Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Egyptian army - dysfunctional, humiliated, useless

Egyptians often say they are proud of their army - its patriotism, political neutrality, professionalism or whatever. One may well ask why. The events of the last few days show that it's much the same as the rest of the administration -- dysfunctional and paralysed, dare I say useless. In this case, humiliated as well. Ask the troops on the street what they plan to do or what their policy is on enforcing the curfew, for example, and they say: "We don't have orders." Not only that, but this army, which costs many billions of dollars a year, which employs hundreds of thousands of people, to which the United States gives $1.3 billion a year, has hardly done anything with any success since it overthrew the monarchy in 1952. In fact, since the Middle East of 1973, when the political-military leadership of Egypt managed to turn initial success into a stalemate close to defeat on the battlefield, it has hardly done anything at all. It rode into Kuwait in 1992 on the coat tails of the U.S. army, but it hardly fired a shot and acted merely as a token Arab presence in the coalition. The Egyptian military didn't even bother to send a warship to deal with Somali pirates when the piracy problem arose in 2008, threatening Suez Canal traffic. It left that to more asertive countries - even Malaysia sent a vessel. So what to make of the army's deployment on the streets of Cairo over the last five days? All they have done is protect government buildings which might have been the target of looters or protesters. But when it came to protecting peaceful demonstrators from a coordinated assault by thugs armed with clubs and now guns, they just sat tight in their tanks and APCs and did nothing. Yesterday I saw a young officer walking down the street with a field radio to investigate the initial assualt by the Mubarak thugs. Then he just walked back to his post, and the army did exactly nothing. Some of their vehicles were caught in the hail of bricks and rocks which the two sides threw at each other. Presumably the tank crews sat inside under the hatches, asking their superiors by radio for orders - but nothing came. For the past 18 hours it's been sitting in the middle of a civil war, doing nothing. Abandoned by the police, Egyptians execising their universal right to take part in peaceful protests but under attack by hired thugs have turned to the army for protection. To its eternal shame, the army has done nothing.              


  1. Just a quick comment in support of your blog so you know people are reading. Kieren

  2. Long time resident of Cairo, currently in Doki, hosting friends and journalists who have had to leave downtown. Your blog has really helped me get through the past couple of days. Your post on the army is spot on. Quick question: a friend from Shubra just got in touch with me. He reports widespread violence throughout his neighborhood including looting and killing starting Friday through the weekend and the wholesale purchase of support for the regime at 50 EGP per head yesterday. Any more information on this? Thanks.

  3. Hi Alexandra. I'm afraid my colleagues and I haven't been able to give much attention to the security situation in the suburbs or the provinces, simply because in the end the future of the country has seemed to depend on the events in the centre and in Heliopolis, where we assume Mubarak is bunkered. But I haven't heard of anyone killed in lawlessness. Fifty pounds was the usual wage for taking part in vote rigging activities and I doubt anyone would put his life at risk at that price. I have heard 5,000 pounds several times but that is pure rumour.