Egypt: Military and Intelligence at Egypt's Democratic Dawn


If the military is ever to be a legitimate national force, it must side with the protesters against Mubarak’s thugs and the police. These thugs have been ridiculously and mistakenly labeled by right-wing media as “pro-Mubarak demonstrators. This critical junction in the Egyptian Uprising when is the Egyptian Army’s moment of truth. As thousands of unarmed demonstrators are tortured, trampled, firebombed and molested by Mubarak’s thugs, will the military move to protect, or to crush the non-violent democratic movements that have occupied Tahrir Square in Cairo for the last ten days? Following on Paul Amar’s useful analysis (Jadaliyya, 1 Feb 2011) we need to know which faction of which of the Army's branches is ascendant, and where exactly, within these forces, we can energize possible allies.

The newly appointed Vice President is Omar Soleiman, whom everyone assumes is being groomed to be the next president. We Egyptians know him as the person who managed the negotiations between different Palestinian groups and generally works to assuage Israel’s security concerns. Soleiman is welcomed by the US as a trusted man who caters to international interests. Soleiman is from the Intelligence Services (mukhabarat) which is loosely associated with the Army. Intelligence is charged with international security and countering the external Islamist militant threat. Soleiman is not hated by the people, but his base of support is as much in Washington and Tel Aviv as it is in Cairo. He does not have a strong base of support at home.   In contrast,  Field Marshall Muhammad Hussein Tantawi, the General Chief of the Army (al-Geysh) does indeed have a domestic base of legitimacy and respect. So this plays out now as a very critical struggle between Mukhabarat and Geysh, that is, between Soleiman and Tantawi. Since the police and security forces have done most of the repressing and torturing, the Geysh has kept their hands clean.   So Tantawi is the person who we Egyptian people respect. But we do not know him well enough to quash our concerns of whether he and the Geysh are indeed trustworthy.

Citizens have an image that the soldiers of the army are people who care and espouse a national duty to protect the people and the land. However, the Intelligence services are thought of as politicians whose role is to protect the US and Israel -- and to protect their own political power as dependent on external political forces. Egyptians generally do not have a clear opinion on Soleiman or the Mokhabarat but they suspect that Soleiman is drawing out the endless Israeli peace/security. Whereas under Nasser, the military served the nation; under Mubarak, the Intelligence Services serve the individual leader’s personal ambitions.  

People in Egypt derive a sense of security from, and have a feeling of affinity towards, the army without dealing closely with them. Once and if they have to deal with them directly as repressors or direct rulers, the limitless hate they have now for the police may be transferred directly to the army.  Citizens should create a clear position towards, and expectations of, the army and the army should respond to the peoples’ demands in order to maintain the nation’s respect.

During the next few days Tantawi’s armed forces will have their chance to either reaffirm the national fabric and legitimacy of the country, or to plunge into the mire of brutality and corruption – the place where Soliman’s Intelligence Services now wallow along with Mubarak’s thugs and the monstrous police forces.

Tantawi today must step up to protect the people, evict the Mubarak family from the country immediately, and subordinate the international mission of the mukhabarat to the national mission of the people. He could then facilitate the peaceful transition to what everyone wants: a new parliamentary and presidential election.

by Mozn Hassan

Executive Director of Nazra for Feminist Studies in Egypt

Egypt: A protester walks past a line of riot police.