Saturday, February 12, 2011

Military May Be the Most "Democratic" Egyptian Institution

The historic and fascinating events unfolding in Egypt, the birth of more freeedom and perhaps even a fledgling democracy created not by an outside agent, but through internal pressure, are things to behold.  What has been more impressive has been the role of the military, one of the most respected institutions in that country.  The military has been a model of professionalism in a region of the world where the military is often as corrupt as the civilian leadership.  Instead of cracking down violently on protesters, the military did what they should do, make sure everyone is safe and otherwise stay out of the way.  In many way, the professional Egyptian military may be the most democratic institution in that nation in transition.

Of course, no military is in any way a "democratic" institution in that there is very much a top-down command style that cannot and does not tolerate dissent toward orders.  But the manner in which the Egyptian military leadership, both its office corps and its non-commissioned officers, are trained--through America and other Western nations, is an important factor in a nation that is inherently unstable right now. 

One of the most fascinating aspects of the events in Egypt has been the military--who appears to have if not cooperated in the protests at least approved of them in many ways, both express and tacit.  Such participation may have to do largely with the manner in which the Egyptian officer corps is trained--in America. 

America’s best hope for democracy in Egypt and the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak may not be the protesters in the streets. It could be mid-level officers in Egypt’s Army.

Thousands of them have received official training and education in the United States, where they were exposed to the values of a democratic society, such as human rights and civilian rule over the military.
That last is an important relation that is important at this critical juncture.  Civilian control of the military is a facet of American government and military that we often don't think of as particularly important, given that it has been a hallmark of our political system since the Declaration of Independence.  But such a feature is not the norm outside of modern democratic states.  But Egypt, despite its trappings under Hosni Mubarak, was not a democracy.  Yet the Egyptian officer corps and its senior non-commissioned officers have been trained, through the deep exposure to the American political-military relationship, to accept the notion of civilian control of the military--a true feature of a western democracy and one that is part and parcel of the mindset among the Egyptian military--I hope.

Combined with strict but orderly control of the junior enlisted personnel, the middle grade officers and non-coms have the respect of the people AND control of the military hardward that could be used to brutally put down a protest that might scare senior leadership.  The combination of control and training to accept civilian authority holds the best hope for a peaceful transition to true democracy.  The fears of a take over by the Muslim Brotherhood is real and should not be discounted, but given the respect that the Egyptian people have for the military might lead some of those middle grade officers to run for elective office and carry the discipline they have learned (and earned) into the civilan leadership side. 

Having been trained through formal American contacts and the informal contacts that result with American officers, The Egyptian military has the most exposure of any facet of Egypian society to the practical functioning of a Democracy.  The training may be the best hope for a true Democracy in the Muslim world. 

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