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The Egyptian Military Takes Sides. Not Ours.


I thought I was the only one that noticed this crucial and portentous development in the Middle East: the Egyptian military– the force so many Western observers believed would be the bulwark keeping the Islamist parties at bay– gave a permit to the Ikhwan for the recent massive Friday prayers in Tahrir Square and acted as security for Yusuf al-Qaradawi’s trip back to Egypt.

The old idea of the ‘secular’ military in Muslim countries keeping a check on explicitly Islamist or jihadist forces is a bit of conventional wisdom I’d really like to see put to pasture. When dealing with both Turkey and Pakistan, the military was revealed to be as ineffective in dealing with the threat as the secular political class. Over time, the military becomes comprised of a mix of both the still secular, and those sympathetic to a broad range of Islamist philosophies; there’s no guarantee enough of the military will side with a secular government if really challenged. And so it seems to go with Egypt– and not even after a week’s time.

Debka reports that:

Thursday, Feb. 17, the Muslim Brotherhood was allowed to take charge of opposition demonstrations in the emblematic Tahrir Square and given permission to build a platform, after the other opposition parties and movements had been refused. Ahead of the big event Friday night, the soldiers withdrew from the square and the Brotherhood’s strong-arm brigades move in. Opposition leaders who tried to mount the platform alongside Brotherhood speakers were thrown off and dragged out of the square without the army interfering.

By this means, the military rulers achieved two objectives: Letting Muslim Brotherhood adherents mass in the square diminished the role played by the other opposition factions in the eighteen-day uprising; and, secondly, it flashed a graphic warning to the Obama administration to stop pushing for a rapid transition to democracy because it would only lead to the Muslims taking power in government and parliament.

Debka notes that this may have been a calculated play to scare Washington– another common feature of the so-called secular Muslim military conventional wisdom. Historically, the top brass use the promise of an Islamist takeover to frighten the West into supporting it as the only national institution that can provide reliable order. Of course, in other contexts this is called, “blackmail.”

I disagree with Debka‘s analysis. It’s expecting too much of this administration, and the top policymakers who’ve expressed nothing wrong with the Ikhwan playing a role in the future government. If the Egyptian military is playing this game, it’s overestimating the sophistication of its American counterparts.

Combine this event with the green light for the Iranian ships the same week, and you know this is not a positive development for US interests in the Middle East. Of course, this is what happens when you so readily and gleefully throw your major ally under the bus: you send a signal to the region that participating in that alliance is shortsighted and worthless.

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