Americans Should Watch Egypt
by Jacob G. Hornberger
Egypt is developing into a fascinating situation, one that involves the United States. It’s worth paying attention to in the coming months.
Egypt has been ruled by a brutal military dictatorship for the past 30 years. The regime has been operating under a “state of emergency” during that entire time, one that has enabled the regime to wield and exercise “temporary” emergency powers: the power to take people into custody as suspected terrorists, incarcerate them indefinitely without trial, torture them, and even execute them. They are the same emergency powers that U.S. presidents now wield, thanks to 9/11.
The Egyptian regime holds that such temporary, emergency powers are justified under the same principle that U.S. officials justify them: “national security” involving the “war on terrorism.”
Like the military here in the United States, the military in Egypt plays an enormous role in society and in the economy.
After 30 years of repression at the hands of the military dictatorship, the Egyptian people revolted. That’s what those massive protests were all about last year. One of their principal demands was that the dictatorship lift those emergency powers, a demand that the dictatorship has refused to grant, again for the same reason that U.S. officials refuse to relinquish such powers — “national security” owing to the “war on terrorism.”
The military dictatorship figured that by sacrificing the regime’s longtime dictator, Hosni Mubarak, the citizenry would be appeased and would leave the military dictatorship in charge.
However, a large portion of the citizenry has realized that the fundamental problem in Egypt was not that it had a brutal dictator but the fact that it had a brutal dictatorship. They want a genuine democracy, one in which the citizenry have the power to see and reduce the military budget and also to reduce its massive role in Egyptian society.
The problem is that the military won’t permit that to happen. It considers itself the bedrock of Egyptian society, along with the domestic Egyptian intelligence force. After all, the military says, national security is at stake. If Egypt were to significantly reduce the military budget or significantly reduce the role of the military in Egyptian life, national security would obviously be endangered, not only because of the terrorist threat but also the threat to the economy.
The military feels that the people simply cannot be permitted to make that type of mistake. So, it’s letting people have democratic elections for Parliament and the presidency but only with the understanding that the military will remain the bedrock of society — the foundation — the ultimate political power. So, while the citizens will be permitted to elect people to public office, public officials will have to operate within the parameters set forth by the military.
The Egyptian people are realizing that that’s not exactly what a genuine democracy is all about. In a genuine democracy, the military answers to those who are elected to public office, not the other way around. Moreover, public officials wield the power to do whatever they want with the military, even dismantle the standing army.
So, obviously a collision is forming. The military refuses to give up its power and its privileged position in society. The citizenry want a genuine democracy, one in which the military is subservient.
The situation should be fascinating for Americans because it reflects precisely why our American ancestors hated and feared standing armies. They understood that once standing armies are brought into existence, it is extremely difficult to get rid of them, simply because such armies have the means by which to sustain their existence and the mindset to rationalize how necessary they are to the freedom and well-being of society.
In fact, President Eisenhower himself warned about the extensive role of the military in American society before he left office. He warned the American people to beware the grave danger that the U.S. military-industrial complex poses to America’s democratic processes. A few years later, President Harry Truman, who by that time was retired, stated in a Washington Post op-ed that the CIA had become a sinister force in American life.
But the situation in Egypt might well involve the United States even more directly. Guess who has funded the Egyptian military dictatorship for the past 30 years. You guessed it: The U.S. government. It has sent billions and billions of dollars in cash and weaponry to the dictatorship.
Obviously, all that money and weaponry has little to do with the threat of foreign invasion. In fact, if Egypt were ever to go to war against another country, it would likely be Israel, which is an even stauncher U.S. ally than Egypt. No, the billions of dollars in money and weaponry that the U.S. government sends to Egypt is so that the dictatorship can maintain “order and stability” in Egypt.
The fact is that despite all its talk about loving democracy, the U.S. government loves the Egyptian military dictatorship. After all, they have major things in common: a big standing army, a massive role for the military in society, a powerful intelligence force, a national-security state, and the war on terrorism.
The U.S. government and the Egyptian military dictatorship have been in a continuous embrace for decades. Don’t forget, after all, that the dictatorship serves as one of the U.S. government’s rendition-torture partners, able and willing to receive suspected terrorists from the CIA and the U.S. military and torture them on behalf of the U.S. government.
Just recently, the U.S. government send another $1.3 billion in U.S. taxpayer money to the Egyptian dictatorship, knowing full well that things might be headed toward a collision, one in which the dictatorship’s weaponry might well be used to quell a violent revolt among the citizenry to remove it from power and establish a genuine democracy.
Of course, the obvious questions arise: What in the world is the U.S. government doing supporting dictatorships? Should the U.S. government be supporting tyranny anywhere in the world, especially with U.S. taxpayer money? If a violent revolution occurs in Egypt, will the American people side with the citizenry or with their U.S.-funded oppressors?