''The Army Lacks a Vision for the Future'': Interview with the Egyptian Historian Khaled Fahmy

Analysis, posted 08.05.2011, from Egypt, in:
''The Army Lacks a Vision for the Future'': Interview with the Egyptian Historian Khaled Fahmy (Photo: picturealliance/dpa)

What role has the Egyptian military played in the state and society since the July Revolution of 1952, and what, to date, have been the consequences of the army's special status?

Khaled Fahmy: From the historical point of view, on the one hand the Egyptian military distinguished itself through the so-called July Revolution, which in nature was essentially a coup. Secondly, it has never considered itself an army of defeat or decline. And after the peace accords [with Israel – Ed.], it eventually became Mubarak's army.

It has not yet been possible for historians to shed light on every aspect of these three phases, as the archive of the Egyptian Army is not open for the purposes of research. And discussing individual military personnel is still absolutely taboo. So we are forced to fall back on the information that can be found in books and newspaper articles abroad in order to discover a little about this secret.

The most important thing that has emerged from the revolution is the necessity of examining this institution more closely. After all, it chooses to present itself as the "property of the people". It is made up primarily of conscripts, and the society that has entrusted the military with its defence has the right to monitor it and examine its activities. However, this is precisely the reason why the military is currently trying to withdraw from this influence.

Were you surprised by the way the army behaved over the course of the revolution of 25th January?

Fahmy: The military was taken by surprise and saw itself compelled to sacrifice Mubarak. Ultimately, its sudden about-face and support for the revolution was a clever decision, tactically speaking: the army sacrificed the political wing of the regime in favour of preserving the integrity of its military wing. After the people in the square had, right at the beginning, chanted the slogan "People and army go hand in hand" in order to reassure themselves and draw the army firmly onto their side, the military made haste to adopt this slogan as their own.

But the past three weeks have been a huge setback for the armed forces; they're effectively having to start all over again. The chaotic management of the transition phase – the protracted legal proceedings, defending the security services, stalling the case against Mubarak – and the latest threatening speech by one of its commanders are all evidence that the military's common sense is being put to the test.

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Interview by Hani Darwish; Translated by Charlotte Collins