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.