowafy and to a lesser extent El-Sissi. There were also inconsistent speculation (from well-informed sources with direct SCAF access) about the relationship between El-Sissi and Mowafi. El-Sissi’s appointment is consistent with the idea that he long was one of the most powerful (but less obviously so) members of SCAF, and Enan’s departure is quite striking.

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Moustafa: Don't call the SCC's decision on parliament a dissolution

Tamir Mousfata weighs in with an interesting comment on the headline of this NYT story on the scuffle over the dissolution of parliament: "Egypt’s Military and President Escalate Their Power Struggle". He writes in a comment to the story:

The headline for this article is incorrect and terribly misleading. The Supreme Constitutional Court ruling on June 14 did not disband parliament, it only invalidated part of the election law. It was the military that disbanded parliament as an opportunistic move, but it is not the role of an unelected junta to dissolve parliament. The SCC reaffirmed its ruling as political theatre, as its ruling still stands. Morsi's presidential decree seeks to dissolve parliament in an orderly fashion, without the military calling the shots. The New York Times should make a correction, as the current headline and much of the text of the article simply presents the spin that SCAF would like to put forward.

Moustafa is Associate Professor at Simon Fraser University and the author of a book that speaks to the heart of the matter: The Struggle for Constitutional Power: Law, Politics, and Economic Development in Egypt.

His comment, which is in line with my own analysis (as well as that I think the SCC's June 14 decision is ridiculous and the reaction of the Egyptian judicial establishment in general to Morsi's decree preposterous and dishonest — more on that later) and that of many other experts on Egyptian constitutional matters, is telling of how much the discussion of this struggle has been skewed. In a way, one can hardly blame the NYT's headline writers when the Egyptian media is largely framing this in the same manner, as are politicians and many senior judges. My instinct tells me that the latter, in particular, are full of crap when they complain of the decree being "an attack on rule of law" while Morsi's defense that he is not challenging the courts but the SCC's right to dissolve parliament not only entirely plausible, but laudable.

Unfortunately he did not think through the politics very well here, and may lose this battle. The last saving grace for him may be, ironically, upcoming decisions by the administrative courts — otherwise his best bet will be a quick move to hold new elections. 

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Awesome Google Maps mashup of Egypt's retired army generals and where they've landed

Askar Kazeboon (The Military are Liars), the Egyptian activist group that sprang up to put the lie to the claims of the SCAF and state media after the Maspero and Mohammed Mahmoud St. massacres, have put together this amazing Google Maps-powered database of where retired military officers have landed -- highlighting the common practice of senior officers being given golden parachute that land them softly into positions of influence in the civilian bureaucracy across the country.

It's hard to explain, so just explore it: el3askarmap.kazeboon.com [Ar]. As you zoom into the map, you get more detail as to where they are.

Also on Twitter and Facebook.

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

The clock is ticking... for Washington

I took this photo on January 29, 2011 in Tahrir Square. Back to the same issue.

Readers of this blog know that I am against US military aid to Egypt. I was against it under Mubarak and am against it under SCAF. I am partly against aid because I'm not a big fan of any of the big Middle Eastern aid packages, because of the specifics of the Egyptian situation, although I am not against it under any circumstances. The national security waiver exercised by the Obama administration in March was premature and unwarranted, and now they have egg on their face. Washington can buy itself a few days to figure out what's going to happen in Egypt this week — this is what the recent statements frm the State Dept. being "troubled" by the recent developments amount to but the clock is ticking: they will either have to suspend the aid or be openly in favor of SCAF's constitutional coup if they continue it.

It's a situation as black-and-white as the one we see in Egypt today, despite all attempts to fudge the issue. Sara Khorshid puts it well in this NYT op-ed, The Betrayal of Egypt's Revolution:

Given the military’s consistent disregard for basic democratic norms over the past 16 months, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s comment last week that “There can be no going back on the democratic transition called for by the Egyptian people” sounded ridiculous.

Despite the army’s blatant power grabs, the Obama administration has had no qualms about restoring American military aid, waiving a Congressional requirement that links military assistance to the protection of basic freedoms, so as to preserve the United States’ longtime alliance with Egypt’s rulers.

America could have sided with the Egyptian people if it had wanted to. But the question is whether the American government really has the will to see Egypt become a democracy.

If the Obama administration genuinely supports the Egyptian people in their pursuit of freedom, then it should realize that democracy will take root only through the revolutionary path that started on the streets in January 2011 — not through the dubious ways of the Mubarak-appointed military council.

Shadi Hamid (with whom I cordially disagree on many issues) also put it well yesterday on Twitter:

These two are Egyptians (Shadi is Egyptian-American), which is important — I think more Egyptians are willing to publicly take this stance. More Americans need to care about this, too. I'm not Egyptian, and care mostly about this for American reasons. It's not just that I don't want my tax dollars to subsidize the US defense industry and pampered generals in Cairo. It's also that I don't want the blowback when Egyptians turn to Americans and say, "you supported our dictators".  The time has come: the US may not be able to influence developments in Egypt, but at least it can stop underwriting them.

The US military's Islam problem

The US military: the word's most advanced fighting force, technologically bleeding edge, probably the most complex logistics and planning effort by anyone on the planet. The core of the American empire. Unfortunately, it is also plagued by complete morons and, apparently, a culture of tolerance for genocide. Danger Room reports:

The U.S. military taught its future leaders that a “total war” against the world’s 1.4 billion Muslims would be necessary to protect America from Islamic terrorists, according to documents obtained by Danger Room. Among the options considered for that conflict: using the lessons of “Hiroshima” to wipe out whole cities at once, targeting the “civilian population wherever necessary.”

