Şub 5, 2011

Behind the Egyptian turmoil

By Tulin Daloglu

There is too much speculation about what comes next in Egypt. Fear dominates the air. The Obama administration does not seem to know as to how exactly to deal with the issue. Today, the anti-Mubarak protestors made it clear that they will not engage in any negotiation until the Egyptian President goes out of power. The message is clear: the genie is out of the bottle, and there is no way to put it back.

For almost two weeks now, Egyptians are on the street not because Hosni Mubarak has stayed in power for 30 long years, but because they’re fed up with pervasive corruption and mismanagement of their countries wealth; and favoritism of the higher echelons who denied them a chance to grow together as a healthy society. People finally said, “Enough!” They want to see a regime change. They demand “clean politics, clean society.”

The Interior Ministry’s unbearable attacks on the peaceful demonstrators and the cheap tactics of intimidating the foreign media to stop covering the events, made the Egyptian military be perceived as an innocent victim of the Mubarak era. The reality, however, could not be further from the truth. The senior Egyptian military have immensely benefited from the regime. When the push comes to shove, they won’t hesitate from bringing down Mubarak, but if and only if they can be assured that he is replaced by another of the regime, such as the newly appointed vice president Omar Sleiman who is also a former military. They would want to see the old system to continue benefitting them.

The senior Egyptian military, such as Chief of Staff Lt.Gen. Sam Enan, and the group of Major generals beneath him including Major General Mohammed Al-Assar who is Assistant to the Defense Minister – have been in these positions for 10 – 15 years. Many of these Major generals had already served in the military and retired and were brought back in at the rank of a two-star general. They do not change position in every 2 -3 years like most militaries. They serve at the pleasure of Mubarak and his right hand, the Defense Minister Marshal Tantawi. They have gained great wealth and power under Mubarak, and they will want to continue that.

“The junior military officers despise their superiors,” tells me one former American official who have closely monitored the relations with Egypt. They well know about the corruption, but they can’t do a thing about it. The system denies them the chance to get promoted like in any regular army. “Even though the U.S. government provides Egypt $1.2 million a year (that is totally separate from the Foreign Military Financing which is $1.3 billion a year) for International Military Training and Education (IMET) funding, the junior officers come for training and then get out of the military as soon as their 2 year conscription is fulfilled,” says the former official. Although there are significant corruption allegations concerning the defense minister and the senior levels of the military, this is still an army with honest and decent people.

The Egyptian people want to see change. It took them too long to say “Enough!” But there will be no change if the military takes over with those senior officials intact. While it is near impossible to detail the military’s corruption road map, there are widely known rumors – like the dealings at the Suez Canal.“During my research in Cairo,” recently wrote Matthew Axelrod at ForeingPolicy.com, who served as the North Africa and Egypt Director in the Office of the Secretary of Defense from 2005 – 2007, “foreign diplomats told me that Egyptian military officers regularly supplemented their incomes by receiving cash for routine military services including Suez Canal passage.”

If the people are out on the street seeking regime change, it’s time for Mubarak’s selective appointees in the military to go with him, as well. Any deal that cuts short of addressing the seriousness of the widespread corruption allegations will further endanger the future of the country. While many on Tahrir Square are rightly proud of their military, the corruption allegations of the senior Egyptian military officers need to be acknowledged.

Understandably, many are concerned for Muslim Brotherhood to come to power in Egypt. Yet Mubarak’s regime had hijacked the U.S. with those scare tactics for many years, and there is still the fear. It’s time to admit that Mubarak’s regime has helped to strengthen the extremists, and his never-coming exit from the Egyptian political scenery – once again – creates the potential to even deepen their strength in the Egyptian society. Therefore, it may be time for the U.S. to make two points clear: 1) End corruption for your country’s good. Good governance on your side will weaken the Muslim Brotherhood. 2) Do it so, because it is the right thing for Egypt. Do it so, because preserving peace with Israel will continue to benefit Egypt’s interests. And that ensures that Egypt continues to get their U.S. assistance because that is part of the Camp David deal.

When Egyptians are on the street demanding, “clean politics, clean society,” there is no better time than this to deal with the issue of corruption. If done right, there will be no fear for tomorrows, but Egyptians may really start a new era of enlightenment.

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