Egyptian Military: Unlikely Friend And Protector of Revolutions

Article Summary
For Naji Sadeq Sharab, the July Revolution of 1952 and the January Revolution of 2011 shared the same purpose: to exert the will of the people and restore national pride. Throughout these revolutions, the Egyptian military has always worked to protect the interests of Egyptian civilians, even if this did not always seem to be the case.

I have been living with the Egyptian political situation since my early childhood, back in the July (1952) Revolution. Those years were vivacious, effective and full of change. They saw my father taking me to attend the Egyptian army's annual parades, which exemplified Egypt's power and its central and influential role in the Arab, Islamic and international spheres.

During those years, I would never miss a speech from the late President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Young and old would gather around the radio and listen to his speeches, which embodied the concepts of Arab unity and nationalism, freedom from colonialism and dependence, the determination to achieve social justice, the fight against poverty and the will to do justice for the poor and include farmers and workers in political life, since these two classes were deprived of any political rights.

The July Revolution was about major economic projects, such as a higher dam and the fair redistribution of wealth.

In retrospect, I find that both Egypt and its revolution had detractors from the very beginning. In fact, the Suez war was a response to the most important historic decision issued by President Nasser: the nationalization of the Suez Canal, a national decision aimed at getting rid of colonial domination. For its part, the 1967 war, which was not only Israeli but also American, aimed to undermine Egypt's role and attack the status it earned through the July Revolution.

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Critics of the July Revolution and the reign of Nazareth may say that these were the source of many of the problems plaguing Egypt. Some would even go so far as to say that they indirectly led to the January [2011] Uprising and that, without them, there would not have been any revolution. But before I tackle the great January Uprising, I would simply like to say that the principles introduced by the July Revolution may be the same goals sought by the January Uprising. The principle of social justice, which was one of the most important principles of the July revolution, is the same principle behind the January revolution. Wasn't the fight against poverty and corruption one of the main objectives of Egypt's first revolution? Haven't Egypt's first and second revolutions faced the same challenges at home and abroad as Egypt's role in the region was tested, and isn't this one of the common denominators between the two revolutions?

This is one of the most important lessons to be learned in order to ensure the success of the second revolution.

Some may wonder: Did the July Revolution succeed? Absolutely! It managed to get rid of dominance and colonial subordination. Its most important achievement was to restore Egyptian national dignity and pride. Unfortunately, this is what the January Uprising is currently experiencing, given that counter-revolutionary forces, be they domestic, foreign or behind-the-scenes, are reducing public institutions such as the Ministry of Interior to ashes. This ministry and the Institut d’Égypte are not individual property; they are the people's property.

In my short exploration of the two revolutions, I shall briefly interpret the role of the military. There are those who say that the July Revolution was a military revolution, and that the January Uprising is a popular revolution driven mainly by the youth. The answer to such statements is simple: The July Revolution first began as a military coup to get rid of a monarchy characterized by corruption and tyranny, but it soon turned into a popular revolution when the people felt that its goals were the same as their own. Otherwise, the July Revolution would not have succeeded.

Some may argue that the military did not transfer power to civilians, and that this is the reason behind military dominance and the extension of military rule under Presidents Anwar Sadat, who was assassinated by Islamic extremist forces, and Mubarak, whose reign was terminated by the January Uprising. Still, military rule remained in place. Suffice it to say that Nasser, despite his military mentality, ruled with a civilian spirit. As for today, the military also had a role to play in the January Uprising, even if it was actually started by the youth. Had it not been for the military role and civilian sense, the revolution would not have lasted; instead, it would have spiraled into endless violence.

From the very beginning, the military embraced and protected the January revolution. No one should forget the military salute that Major-General Mohsen gave in honor of the martyrs of the revolution. Afterward, the military continued to protect the revolution from insecurity, something which threatens all revolutions and whose aspects were crystal clear in the Egyptian revolution. Had this state of insecurity continued, it would have destroyed the revolution, diverting it from its sound revolutionary track.

Strangely enough, this role is currently derided at home and abroad, and he who attacks and undermines this role does not understand the military’s historic role in Egyptian politics. The military plays a national and popular role. At this stage, the military does not seek to retain civilian power; rather, it may be more protective of it than all other parties and political forces, though it uses different mechanisms and methods to show it. The military will be the protector of the revolution even after the transfer of power.

These are the similarities in the roles that the military played for the two revolutions. The altered political perception, the magnitude of change in the Egyptian political environment and the ascendancy to power of political forces such as Islamists are all factors resulting from historical change and development, whose seeds were first sown by the July revolution. Had it not been for the July revolution, the January Uprising would not have taken place.

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