The course, first reported by Danger Room last month and held at the Defense Department’s Joint Forces Staff College, has since been canceled by the Pentagon brass. It’s only now, however, that the details of the class have come to light. Danger Room received hundreds of pages of course material and reference documents from a source familiar with the contents of the class.

The real culprit here is the infiltration, of course facilitated by the Bush administration, of ultra-conservative religious warriors into its administration, and perhaps also to an extent the strong presence some of the wilder branches of the Born Again Christian movement in the officer corps. But consider that this was taught:

“We have now come to understand that there is no such thing as ‘moderate Islam,’” Dooley noted in a July 2011 presentation (.pdf), which concluded with a suggested manifesto to America’s enemies. “It is therefore time for the United States to make our true intentions clear. This barbaric ideology will no longer be tolerated. Islam must change or we will facilitate its self-destruction.”

. . .

International laws protecting civilians in wartime are “no longer relevant,” Dooley continues. And that opens the possibility of applying “the historical precedents of Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki” to Islam’s holiest cities, and bringing about “Mecca and Medina['s] destruction.”

Oh boy.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

The Egyptian military's averted revolt

Must-read reporting by Marwa Awad of Reuters on a previously unknown revolt by Egyptian officers last October:

(Reuters) - On a warm Wednesday morning last October, around 500 Egyptian army officers based at the Air Defence Institute on the outskirts of Alexandria staged a mini revolt.

According to a lieutenant colonel with direct knowledge of the protest, the men were angry about the punishment given to a fellow officer by his superiors. After refusing to train, the officers demanded to meet either Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the head of Egypt's military and in effect the country's acting president, or his second in command. They wanted to meet the commanders, they said, to make the case for better treatment.

"Their reasoning was: Egypt is having a revolution and they too have demands," the lieutenant colonel said.

The rebellion, unreported before now and confirmed by three other officers in the unit, lasted several days. As Egyptians were calling for quicker and deeper change - demands directed at the military council that runs the country - at least one part of the country's military was itself split.

. . .

As in the country, so in the barracks. Over the past six months, more than a dozen serving or recently retired mid- and lower-ranking officers have said they and their colleagues see Egypt's revolution as their own chance to win better treatment, salaries, and improved conditions and training. They are tired, they said, of a few very top officers becoming rich while the vast majority of officers and ordinary soldiers struggle.

As the military and the Muslim Brotherhood both press their own candidates ahead of the presidential elections scheduled for May and June - former intelligence chief Omar Suleiman entered the race as the army's choice last week and Khairat al-Shater, the Brotherhood's deputy, two weeks ago - the tensions in the lower ranks shed light not only on the country's most powerful institution but on Egypt itself.

"Military ranks struggle like the rest of Egyptians because, like Egyptian society, the wealth of the military is concentrated at the top and does not trickle down. You have to reach a specific rank before wealth is unlocked," one major said.

It goes to discuss the uneven spread of wealth inside the military, what appears to be the senior officers regaining control over the whole body — in part through massive spending to boost lower salaries. I've heard many anecdotal reports of such increases for officers monitoring sensitive facilities, as well as the long hours they've put in since the revolution. And one of the more interesting aspects of the story is the expectation that the election of a new president will be followed by a shuffle of the army's senior ranks. One hears that, among SCAF, the fight to take Tantawi's place has already begun, with splits on who to support. The prize could very well go to the general who positions himself as his junior officers' champion.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

More on Egypt's "Military Inc."

Great piece with more detail on the nature of the Egyptian military-industrial complex and its internationalization than I've seen anywhere: Egypt's Generals and Transnational Capital, by Josh Stacher and Shana Marshall. An excerpt but do read the whole thing for the details:

Much of the speculation over the Egyptian military’s role in the economy has been misleading. The generals’ antipathy for Gamal Mubarak led many to assume they also disdained all neoliberal projects. The guessing similarly obscured the fact that, in an era of transnational capital, the army’s footprint is found in many places outside the formally state-owned holding companies. The military has broadened its portfolio by launching joint ventures and executing share purchases in private operations, exploiting its monopoly over lucrative sectors and granting exclusive access to foreign companies in order to burnish its pro-business bona fides. While the SCAF’s lust for direct political power is in doubt, the centrality of military-run industries to Egypt’s economic future is not. The generals have had nearly 12 months in which to anchor their enterprises so firmly as to make them immovable.

From the moment of Mubarak’s resignation, it was apparent that the SCAF was no disinterested arbiter of the political transition. The furor over the obscene wealth of Mubarak’s private-sector cronies presented the military with a golden opportunity to eliminate rivals. The SCAF proceeded to shape the electoral field to advantage those politicians who would not infringe upon the military’s economic prerogatives. Chief among its tactics was a showy, but highly selective anti-corruption campaign. By jailing big businessmen like Ahmad ‘Izz, an intimate of Gamal’s, and unpopular officials like the former housing minister, Ibrahim Sulayman, the SCAF channeled the public’s demand for justice. Not surprisingly, civilian businessmen with strong links to military companies were passed over by prosecutors—another signal to politicians to accept the military’s role in the economy or be shut out altogether.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

WSJ on "Egypt's derailed revolution"

I was interviewed a while back from this video, which features many Egyptian political players (and some friends).

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Great new anti-army video calling for Egypt general strike

This video, put out by Aalam Wassef, is one of the most daring and well-made I've seen yet by the anti-SCAF movement. The basic narrative is that the SCAF represents a military that has run Egypt into the ground for some sixty years, while enjoying the fruits of its economic empire, luxury hospitals, clubs etc. It calls for a boycott of military-produced products and a general strike on February 11.