Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Democracy and Class Struggle says Contradictions in the Egyptian Army are not Contradictions amongst the People but with the Enemy

From World To Win News Service

The army: not neutral

While Obama's support for Mubarak was qualified and not necessarily permanent, he was effusive in his praise for the Egyptian army and the way it has handled the protest movement.

During the upsurge before February 1, the police had been unable to stop the demonstrators, although they killed hundreds and badly hurt many more. In many cases people attacked the police and put them on the run. Armored cars were pulled down and burned in Cairo and Alexandria. In several cities police stations were assaulted and destroyed. A wave of looting seems to have been largely the work of the police themselves.

People organized neighborhood roadblocks and crudely armed groups to protect lives and property. They also organized to protect themselves against provocateurs, clean up the streets and preserve public sanitation and pass out tea and food in Cairo's Tahrir (Liberation) Square, a highly symbolic location named after the 1952 army coup that brought down the British-controlled monarchy, as well as in front of the main mosque in Alexandria. They proudly explained to reporters that the square and the country now belonged to them.

But the army remained omnipresent, demonstrating its power. It lined Cairo's avenues and bridges with armored vehicles and massed about a hundred new U.S.-supplied tanks around the square. To prevent people from converging on the capital and Alexandria, it cut off the roads and public transportation linking Cairo and other major cities with the provincial towns. Soldiers searched people as they entered the rally and checked IDs. Helicopters filmed the crowds from above. American and French-made fighter planes buzzed Tahrir Square. The military erected a protective wall around Mubarak's residence.

Keeping order while the people want to overthrow the regime is not a neutral act. After Mubarak's non-resignation speech, many protesters suddenly feared that if he wasn't going to resign after all, they might be hunted and punished.

Whose army is it?

If it is true, as some reporters surmise, that the U.S. told the Egyptian military at Tahrir Square that it should refrain from a "Tienanmen" solution, when the Chinese government gunned down a square full of protesters, it is not because anyone in the Obama administration or Washington's corridors of power cares more about Egyptian lives than American interests, but because if the army does open fire on demonstrators in a sustained way—rather than firing into the air, as it has done sporadically so far—the situation may spin even further out of control politically.

The U.S. financed, armed and trained these armed forces and has paid close attention to their military and political training. It is the biggest Arab army and the tenth biggest in the world. Its intelligence service reaches into every corner of society and its prisons and torture chambers are among the world's most fearsome. It would be hard to exaggerate the ties between these armed forces and the U.S. Almost all of U.S. financial aid to Egypt, 1.3 out of 1.5 billion dollars a year, goes to the military. Over the past decades the only country anywhere to receive more American aid has been Israel.

The army is not only the ultimate protector of the state, it is also Egypt's single most powerful economic force. It owns a network of factories, hotels, real estate and other businesses. Further, retired generals run many state-owned enterprises, such as the textile mills that have historically been core components of the country's export-oriented economy, along with the state-run petroleum industry. This makes the army a partner as well as a political and military enabler of Egypt's domination by foreign capital and the imperialist world market.

There are undoubtedly real differences between the wealthy, modernized army and Egypt's petty criminal police who pick the people's pockets for bribes. The police, not the army, have been in charge of street-level repression for decades, and that has had an effect on how the army is seen. It was no accident that the first minister Mubarak threw overboard in an attempt to appease the people was his hated Minister of the Interior.

Further, the armed forces have been able to preserve something of a nationalist aura because of their role in the struggle against British domination, from overthrowing the monarchy to defending Egypt against the 1956 British-French-Israeli invasion when Egypt nationalized the formerly British-controlled Suez Canal. It is also highly regarded for defending the country against the 1967 Israeli invasion that seized Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, and its military successes in the 1973 war with Israel which eventually led to Egypt's getting the Sinai back. Many people, it seems, are also confused by the fact that the army is made up of conscripts.

But the army and the police may be playing the kind of "good cop, bad cop" division of labor familiar around the world. What is probably most fundamental in the unfounded hopes that the army will "support the people" against Mubarak is that the people understand very well what it would mean if the army does not.

Mubarak and the army

Mubarak responded to the revolt against him by making the head of intelligence his vice-president—his first vice president and therefore official successor if Mubarak resigns. Omar Suleiman has been in charge of repression for decades and makes frequent trips to Washington and Tel Aviv. A U.S. diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks says that he is one of the Egyptian officials most trusted by the U.S. government. Mubarak made the current air force chief Ahmad Shafiq his prime minister. He also met with his regional military commanders.

Although Mubarak, like his predecessors Gamal Nasser and Anwar Sadat, is a product of the armed forces, until now there has been at least the claim of a separation between the military and the government. Top officers, for instance, were not allowed to be members of Mubarak's party, and most of his recent (and now ex-) ministers have been civilian businessmen and so-called "technocrats." This moving of the army into the center of the government has two aims: to overrule the people's movement and keep Mubarak on top as long as possible, and to ensure that if the autocrat does go down the military will preserve regime continuity. This seems to reflect the U.S.'s dual tactics in this situation.

But even the militarization of Mubarak's government, while meant to be a show of strength, has had negative political effects in identifying the military with U.S./Mubarak rule and widening the target of the people's anger. Chants have arisen demanding the departure of the generals as well as Mubarak himself, all of them seen as U.S. puppets by some people. They are disgusted by the fact that Suleiman, Mubarak's chief negotiator and collaborator with Israel, is now calling for opposition parties to negotiate with him.

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