Egypt's Military Takes Power: Who's in Charge?

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There is no single entity that is the military in Egypt. A careful distinction needs to be made between the real military that total around 470,000 personnel, and are under the Ministry of Defense, and the others in uniform that include the 325,000 personnel in the Central Security Services and 60,000 in National Guard. These forces are under the Ministry of the Interior, and are the primary source of the oppression documented in the annual US State Department human rights report, and of the growing authoritarianism and abuses that Egyptians have been protesting.

While the Egyptian military may well be the ultimate power brokers in an emergency they also do not dominate the economy or civil government, and most of the military -- like other Egyptians -- have been subject to surveillance by Egypt's oppressive intelligence services.

The Egyptian military is not an isolated elite. They are a citizen army. Most actual soldiers are conscript and many junior officers are graduates who serve short tours or who join the military because it is the only job available. Mid-level officers are usually career professionals that are not part of the political side of the military. They have won considerable public respect and support over the years, but they also have lost status as a new class of businessmen and profiteers has acquired great wealth and income disparities have grown. Most can now buy less by way of housing, education for their children, and the key elements of middle-class living than they could in the past.

There were significant numbers of retired senior military officers in Mubarak's inner circle who were given sinecures and senior posts in the civil government and state industries. But the bulk of the officers who leave don't enjoy these privileges. The military is stove-piped by branch and service, and most senior officers do not have special access to those in Mubarak's close circle. Those who did become part of Mubarak's "loyalists" acquired money and status. The farther officers are outside the circle, the more even senior officers rely solely on their income and have lower status and pay.

These distinctions also help explain why the military retains so much popular respect. It is also important to understand that democracy is less important to people here than material benefits, jobs, decent education, effective government services, ending corruption and favoritism, and emphasizing the concept of justice in ways that provide security and honest police and courts. People aren't looking for a vote as much as they want to stop the economic, political and social injustice -- a search compounded by the fact Islam places so much emphasis on justice in every aspect of life and governance. We can't understate the importance of justice to Egyptian people.

At the same time, the military's top priority is to preserve the nation and maintain order and limit chaos or upheaval. They are far less likely to use torture or violence than the forces under Ministry of Interior as the entire command ethic of the professional military is the nation, not the leader, and military discipline puts real restraints on their actions.

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