Several years ago, for reasons still not fully clear to me, I was invited to
attend an international prayer for peace organized by the Vatican in St. Mark’s
Square in Venice. On the stage sat the heads of the world’s major religions, all
bedecked in their finest ceremonial robes and accoutrements; and in the Square,
many hundreds of others, waiting in anticipation for the grand finale of what
had been a memorable day, when candles of peace would be lit, doves released and
the Hallelujah chorus reach its peak.
And then, just as the first candle
was about to be lit by the patriarch of the Syrian-Greek Orthodox Church, it
started to rain.
“Ah, what a bad omen,” whispered the Europeans in the
audience; “Ah, what a blessing,” said those from Africa and the Middle
Same act of God: Two totally different perceptions.
bring this all to mind, obviously, are the wonderful rains the country and
entire region have been blessed with this winter, but also a stark reminder that
what works in Washington does not necessarily work in Cairo. The Americans
should not be trying to force their own democratic standards on Egypt’s emerging
political reality, particularly by ordering the army “back to the barracks,”
before Egypt’s “democracy” is ready for it.
In one way or another, the
Egyptian military has controlled the country ever since 1952, when King Farouk
opted to keep his head and move to the south of France: Col. Nasser,
Gen. Sadat and Brig.-Gen. Mubarak. The army controls about 30
percent of the economy and key industries such as trucking and food supply. It
is a massive employer, clothing and feeding tens of thousands who would
otherwise be without steady work.
The army is critical to Egypt’s economy
and social stability, and will remain so until a productive alternate economic
base replaces the country’s counter- productive and massively bloated
bureaucracy, and its highly over-manned military.
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What happened in Tahrir
Square a year ago was not a military coup. It was not a burden the brass
They were living a very pampered life without too many real
responsibilities as it was, and needed to find themselves faced with trying to
placate the mobs, install democracy, deal with the Muslim Brotherhood and the
Salafis, and reap upon themselves scathing criticism from America as a result,
like a hole in the head.
One looks at the results of American
intervention and the pursuit of democracy in Iraq, and is left to wonder about
the wisdom of it all.
Saddam was an affront and threat to the world and
needed to be dealt with, but it was when it came to American meddling with
politicalsocial systems it was not entirely familiar with, and trying to make
these conform to American democratic ideals, that the house came falling
Ditto in Libya, though by all standards Gaddafi posed no real
threat to the world, especially after he gave up his nuclear program and set his
sights on humiliating and playing games with the world’s leadership instead. I
firmly believe the Libyan leader sealed his fate when back in 2007 he pitched
his tent in the gardens of the old Rothschild mansion near the Champs Elysees in
Paris, and thumbed his nose at President Sarkozy’s hospitality.
got tighter when he did the same in Rome, Moscow and New York.
look at the results in Libya, which the enlightened nations of the world have
just bombed to pieces for the sake of bringing democracy to that oil-rich
country: tribal war, massive amounts of arms once in reliable stockpiles, now in
the hands of rebels, terrorists, bank robbers, and everyone except the supposed
The point is that if the real goal in Egypt is a stable
democracy, it should be understood that the country needs a bridge of stability
to get there. The army, with its American-trained senior leadership, and close
ties to the Pentagon, is that bridge, and pulling the pillars from under it can
only lead to chaos, not democracy.
The army has to know its limits. It
has to work to actively and consistently ensure that the will of the people is
adhered to. But to order it back to the barracks before the time is right is to
court another Iraq or Libya, and the Middle East has had enough of
Libya’s arsenals in the hands of irresponsible forces is one
thing. Egypt’s is another. Democracy in regions where autocrats have ruled for
years is a gradual process. It is something that has to be nurtured, not
imposed, and those who now demand putting the cart before the horse would do
well to think of the long-term consequences of not having short-term
patience.The writer is a senior research associate at the Institute for
National Security Studies. His book,
The Anatomy of Israel’s Survival, has been
awarded first prize in the National Jewish Book Award’s history category for
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